Fifty staff in Longford and Westmeath are balloting for industrial action in a dispute concerning plans to amalgamate library services in the two counties.
Their union, IMPACT, says the proposals would see libraries in both counties managed by one local authority, which would threaten service provision in the other county.
The scheme, drawn up by a Dublin-based planning group, would immediately leave either Westmeath or Longford without a county librarian. IMPACT says the medium-term future of services in both counties would also be threatened as library budgets come under increasing pressure. The union says the Dublin planning group did not visit the counties, took little account of local needs, and failed to produce a cost-benefit analysis of its proposals.
IMPACT has contacted local councillors in both counties and says the majority agree that local library services should be maintained on a county-wide basis. The union says neither staff nor local elected representatives have been properly consulted on the initiative.
Local IMPACT official, Ashley Connolly, said staff also had concerns that they could be ordered to work on a cross-county basis at locations far from their homes or existing workplaces.
“Local libraries are vital social hubs in rural and urban communities that have already lost shops, Garda stations, post offices and other local amenities," Ms Connolly said. "We can’t allow our thriving library system to be to be gutted on foot of a remote number-crunching exercise, which doesn’t reflect local needs or the realities of community life.
"The proposed merger would immediately create a gap in expertise at the highest level, and would ultimately lead to reduced library services to the public. There are already many vacant posts in libraries in both counties, which is affecting services and staff morale.”
IMPACT says the result of its industrial action ballot will be announced early in July. If staff back industrial action, the precise form of action will be decided at that point.