Laois County Councillors have voted to indefinitely suspend a plan to leave libraries open for longer, with no staff, with predictions that it would spell the beginning of the end for libraries.
Councillors voted yesterday to block the controversial plan which the Government had been pushing in Laois and other councils.
They backed a motion from Independent Cllr James Kelly to defer indefinitely a plan to implement unstaffed hours in Laois' ten libraries.
"Staff in Laois are very concerned about this proposal. There has been no consultation. The human interaction would be gone,” he said.
Unmanned libraries would exclude or be a danger to vulnerable library members he said.
“Staffless libraries are not open to all people, like the visually impaired, people with literacy problems, and people holding meetings which need staff supervision. They are not safe. Human interaction would disappear for the sake of two extra staff," he said, asking that if hours are extended, they must be staffed.
"On a wet night, nobody is going to be hitting a public library after 8pm,” Cllr Kelly added.
The council's Chief Executive, John Mulholland interjected that he would give no reply regarding staff issues.
"The motion does not relate to staff or staff concerns. There are mechanisms for staff concerns through human resources," he told councillors.
He said it was national policy and they picked Portarlington because it has a high commuter population.
The newly extended library was granted €31,165 funding to implement the 'MY Open Library' scheme, from the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, set to open later from next January.
Many councillors spoke passionately about the importance of staff.
Library staff and users in the public gallery were pleased at the outcome.
"We are delighted that Laois councillors voted unanimously to stop staffless library rollout. And that they asked that if hours are extended, they are staffed,” said library worker Olivia Murray, a member of the 'Staff our Libraries' group, formed a fortnight ago.
“We found out only two weeks ago. We were shocked, and worried about public safety and equality, the whole ethos of public libraries. There was no public consultation,”she said.
"Our fear is that when the next recession comes and we retire, they would increase staffless hours until the library service collapses,” added worker Aoife Anton.