15 June 2016
By Tom O’Sullivan
150 staff are balloting for industrial action in a dispute over plans to amalgamate Cork city and County library services. Their union IMPACT says the proposals would see services in the two areas managed by one local authority, threatening the specialised services currently provided to users in urban and rural settings.
The amalgamation proposal, drawn up by a Dublin-based planning group, would immediately leave either the city or the county libraries without a head librarian. And IMPACT says the medium-term future of services as provided by both local authorities would also be threatened as library budgets come under increasing pressure.
The union says the Dublin planning group did not visit Cork or take account of the different services required within a vast and diverse county with different local community needs in urban, disadvantaged, rural, and isolated areas. IMPACT also says no cost-benefit analysis of the proposals has been produced.
IMPACT has met local councillors in both authorities and says the majority agree that local library services should retain their distinct focus, with the city focused on a major urban model and county services configured to provide the best service possible to smaller urban, rural and isolated communities. The union says neither staff nor local elected representatives have been properly consulted on the initiative, which has no statutory basis and could herald the end of local decision-making on library services.
IMPACT’s local library representative Liz Fay said staff also had concerns that they could be ordered to work on a cross-county basis at locations far from their homes or existing workplaces.
IMPACT official Hilary Kelleher said: “Local libraries are vital social hubs in rural and urban communities that have already lost shops, garda stations, post offices and other local amenities. They are centres of social inclusion and, for some, a warm, dry place to read a newspaper or look for a job. In rural communities they are often the only place where internet services can be accessed.
“We can’t allow our thriving library system to be to be further eroded on foot of a remote number-crunching exercise, which doesn’t reflect local needs or the realities of rural Ireland’s community life.”
Ms Kelleher said the proposed merger would immediately create a gap in expertise at the highest level, and would ultimately lead to a major reduction to the type and quality of library service we would be able to provide to the public. “There are already many vacant posts in the library services in Cork, which is affecting service delivery and staff morale,” she said.
Ms Fay said library use, including internet provision, was on the increase across all Cork branch libraries. Meanwhile, significant cost-saving shared service measures are already being implemented nationwide, including a new national library management IT system that will allow library users to easily access services across the country for free, using one card.
IMPACT says the result of its industrial action ballot will be announced early in July. If staff back industrial action, the precise form of action will be decided then.