Plans to cut opening hours at the 14 busiest libraries in Northern Ireland have been withdrawn after Communities Minister Paul Givan found extra funding of £225,000 to cover the costs.
The DUP minister reversed plans made by Libraries NI in May, after then libraries minister Carál Ní Chuilín of Sinn Fein announced budget cuts of £2m in real terms for the body – down from £29.4m to £27.7m.
All affected libraries – 14 of the busiest from 96 across Northern Ireland – were to have opening hours reduced to 45 hours per week.
Mr Givan MLA said: “The views of people are important in any public consultation and the responses received during the Libraries NI consultation has been clearly heard, both by the organisation and by me as minister.
“People care deeply about this important resource based in their local communities which is why I am delighted to be in a position to announce this additional funding of £225,000.”
He added that libraries contribute to innovation, creativity, social and economic wellbeing across society.
Libraries due to lose nine hours per week were Belfast Central, Bangor Carnegie, Derry Central, Lisburn City and Omagh. Others due to lose five hours per week were Ballymena, Carrickfergus, Coleraine, Dungannon, Enniskillen, Finaghy, Glengormley, Lurgan and Newry. Some previously had opening hours cut in 2015.
Welcoming the announcement Irene Knox, chief executive of Libraries NI, said: “I am very grateful to the minister for his support for the public library service and his recognition of the important role of libraries in communities.”
She added: “Among the responses to the public consultation there are many examples of the difference that libraries have made, and continue to make, to the lives of people of all ages.”
The Hands Off Our Libraries Campaign spokesman, Sean Burns, described the news as “a significant U-turn on the part of the minister, under pressure from community activism”.
He added: “We have halted the ‘death by a thousand cuts’ to which our libraries have been subjected by successive administrations, both at Stormont and Westminster.”
The Hands Off Our Libraries Campaign was initiated by Labour Alternative and backed by various local trade union councils and anti-austerity groups.
A total of 309,756 people used libraries in 2013-14 – a three per cent increase on the year before.