IMPACT has urged local government minister Simon Coveney to meet worker representatives to discuss concerns over the expansion of ‘staffless’ libraries. The call came after the union’s 1,200 library workers backed industrial action by a margin of 9-1, with a voting turnout of 83%.
The union’s Local Government Divisional Executive Committee has instructed its members not to undertake the work necessary to facilitate the rollout of staffless services in 23 libraries across the country from Thursday (15th December). IMPACT called its ballot in response to fears that the expansion of staffless libraries is the ‘thin end of a wedge,’ which will ultimately lead to job losses and sharply limited library services to the public.
IMPACT national secretary Peter Nolan said there were also fears about health and safety protections for library users and workers. “This is the thin end of a wedge that will lead to job losses and poorer library services. Local authorities already treat libraries as a Cinderella service and, if this goes ahead, nobody seriously believes they will resist the temptation to save more cash by replacing staffed libraries with the much more limited range of services available on a staffless basis,” he said.
IMPACT 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.
The union believes an unchecked drift to staffless libraries will, at best, fragment the service so that:
- Services in small towns and rural areas will become downgraded and predominantly unstaffed, with little or no access to specialist advice, educational courses or cultural events
- Poorer urban areas will be denied both extended opening hours and enhanced services based on modern information and communications technologies
- A relatively small number of ‘middle class’ urban areas may continue to enjoy relatively good services during core hours, with extended staffless opening times.
A previous pilot in three locations demonstrated that the vast majority of users continued to visit libraries during core, staffed hours.
Peter said: “These proposals 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.”