4 July 2016
By Elaine Murphy
Staff at Cork city and county library services vote in favour of industrial action
Staff in Cork city and county library services have voted in favour of industrial action in a dispute over plans to amalgamate the two 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.
142 staff were balloted across both library services, and voted in favour of industrial action by a margin of just over 84%.
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.
IMPACT official Hilary Kelleher said the ballot result reflected the depth of feeling among staff about the amalgamation threat. “Industrial action is the avenue of last resort. Local libraries are vital social hubs in rural and urban communities that have already lost shops, garda stations, post offices and other local amenities. We can’t allow our thriving library system to be to be gutted on foot of a remote number-crunching exercise, which doesn’t reflect local needs or the realities of community life.
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.
Ms 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.
The executive committee of IMPACT’s Local Government and Local Services division will meet tomorrow (Tuesday 5th July) to discuss the precise form of industrial action.