Increased library funding, but concerns remain over government’s strategy

Libraries in Westmeath are set to benefit from €180,648 in government funding, according to Fine Gael TD for Longford-Westmeath, Peter Burke.

The funding was announced this week by Deputy Burke after he spoke with Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring.

The investment package consists of €135,486 from the Department of Rural and Community Development, supplemented by additional funding of €45,162 from Westmeath County Council. Burke said that the funding will allow for the modernisation of the library service and for the extension of library opening hours.

“Here in Westmeath this investment will enable the implementation of our new public library strategy which will be launched early next year and which will be focused on modernising the public library service and enhancing the range and quality of services available to users,” said Deputy Burke.

“It’s an ambitious strategy which is aimed at increasing library membership and usage of our public libraries. We have fantastic, modern libraries in this county and this additional funding will really allow them to reach their optimum potential to the benefit of the community,” the TD added.

Among other changes, the five-year public library strategy aims to roll out self-service technology at libraries. Athlone, Castlepollard, Moate, and Mullingar libraries will get radio frequency identification (RFID ) systems, allowing members to check out books at self-service desks without staff assistance.

Staffless libraries have also been planned for 23 locations in Ireland and piloted in Offaly. The plan is vehemently opposed by IMPACT, the trade union representing librarians. The union argues that staffless public spaces put children at risk and could be a fire hazard.

Speaking at a conference earlier this year, Sean Reid, chairman of IMPACT’s Local Government division, said that “so-called pilot schemes are the thin end of a nasty wedge, which will lead to job losses and far poorer library services. An unchecked drift to staffless libraries will, at best, fragment the service. Services in small towns and rural areas will be downgraded and mostly unstaffed, with little or no access to specialist advice, educational courses or cultural events.”

Mr Reid added that staffless libraries would also remove services that only staff could provide, including school visits and storytelling events.

“No help to find what you want. No safe and secure space to flick through a magazine or surf the web. And none of the hundreds of educational and artistic events that libraries provide throughout the year,” he said.



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