Opposition to proposed library closures

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THE proposed closure of 10 public libraries across Northern Ireland would inflict a “terrible blow” to rural communities, it has been claimed.

Concerns have been raised after the body that governs libraries in the province - Libraries NI - announced the second part of its findings following a strategic review.

Last year, 10 libraries in the Greater Belfast area were forced to shut their doors due to “declining usage”.

Following a review of a further 70 libraries by the authority, 44 were deemed viable, 21 were classed as needing major work or a new building and ten libraries were classed as potentially unviable.

Those earmarked for closure are Carnlough, Draperstown, Fintona, Gilford, Greystone, Kells and Connor, Killyleagh, Moneymore, Moy and Richhill.

Under the review, it is also proposed to combine two libraries into one bigger facility, by clustering services in Armagh city.

However, campaigners are angry after a new £1.27m state-of-the-art library opened in Dungiven last week.

The proposals are currently subject to a 12-week public consultation, incorporating public meetings in each of the towns and villages affected, which ends in early April.

Library officials outlined the review’s findings to members of Stormont’s culture, arts and leisure committee earlier this month.

Independent Unionist David McClarty, who sits on the scrutiny committee, insisted members were “totally opposed” to any cutback in services.

“I am fearful for the rural communities who are under threat of losing their libraries. I believe it’s going to be a terrible blow for those communities,” the East Londonderry MLA said.

Pointing to the earmarked closure of the Draperstown facility, near his own constituency, Mr McClarty said users will be forced to travel to Maghera to avail of services.

“That is not going to be convenient for people. There is a time factor and the financial cost of getting there as well. It is just not practicable.”

Describing rural libraries as a “fantastic resource”, Mr McClarty maintained their loss would be keenly felt by those affected.

“They are so valuable to communities in which they are associated and are a terrific source of information, for reading material, internet and other aspects. When that is lost a great deal will be lost within the community.”

The MLA added that he hoped Libraries NI would take on board the concerns of local communities during the consultation.

Killyleagh councillor William Walker revealed there is a lot of opposition from residents in the Co Down village to the proposed closure of their library.

The DUP man said: “Killyleagh library is used by all sections of the community, from young children right through to pensioners in their 80s. It is a central focal point.”

The Down councillor insisted borrowers would be forced to travel to Downpatrick or Comber, if their local facility closed.

He added: “Year in year out, Killyleagh has been stripped of more and more services through the closure of the police station, the high school and local factories. This cannot continue.”

A public meeting is due to be held in the village’s Bridge Community Centre tonight and Mr Walker hopes large numbers will attend to air their opposition.

Meanwhile, Armagh mayor Jim Speers said the service provided at Richhill must be retained.

“The library authorities have developed bigger libraries but I am not so sure the same attention has went into developing the full potential of smaller libraries in communities like Richhill,” he said.

The UUP man added that council officials were working with library authorities in an attempt to find a solution.

Commenting on the public consultation exercise, Libraries NI chairperson David Elliott, said: “We would encourage users and non-users of the public library service to engage with us in this review, to help us to make the right decisions to ensure we provide all library users with a quality service. No decisions will be made until the Libraries NI Board considers the feedback that we receive.”

When asked to confirm that no further closures would be proposed in the immediate future, a Libraries NI spokesperson said: “This current stage two of the review covers the library estate outside the Greater Belfast area, therefore once this is complete all public libraries across Northern Ireland will have been reviewed.”