Alliance Party representatives in East Belfast have expressed their concern over a potential threat to the future of libraries at Gilnahirk, Braniel and Tullycarnet. Cllr Naomi Long, Alliance Party Education spokesperson and East Belfast Assembly Member, recently campaigned successfully with local library users to lift the threat of closure from Ballyhackamore Library.
Naomi Long said, “Following a number of calls from concerned library users, we spoke with the South Eastern Education and Library Board last week, to clarify the current position. They confirmed that, whilst at the moment, no firm decisions have been taken to close any specific libraries, they are reviewing provision of libraries along the ‘Belfast fringe’, including at Tullycarnet, Gilnahirk, Braniel and Belvoir.
“Basically, although the Library Service has had an increase in funding this year, most of this has been absorbed by unavoidable staff costs, leaving very little for purchasing library stock. The Department in charge of libraries (DCAL) will be setting targets for new stock purchase as a proportion of next year’s budget and to meet this target, some libraries may have to close. The intention would be to enhance the remaining libraries and improve the mobile library service.
Local Alliance representative for Castlereagh East, Judith Cochrane said, “I am concerned about how these changes will affect local people, and so we have put these concerns in writing to the Head of Library Services and the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, who funds libraries. Especially given the changes to the bus services in Gilnahirk, Tullycarnet and Braniel, it would be very difficult for people in these areas to travel to other libraries, and so closure of the local library would leave them with no access to services at all. In an area such as Tullycarnet, which is an area of social need, the loss of a library would be a major blow.”
Castlereagh Central Councillor, Michael Long said, “Many elderly people, in particular, depend on the library in Braniel. Libraries are not just places to borrow books — people get access to the internet, computing facilities, daily papers and they have a valuable community role, which is often overlooked. We have been in contact with the Librarian to see if we can help in any way, and will continue to do what we can to protect local services. We are hoping to collect a petition in the area in support of the local libraries, which we will hand over to the Board as they make their decisions.”