Article from the Jan 2005 issue of the Socialist , newspaper of the Socialist Party, Irish section of the CWI
No library closures
By Jim Rutherdale, NIPSA
LIBRARIES THAT serve working class communities in Belfast face closure. The Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) has put forward proposals to close six of the 21 libraries in the city, all of them in working class areas.
The excuse is that libraries in working class communities are used less. Given the fact that the budget forecast is for more cuts over the next few years, the logic of this approach is that, eventually, only middle class areas will have a library service.
Yet working class areas need their libraries more than the better off. Libraries increasingly provide computer and internet access, as well as access to reference books.
For poor kids, they improve the chances of doing well in education. There are also a high proportion of immigrants who use these facilities for educational purposes and to keep in touch with families. As well as this, the libraries play a social role as a meeting place for children, adults and pensioners.
Direct rule Ministers have tried to say the reason for the cuts lies with bad management, even hinting at financial impropriety. The truth is that the Board's budget has been frozen for a second year. Yet costs of materials, especially heating oil, are rising.
NIPSA members have been meeting to discuss opposition to the cuts. Staff are directly affected and the Board have not ruled out compulsory redundancies. Various local politicians have expressed "outrage", but usually demanding only the saving of the library in their constituency.
NIPSA needs to build a campaign of opposition involving all staff, community groups and the general public to defend these services and link this issue with other attacks on education.