Library staff to vote on industrial action over out-of-hours access

Introduction of self-service library hours a sinister plan to cut costs, says union

Library workers are to be balloted for industrial action amid plans to introduce out-of-hours access in 23 public libraries. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Library workers are to be balloted for industrial action amid plans to introduce out-of-hours access in 23 public libraries. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Library workers are to be balloted for industrial action this week amid plans to introduce out-of-hours access in 23 public libraries around the country.

The My Open Library initiative, from the Department of Community and Local Government, will allow library members to access their local library outside normal opening hours, via an automated system, using their membership card and an authorised pin number.

Users will be able to borrow and return items on a self-service basis.

The plan follows two-year pilot schemes in Banagher and Tullamore, Co Offaly and Tubbercurry, Co Sligo.

Trade union Impact, representing library workers, has described the move as “a sinister plan to cut costs and services under the guise of extending hours”. And, the union has said, it will ultimately lead to completely staffless libraries with sharply limited services to the public.

The extension of staffless arrangements will leave library users unable to get assistance from trained and qualified staff or benefit from cultural and educational events, the union has said.

Less advantaged communities

It says 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.

National secretary of the union, Peter Nolan said libraries remain critically underfunded.

“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 staffless basis,” he said.

Communities will be short-changed, he said, and there will 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”.

“Everyone will lose out, especially the elderly, students and people from disadvantaged communities and backgrounds,” Mr Nolan said.

Mr Nolan said the union was also concerned about the possible erosion of staff terms and conditions and health and safety protections for library users and workers.

A meeting of the union’s library workers will take place in Dublin on Monday morning and a ballot of workers will begin this week. The union is also due to meet local authority management later this week.