Self-service technology the focus of €5m State libraries investment

Minister adamant there will be no cuts in staff numbers due to out-of-hours technology

Students from Sandford Park School, Ranelagh, Harry Sandys, Conor McCarthy, Catherine Orr, Alex Hogan and Aisling Adair, at Dublin’s Pearse Street Library for the announcement of major funding for public libraries, by Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring.  Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Students from Sandford Park School, Ranelagh, Harry Sandys, Conor McCarthy, Catherine Orr, Alex Hogan and Aisling Adair, at Dublin’s Pearse Street Library for the announcement of major funding for public libraries, by Minister for Rural and Community Development, Michael Ring. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring has announced a €5 million investment package for the State’s public libraries.

The money will be used for the modernisation of the library service, enhancing services for users and paving the way for the launch of a new public library strategy early in 2018.

Speaking in Dublin’s Pearse Street Library to an audience of first-year students from Sandford Park school, Mr Ring said the investment would enable the purchase of self-service technology for more than 200 libraries, along with book purchases. There would also be investment in hot desk facilities for businesspeople and job-seekers. “It is an exciting time for the public library service and for library staff,” he said.

Comprising €3.75 million from the Department of Rural and Community Development and €1.25 million from local authorities, the funding is in addition to €2.75 million of capital already provided for public libraries this year under the Libraries Capital Investment Programme. “The money we’re announcing today is nearly three times the amount that’s been allocated in the last three years,” Mr Ring said.

Recruitment freezes

He acknowledged that some library services had been hit by reduced staff numbers and recruitment freezes over the last few years, but said he hoped to redress that with a rising economy and greater funds available.

The initial introduction of self-service technology at a number of libraries last year caused some controversy, with questions in the Dáil on whether it would lead to redundancies.

The new five-year public library strategy is to be published next year and a key goal of that strategy would be to increase the number of library members and users. File photograph: Getty Images
The new five-year public library strategy is to be published next year and a key goal of that strategy would be to increase the number of library members and users. File photograph: Getty Images

However, Mr Ring was adamant there would be no reduction in staff numbers arising from the technology, which allows library users to borrow or return books at more convenient times early in the morning or later in the evening, when staff are not on duty. “It’s to try to help and support people who want to use the libraries,” he said. “And particularly to open the libraries earlier and longer.”

He said negotiations were ongoing with the unions and he was satisfied they had made a lot of progress. “I want to assure them there will be no loss of jobs,” he said.

“In fact, in the last few years there has been an increase in the number of people working for the libraries. If we get this agreement sorted with the unions and the department, I’m very conscious there will be more jobs. We want more staff and we need more staff.”

Demonstration of commitment

Mr Ring accepted that the State’s libraries had suffered from significant underfunding in recent years but said the new investment demonstrated the Government’s continued commitment to the service.

Funding will continue under the Libraries Capital Programme next year, with a considerable increase in project activity and funding over the coming three years, he said.

The new five-year public library strategy would be published next year and a key goal of that strategy would be to increase the number of library members and users. “This funding will be an important enabler of actions in the strategy and will help us take a big step towards achieving this goal,” he said.