The Council Executive has moved to allay fears with regard to a proposed plan to introduce staffless opening hours at the County Library. Local authority management, instead, consider it a positive step for the service locally, while stating they are operating an open-door policy with regard to employee concerns.
The statement was prompted by a motion tabled at the elected member's monthly meeting last week by Sinn Fein's Eugene Greenan, who said he was "uncomfortable" supporting an initiative, which had so clearly divided opinion and was opposed by many of those who work within the library service.
Asking that Cavan County Council oppose the introduction of staffless libraries, he said that the country has a proud literary history, and in recent years no small part in that has been played through the diligence local librarians.
"To propose that libraries can function without staff is insult to the profession," Cllr Greenan said, adding the piloting of the scheme elsewhere had only a minimal impact and that there were several other considerations, including anti-social behaviour and child-protection issues.
The move to introduce staffless library hours is an extension of a pilot scheme in Tullamore, Banagher and Tubbercurry. The entire cost of the scheme is estimated to be about €1.94 million; the department will pay €1.41 million and the libraries will provide the other €500,000.
The cost of the 'My Open Library' scheme in Cavan is estimated to be €85,000, with a contribution of almost €64,000 coming from central government coffers.
The idea will see libraries soon open to the public between 8am and 10pm, with staff present during the normal operating hours, but a self-service system for the extra hours.
Some librarians, however, believe that the move heralds the beginning of the end for the Public Library Service, an opinion not shared by Cavan County chief librarian Tom O'Sullivan.
Addressing the monthly meeting and Cllr Greenan's concerns, he said the change would see opening hours effectively increase from the current 46 to 98 hours per week.
He said the Johnston Library receives 100,000 visitors per year, with 5,500 users at present.
While usage of the service outside of hours is expected to only account for five per cent of all withdrawals, what the pilot scheme showed was that more people used the site for study or to use the technologies on site. This, he said, would hugely benefit students of both Breifne College and Cavan Institute, explaining that a straw poll of regular library users found that "very few were aware of the change, but said they would be delighted to use it".
Mr O'Sullivan added that it was onus on the Council to "provide the best service it can" for the people of the county, and that the 'My Open Library' scheme "could only be seen as an enhancement" of existing services.
Conscious of the closure of the Crannóg Bookshop locally and the constant drift of readers from traditional to more modern media, Mr O'Sullivan said: "Readership numbers are dropping, so we need to look ways of maximising our money."
He further stated that the extra opening hours would add new life to the section of town in the evening, and noted how those who did use the service at pilot phase took on a degree of "ownership" of the initiative, and were "proud" to use it.
Both he and Director of Services Eoin Doyle put on record that with regard to staff concerns at the development, as voiced through their union, that there was an "open door" policy on the subject and they were eager to ensure that the scheme was a success in all respects.
Mr O'Sullivan furthermore announced that, as part of a national roll-out, library cards assigned locally could be used at any library across the country as part of a new shared system being introduced.
There was mixed reaction to Cllr Greenan's proposal and, while all members considered library employee concerns, they awaited the outcome of the trial phase of the new staffless scheme.
"I can see why people have concerns," Fianna Fáil's John Paul Feeley said, whilst adding: "We will have to wait and see how the trial goes and how we can use it to enhance what's already there."
While Sarah O'Reilly (FF), whose mother was a librarian, greeted the move with more trepidation, Fine Gael's Paddy O'Reilly supported the extension of opening hours, saying: "if this is the way to do it then so be it."