Libraries forced to close for days amid staff shortage crisis
LIBRARIES are facing a crisis as retirements and the recruitment embargo force the curtailment of services.
Public libraries have been forced to cut staff and reduce opening hours and in some cases close for days, an Irish Independent survey has found.
It came as President Michael D Higgins made an impassioned defence of public facilities such as libraries.
President Higgins warned that "the public space" was absolutely vital. He was speaking in Cork during a two-day visit to libraries, poetry memorials and a new RNLI facility.
"The cultural space is wider than the economic space," President Higgins said.
"We need the public space more than any other time. We meet each other in the public space . . . it is a time when we need libraries."
The largest reduction in staff was reported in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown. In 2007, there were 91 staff working in the area's libraries, but this had dropped to 75 in 2011.
Cavan County Council reported that six libraries in its area now closed when staff were on leave. The situation was similar in Waterford, which has suffered a fall in library staff from 25 to 19 since 2007.
Figures from the library division of the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) suggested that 107 library staff were lost without being replaced nationwide between 2007 and 2011 – the latest figures available.
However, many of the councils surveyed have reported further staff reductions since 2011.
Concerns have also been raised about the age profile of the nation's librarians, many of whom are nearing retirement.
"In general, local authorities are facing challenges in keeping libraries open," Wicklow county librarian Brendan Martin said.
"The staff embargo came in December 2008 and staff who retired since have seldom been replaced, save for some part-time contracts in a minority of cases."
The LGMA pointed out that, despite staff reductions, the average amount of library time available in counties slightly increased in 2011.
"This is due to the increased opening hours provided by the 30 new and refurbished libraries, which were co-funded by the Department of the Environment, opened between 2007 and 2011," it said.