Libraries lose hours but public’s interest welcomed

Local political representatives including from front row left, Councillor Elizabeth Ingram, Jim Wells, M.L.A., Councillor Seamus Doyle, Chairman of the meeting, John McCallister, M.L.A. and Councillor Glenn Barr, back row centre, held a public meeting in Rathfriland Community Centre, with patrons of Rathfriland Library, to discuss the proposed reduction of opening hours.  Photo: Gary Gardiner.

Local political representatives including from front row left, Councillor Elizabeth Ingram, Jim Wells, M.L.A., Councillor Seamus Doyle, Chairman of the meeting, John McCallister, M.L.A. and Councillor Glenn Barr, back row centre, held a public meeting in Rathfriland Community Centre, with patrons of Rathfriland Library, to discuss the proposed reduction of opening hours. Photo: Gary Gardiner.

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BANBRIDGE District will lose six-and-a-half hours of library time following the review into opening hours across Northern Ireland.

Banbridge’s town library’s hours are to be cut by four-and-a-half while Rathfriland will lose two hours - down from the 21 hours that were originally to be cut from the opening hours of the two libraries.

The review has not affected Dromore Library as it is currently operating out of a mobile facility while the Town Hall undergoes refurbishment. Talks are also still ongoing to provide a library service in Gilford within the new Community Centre under construction there.

It had originally been proposed that Banbridge Library’s hours would be cut by more than 12 hours, while Rathfriland’s hours would be slashed by nine, after a review of their usage.

But a funding boost of £2.38 million from the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is said to have allowed the board to dramatically reduce the number of hours many libraries were going to lose.

South Down MLA John McCallister welcomed the announcement and thanked all those who attended meetings and responded to the consultation on the matter.

“I think this has to be welcomed as a positive development,” said Mr McCallister. “It is of course disappointing to lose two hours but the sheer number of people who got involved is something that I see as a positive. I think, considering there is still a lot of money to be saved, it is great news that the library’s hours will not be so drastically affected.”

Two Rathfriland residents said they found the announcement disappointing as they had been under the impression a funding boost would allow the Board to avoid cutting the hours of any libraries.

Chairman of Libraries NI, Nigel McCartney, thanked customers for their engagement throughout the review.

“I would like to thank our customers and those members of the public who took time to engage with us throughout the consultation process. Though we still need to make reductions in hours, the public’s continued support has proved invaluable in achieving these new improved arrangements.”

Chief Executive of Libraries NI Irene Knox said the changes had been made based on usage.

“The new Bands mean that in some libraries opening hours will not change; in other libraries there will be a slight increase and in some libraries there will be a reduction. The new proposals, approved by the Board, provide for a more equitable distribution of hours across Northern Ireland and are based on usage. They also take account of many of the concerns expressed by people who responded to the consultation.

“We will now engage with local customers in each library affected to develop new patterns of opening hours and we will aim to be fair to customers, to libraries and to our staff.”