Councillors criticise ‘illogical’ rent payments for library buildings

City councillors have called for the council to examine the possibility of acquiring permanent buildings to house library services instead of the “illogical” practice of paying rent of nearly €350,000 a year.

At a meeting of the city council on Monday, many in the council chamber were shocked to hear that figures for Galway show there is currently 27 per cent functional illiteracy and 18 per cent without basic literacy skills.

The Galway Public Library service is provided jointly by both the county and city councils with three full time libraries based in Hynes Building at St Augustine Street, Ballybane, and Westside, and other full time libraries at Ballinasloe, Clifden, An Ceathrú Rua, Loughrea, Portumna, and Tuam. Library membership for 2013 came to 14,770 (19.6 per cent ), of which 8,339 were adults and 6,431 children. A total of 316,132 visited Ballybane, Galway city and Westside libraries and 28,660 accessed internet services.

Acting county librarian Peter Rabbitt said there were four key priorities identified for a 21st century public library service, which included placing the library as a hub for the community; making the most of digital technology and creative media; ensuring libraries are resilient and sustainable; and delivering the right skills for those who worked for libraries. He said local authorities must not lose sight of the basic principle that public libraries’ “core principle is the provision of access to reading, information, and resources which support learning and knowledge for all” and that it was found that “even with the new society, with its smartphones and instant access to information, a large section of the community was being left behind”.

Cllr Ollie Crowe (FF ), while calling for more to be done to increase the membership, called attention to the rents paid for library buildings and asked if a new location had been selected for the library service headquarters which was currently based at Island House, Cathedral Square.

Noting that the rent for the Galway city library at Hynes Building was €250,000 a year, Cllr Catherine Connolly (Ind ) described it as “poor reflection” on a city which was bidding for the European Capital of Culture 2020. “A great legacy would be to provide a public building for a library. The figures are horrific in an age of communication to have 27 per cent functional illiteracy and 18 per cent without the basic skills,” said Cllr Connolly.

Cllr Frank Fahy said it was “amazing in this day and age we would have double figures in illiteracy” and that it was “illogical to pay rent of €250,000 for a building we should buy”.

Mr Rabbitt confirmed that rent of €97,000 was also being paid for the library services headquarters and that the €250,000 rent for the Hynes Building had to be reviewed next year, adding there was a 35-year lease.

Mr McGrath said the council remained steadfast in pursuing a new headquarters and acknowledged it was not the most desirable situation to be “ploughing money into rent”. He further explained that the gross cost of the library service was €4.59 million, with the city council’s contribution coming to €1.584 million, a increase of €50,000 on 2013 figures.

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