The Mayor of Ballymoney has called on Stormont to find ‘money from other areas to help Libraries NI make fewer detrimental reductions and therefore impact less on Library services and jobs’.
The comment comes after Libraries NI unveiled plans to slash opening hours of libraries across Northern Ireland including Ballymoney and Ballycastle.
In a statement to the Times, Cllr Ian Stevenson said: “I feel that libraries play an important role in our society, not only in terms of education but also as a means of leisure and diversional therapy in an often busy world.
“They provide access to books for all, including those who could not otherwise afford them. Ballymoney has a modern, well used library of which I am proud.
“I consistently feel that there are decisions made by the UK government that spend millions on things which we have no need of, which are of limited benefit or can be done without, while essential services suffer.
“Libraries NI are faced with challenges which have to be met here as a result of the necessary comprehensive spending review, challenges which I believe they genuinely would not wish to face if they had a choice. I also believe they are trying to do their best.
“I do feel though that much work has been done to the library infrastructure locally, indicating the value of the service it provides and that it is not valued as highly as far as the level of banding is concerned. I would call on Stormont to look at identifying money from other areas which may be of less importance which would help Libraries NI make fewer detrimental reductions and therefore impact less on Library services and jobs. I have no doubt that this is a matter which will be discussed in council and I would encourage local people to support their local library and to respond to the public consultation.
“It is my hope that the consultation is not just a paper exercise and that good would come from it. It is important though, as already stated, that local people do show their support for their local library and library services in general by participating in the consultation.
“I firmly believe the existing hours should be retained am curious as to how the sums add up and whether or not it is definite that no further changes will be forthcoming. In any case, I believe the reduction of hours in Ballymoney is something which should be contested strongly.”
Mr Robin Swann, the North Antrim Ulster Unionist Party Assembly and Stormont Culture, Arts and Leisure Committee member, also warned that a proposed reduction in the opening hours of Ballymoney and Ballycastle Libraries could put those services’ long-term future in jeopardy.
Mr Swann warned: “Under the Libraries NI proposals, it is intended to cut Ballymoney’s opening hours from 57 to 40 hours, and Ballycastle from 44 to 30 hours.
“Broughshane, Kells and Connor, and Portglenone will all remain unchanged at 18 hours each. However, the plans to slash opening hours at any library could have serious, long-term consequences for those town services in Ballymoney and Ballycastle.
“A public consultation on a review of library opening hours has already begun this month and will run until 2 December. Significantly, the consultation process includes a questionnaire which is now available in all public libraries or from the Libraries NI website. I encourage as many constituents as possible to complete this questionnaire in support of their local services.
“Just because the Libraries NI proposals suggest no reduction in opening hours does not mean those services will not be under major threat in the future. We, as a North Antrim community, must not take future our library provision for granted.
“Libraries NI has already stated that draft Equality Impact and Rural Impact Assessments have also been published, and that Libraries NI will brief the DCAL committee on the proposed review.
“It is my intention at this meeting to campaign strongly against any reduction in opening hours and this could have a very detrimental effect on the communities which those libraries serve.
“If we lose the library opening hours service, then that could be a first step in the long-term disintegration of a number of our rural and urban communities in North Antrim.”