Funding cuts had ‘savage impact’ on National Library of Ireland

Library ‘operating on a third of the resources’ of European equivalents, board member says

 Minister for Arts and  Heritage Heather Humphreys  with Dr Sandra Collins, Director of the National Library of Ireland (right), and Paul Shovlin, a member of the outgoing board, at the launch of the library’s annual review for 2014. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

Minister for Arts and Heritage Heather Humphreys with Dr Sandra Collins, Director of the National Library of Ireland (right), and Paul Shovlin, a member of the outgoing board, at the launch of the library’s annual review for 2014. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times.

 

The National Library of Ireland (NLI) is operating with a third of the staffing resources available to national libraries of comparable size in Europe, its annual review says.

The NLI has 86 staff in contrast with the national libraries of Scotland (280), Wales (277) and Norway (414).

NLI board member Paul Shovlin said the library would have gone into “terminal decline” had it not been for the €1 million supplementary budget agreed by the Department of Arts and Heritage before Christmas.

He said cutbacks had a “savage impact” on the library prior to that date. Some 30 posts have gone unfilled within the library because of budget or headcount restraints.

He added that the library continues to operate from a building which is not “fit for purpose” and needs substantial investment. “Suitable storage, even off site, is expensive and beyond the scope of the Library under the current circumstances. For the Library to achieve its potential and service its mandate, it needs the staffing, finances and a fit-for-purpose building.”

In 2008 before the recession started, the NLI had 113 full-time equivalent staff members. There has been a 24 per cent reduction in staff numbers since then.

The NLI’s funding from the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht was €6.3 million for 2014. This represents a four per cent reduction on the NLI’s 2013 allocation and a 47 per cent decrease in funding since 2008.

The new director Dr Sandra Collins, who took up her position in August, said extra resources could be used to speed up the process of digitisation.

The library is currently in the process of digitising the papers of Seamus Heaney and also 23,000 documents relating to the leaders of the 1916 Rising.

She said understaffing was a legacy issue. “The NLI is significantly less resourced in terms of workforce and capacity. This is not just a trend that has emerged from the economic downturn. The Library has always worked from a low base in terms of resources.”

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys said she will be “fighting the case” to secure more funding for the cultural institutions in October.

The National Library of Ireland (NLI) had 270,394 visitors in 2014 representing a 5 per cent increase over the previous year.

Seven exhibitions in the library were staged during 2014 attracting 176,189 visitors.

The NLI recorded more than a doubling of visitors to its website with some 15.7 million interactions. It also increased its number of Facebook and Twitter followers by 35 per cent on 2013.