Staffless libraries may risk children’s safety, union warns

FOI request reveals six incidents of children being left unsupervised during pilot project

An Impact members protest at the Dlr Lexicon library in Dún Laoghaire last September against the decision to open the library on Sundays without staff. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

An Impact members protest at the Dlr Lexicon library in Dún Laoghaire last September against the decision to open the library on Sundays without staff. File photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Plans to roll out staffless libraries in 23 locations across the country could undermine child protection protocols and place young people at risk, the trade union Impact has claimed.

The union’s local government conference in Letterkenny, Co Donegal, was told on Wednesday that the six incidents of children being left unsupervised in staffless libraries during a pilot carried out in Co Offaly came to light on foot of a Freedom of Information request. The conference heard the incidents had not been highlighted by the Local Government Management Association (LGMA), which represents local authority management.

Delegates attending the conference backed motions opposing staffless libraries on the grounds that the move left library staff unable to meet their child protection responsibilities, as outlined in guidance from the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

Seamus Ryan of Impact’s Clare branch said there were a range of child protection and health and safety risks linked to buildings that remained open to the public without staff in place.

“There were six reported incidents of children being left unsupervised in libraries when this reckless programme was piloted. The lurch to staffless libraries is cuts-driven, overlooks the many risks involved, and undermines our commitments and responsibilities under child-protection legislation. If a child or young person enters a library during a staffless opening period, there is an automatic, immediate and unacceptable level of risk,” he said.

Mapping Ireland's 'staffless' libraries

Impact national secretary Peter Nolan said there was also a fire-safety risk with staffless libraries as there would be nobody present to conduct an evacuation as currently existed in all public premises.

Impact criticised a management report on the pilots for failing to include details of antisocial behaviour in staffless libraries.

The union said details released under Freedom of Information legislation last year revealed that 111 library users in Co Offaly had their library membership temporarily withdrawn because of transgressions including “tailgating”, or passing entry cards to unauthorised people who could then access the library. Another person had their library card permanently withdrawn for being drunk.

The union’s Cork branch said omissions in the LGMA report into the “Open Library” pilots totally undermined its positive conclusions. It said any decision to continue with the scheme, which was based on the report, would be “ill advised”.

‘Thin edge of a nasty wedge’

Seán Reid, cathaoirleach of Impact’s local government division told the conference: “So-called pilot schemes are the thin end of a nasty wedge, which will lead to job losses and far poorer library services. An unchecked drift to staffless libraries will, at best, fragment the service.

“Services in small towns and rural areas will be downgraded and mostly unstaffed, with little or no access to specialist advice, educational courses or cultural events, while poorer urban areas will be denied both extended opening hours and enhanced services based on modern information and communications technologies.”

He also warned that any public service pay deal negotiated in the forthcoming talks must be capable of winning support in union ballots if the Government really valued stability.

Mr Reid said the negotiations must lead to the unwinding of crisis-era pay cuts “in the quickest possible time,” while protecting the value of public service pensions.