In spite of widely held reservations among councillors, it now looks certain that Westmeath’s library services are to be amalgamated with their counterpart in Longford.
Councillors will have no say on the proposals, which will effectively see management, staff, and library stock shared across the two counties.
However, council management says the move will not adversely affect the service provided to the public, and will in fact mean more effective management and an increased skills base.
Acting Westmeath County Librarian Paula O’Dornan this week presented councillors with new government proposals which aim to establish a “shared services structure” for libraries across the country.
“The idea is to have a stronger structure to allow us to deliver services to a greater number of people,” said Ms O’Dornan, adding that the move would give members of the public the opportunity to access stock and collections from both library services.
The council’s head of finance Jimmy Dalton confirmed that the council executive would make the decision on the amalgamation, and that they are required to implement the government proposals. Discussions on how the proposals would be implemented were still at a very early stage.
He said the focus would remain on keeping the library service at the heart of the local community.
“We have maintained our service in good times and bad. It’s about trying to get the best from the people we have - for example we still don’t have a dedicated archivist or children’s librarian. This new environment would give us the ability to share services and people.”
He added that councillors would still be responsible for the library service and its budget. However many had serious reservations about the proposal.
Cllr O’Brien said that while there were merits in merging stock, “the unfortunate downside is the fear of job losses and reduction in the number of libraries”, while Cllr John Dolan said he hoped the wishes of councillors would be taken into account on future decisions about library services.
Cllr Ken Glynn also expressed concern that the ‘county librarian’ position would go to Longford, as Ms O’Dornan is currently in an acting capacity in Westmeath while Longford has a permanent position.
CEO of Westmeath County Council Pat Gallagher said it was “not true” that councillors would lose control of library services, that services to the public would be reduced, or that certain branch libraries would be under threat under the new regime.