Smaller books on fewer shelves for shorter opening hours – the reality of DCAL spending cuts

Press Association (via the Irish Independent) report from this morning’s Culture, Arts and leisure Committee meeting. Libraries NI Chief Executive Irene Knox was in the hot seat to brief the committee on the likely impact of “spending plans”. NI Museum’s Chris Bailey was also on the billing.

Earlier this year, a strategic review of library provision in Greater Belfast (which had a greater density of libraries than other areas of NI) resulted in the planned closure of ten libraries. PA explains that Libraries NI are making £1.8m of savings over two years.

By the end of this year 54 senior and middle-management positions will have been removed from the libraries service.

Greater Belfast libraries plan - final map

However, further cuts in DCAL funding will directly impact front line services, and may lead to further regional reviews of library provisioning.

Multimillion-pound savings have to be made in the coming years with a recruitment freeze, reduced book stock and shorter opening hours all possibilities, the chief executive of Libraries NI warned.

Staff sickness or pregnancy in small rural premises could force closure because they cannot be replaced.

Libraries head Irene Knox told a Stormont committee: “If we close a library as a result of having to make savings in this sort of process it is very unlikely that even if things get better in four years’ time that library will be able to open again because you will have decreased the service.”

(Update) The Newsletter explains the slightly cryptic “sickness or pregnancy” comment in the PA report:

The chief executive said that in rural branches there are often only two staff and to open with less would be prohibited on health and safety grounds. Yet the recruitment freeze means either transferring other staff or closing premises should an employee become ill.

Minutes from the committee meeting should appear on the NI Assembly website over the next day or so.