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Laois library staff among those balloted for strike action

“Sinister plan to cut costs and services under the guise of extending opening hours”

Lynda Kiernan

Reporter:

Lynda Kiernan

Email:

lynda.kiernan@leinsterexpress.ie

Portarlington Library at the recent official reopening

Portarlington library staff with builders and architects at the recent reopening. It is the first in Laois planned for 'staffless' after hours facilities, despite opposition from staff.

Portarlington library is first in line in Laois to get 'staffless' facilities, but industrial action is now being considered by staff, over the government's nationwide staff free plan.

Library staff nationwide are being ballotted for industrial action today, Monday November 7, over the planned government introduction of ‘staffless’ library services.

Portarlington library is one of 26 nationwide, and the first in Laois, earmarked for the 'My Open Library' service,  which would leave it open at evenings and weekends, with machines instead of staff.

IMPACT union management today warns that the scheme will lead to poorer services and job losses, and eventually completely staffless libraries.

IMPACT says library staffing is already at an all-time low and that local authorities, which treat libraries as a ‘Cinderella service,’ will inevitably seek further savings by extending unstaffed services into core opening times.

The union says the extension of staffless arrangements will leave library users unable to get assistance from trained and qualified staff or benefit from cultural and educational events. IMPACT says this would hit less advantaged communities and individuals hardest, because wealthier and better educated groups generally need less help and can afford to pay for more cultural and educational experiences.

A meeting of the union’s library workers takes place in Dublin this morning (Monday) where IMPACT will outline its campaign of opposition to management plans to pilot staffless libraries in 23 locations across the state. It says a previous pilot in three locations demonstrated that the vast majority of users continued to visit libraries during core, staffed hours.

IMPACT's midlands offical Ashley Connolly said: “This initiative is a sinister plan to cut costs and services under the guise of extending opening hours. Our libraries remain critically underfunded and nobody seriously believes local authorities will resist the temptation to save more cash by replacing staffed hours with the much more limited range of services available on a staffless basis.

“This will short-change communities. There’ll be no school visits, no storytelling, no help to find what you want, no security presence, and none of the hundreds of educational and artistic events that libraries provide throughout the year. Everyone will lose out, especially the elderly, students and people from disadvantaged communities and backgrounds. Meanwhile, management’s own data from the initial three pilots clearly demonstrates that the vast majority of us prefer to visit our local library during core hours when expert staff are there to help.”

Ms Connolly said the union was also concerned about the possible erosion of staff terms and conditions and health and safety protections for library users and workers.

The union’s industrial action ballot gets underway this week as IMPACT prepares to meet local authority management on the issue later this week.