Letter regarding library provision in Northern Ireland: Cochrane [Newsletter]

Dear Editor,

In reply to DCAL Press Officer’s, Jill Herron, reaction to my criticism of Minister Maria Eagle’s position in regards to the funding of library services in Northern Ireland (9 August), the matter is not the increase in library expenditure since 1999. Rather, my and my party’s concern is the threat of closure of libraries that provide a vital service, especially for vulnerable and deprived groups.

The Alliance Party welcomes the Government library review and its desire to ensure an agreed future vision for the library service in Northern Ireland. Alliance wants to see improved library services and standards.

Yet our concern remains that a situation is being allowed to continue whereby DCAL is not fully appreciating the role of libraries in various neighbourhoods.

Libraries play an important role in developing and promoting social contact and community cohesion. Alliance believes that libraries should be located in places where people access a range of services and amenities, to maximise the potential usage and local community benefit. A co-location of a range of local services in a single building would be more efficient and less expensive.

For example, libraries could be placed in a local building that also contains a Citizen’s Advice Bureau, tourist office, community centre, leisure centre, and doctor’s surgery. The Hetton Centre in Sunderland is a good example of a locally-based co-location.

A more cross-departmental and visionary thinking is required for this kind of joined-up policy. Indeed, this is my criticism of Minister Eagle’s approach: while some libraries are certainly benefiting, others are left to languish, with DCAL passing the buck to individual Education and Library Boards.

As the response of public consultations incorporate wider concerns and issues of local neighbourhoods, so too should Minister Eagle. My constituents have made it clear that they want to retain their local libraries, and support my party’s policies as to how we can achieve this.

Instead of being ‘reassured’ about DCAL’s approach, I am all the more concerned that further public consultation will have no effect in changing the Minister’s thinking.

However, I will continue to campaign for improved services for my constituents in the SEELB area.

Yours sincerely, Councillor Judith Cochrane, Alliance Party of Northern Ireland

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