No plan to reduce library staff
LIBRARY STAFF throughout County Wexford were represented in New Ross last week at a special meeting convened to discuss possible strike action over what their union says is a ‘plan to cut costs and services under the guise of extending opening hours’.
However, a spokesperson for Wexford County Council told the Echo there are no plans to reduce staff numbers in any of the county’s libraries.
The union meeting, which took place in the Brandon House Hotel on Thursday evening, was organised as a result of proposals to introduce ‘staff-less’ services throughout the county and high on the agenda was an industrial action ballot.
The staff members’ union, IMPACT, claims that management plans for a large-scale pilot of after-hours staffless services will ultimately lead to completely staff-less libraries with sharply limited services to the public.
In a statement issued to the Echo, IMPACT’s South East Assistant General Secretary, Shay Clinton, said library staffing is already at an all-time low.
“We know that local authorities treat libraries as a Cinderella service and, if staff-less services are deemed an option, councils will inevitably seek further savings by extending unstaffed services into core opening times,” he said.
Mr. Clinton also said that an extension of staff-less arrangements will leave library users in Wexford and elsewhere unable to get assistance from trained, qualified staff.
The union is also fearful that it could impact on cultural and educational events for which libraries across county Wexford are renowned.
“This would hit less advantaged communities and individuals hardest, because wealthier and better educated groups generally need less help and can afford to pay for more cultural and educational experiences,” said Mr. Clinton.
The union announced a national campaign of opposition last week to plans to pilot staff-less libraries in 23 locations across the country.
“Our libraries remain critically underfunded and nobody seriously believes local authorities will resist the temptation to save more cash by replacing staffed hours with the much more limited range of services available on a staff-less basis,” said Mr. Clinton.
“This will short-change communities,” he added.
“There’ll be no school visits, no storytelling, no help to find what you want, no security presence, and none of the hundreds of educational and artistic events that libraries provide throughout the year.”
Mr. Clinton said the union is also concerned about health and safety protections for library users and workers in addition to the possible erosion of staff terms and conditions
However, a spokesperson for the local authority told this newspaper there is no intention to reduce staff numbers and that instead the aim of the plan is to increase opening times so that customers of the libraries will be able to avail of services later into the evening and at weekends.
“It is to provide longer opening hours to the public,” said the spokesperson.
“Where it has already been introduced it has worked very well and the public has been delighted with the extended hours.”
Gorey library is being put forward as the first one in Wexford to be piloted for the scheme.
The spokesperson also confirmed to the Echo there is no intention on the part of the local authority to reduce the type of services currently offered to customers through the county’s libraries.
“It’s really about extending opening hours in a way that could not be done at present,” said the spokesperson.
It’s believed that Gorey library was earmarked as the pilot location because it has the facilities in place necessary for additional security measures relating to staff-less services.