It struck me recently that the proposed closure of some public libraries around the country is like other decisions taken in this country where we could be accused of acting in haste, repenting at leisure. At the start of the 20th century, Ireland had 4,200 km of railway, the current status is less than half that amount. Would anyone today agree that the right decision was made then? When Garda Stations were closed in recent years, we witnessed campaigns to re-open them in the face of increasing crime statistics, particularly in rural area. The closure of Post Offices now, and the proposed closure of libraries fits that category of decision making too, far too closely linked to cost, not measured in terms of its impact on communities.
Many people have spelt out the consequences of closing public libraries, a most insightful contribution was Diarmuid Ferriters piece in last Friday’s Irish Times. To get a sense of the widely felt anger and disbelief at the proposed closers, read this opinion piece on the Journal, and view also the comments that followed. During the summer I highlighted a parallel story to the library closures; the recruitment of staff as ‘branch librarians’ to moreorless keep the show on the road. I won’t re-hash these and other points of view on library closures but I will propose instead an alternative, if only to get a debate started about alternatives.
The controversy that surrounds public libraries at the moment is a prickly one that has come about mainly due to a resourcing issue in local authorities. Far be it from me to advise government officials, but if Ministers Simon Coveney and Denis Naughten put their heads together, perhaps an elegant local information service solution could be devised. Libraries provide many public services; like Post Offices they provide citizens with access to the electoral register for example. There are many parallels between these two services and with both under threat of extinction it is time for a proactive response.
Denis Naughten has already claimed that the post office issue is one that is “close to his heart“. As Minister for Communications, perhaps Denis has the answer right under his nose; post offices can provide more services, libraries can provide more services.. . . the implementation won’t be easy but for bodies such as the LGMA who have played such a large role in mergers perhaps it is time to facilitate some exploration. Employees of the local authorities and those of An Post would no doubt be relived to hear that some out of the box thinking was going on in government that would not only save their jobs but also bolster their local communities in the provision of two crucial local services.