Late-opening self-service libraries to add members

Plans for 100 new late-opening self-service libraries are part of a Government strategy to nearly double library membership in four years.

The 2018-2022 Library Strategy to be published today will set out a plan to expand members from the current 755,000.

Although membership of all public libraries has been free since 2016, just 16% of the population are currently joined.

Under the plan being launched by Rural and Community Development Minister Michael Ring, efforts will be made to bring that up to 30% by the end of 2022.

One measure is a plan to extend a library service technology scheme that has been piloted in a small number of branches, but which has also caused industrial relations tensions.

Mr Ring plans to see this extended from three pilot locations to 100 of the country’s 330 library branches in the lifetime of the strategy.

This would see facilities open from 8am until 10pm all year, with self-service facilities for checkout and return of books.

But while the minister yesterday welcomed acceptance by the Fórsa union of Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) proposals on this and wider issues, the union said those proposals include safeguards that prevent the expansion of staffless library services until completion of a joint review by the union and management.

More than 1,140 Fórsa members in library grades were balloted, and 81% of those who voted went with their officials’ recommendation to back the deal. 

A spokesperson for the union said the agreement also covers the filling of posts, protection of staffed opening hours, and provides for health and safety risk assessments.

Under the new strategy, a target is being set to have another 20 staffless libraries operating later this year. Mr Ring’s spokesperson said the Banagher, Co Offaly branch saw library visits almost treble last year as a result of an 85% increase in opening hours under the My Open Library pilot.

The 2018-2022 strategy also plans for the abolition of fines for late returns, and to extend the reach of library services in disadvantaged communities and areas which may have lower membership rates.

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