Time ticking on cuts to city book buses

LONDONDERRY readers have been warned that they have less than a month to have their say on proposed changes that could see the UK City of Culture’s books-on-wheels service slashed.

Dozens of mobile library stops in Londonderry UK City of Culture 2013 are under threat of being axed whilst Libraries NI also wants to eliminate internet provision from its books-on-wheels service altogether.

A spokesperson for Libraries NI says mobile library users and anyone else with an interest should respond to a consultaion on the changes by Friday, December 14, 2012.

Mobile library customers can get a copy of a questionnaire when they visit their mobile library.

The questionnaire, along with further information on the Mobile Library Service Strategy, is also available at www.librariesni.org.uk.

Libraries NI says its new ‘Mobile Library Service Strategy’ is being developed principally to ensure that the use of the service increases but the proposals include slashing mobile internet services and concentrating on younger and older users to the detriment of everybody else.

Equally, the strategy proposes that a “mobile stop in an urban area must not be within easy access of a branch library; must be in an area of social need and must have at least five regular customers on an on-going basis with a sustained level of use.” This could affect dozens of local communities.

Currently, the mobile library service stops at a number of locations in the city, which are arguably within relatively easy access to the Waterside, Central, Strathfoyle, Creggan and Shantallow branch libraries.

A list of city stops currently served includes Caw Nursery, Glendermott PS, Riverside Park, Drumahoe, Milltown View, Tullyally, Currynierin, Altnagelvin, Hollybush, Ballyarnett Travellers, St Eithne’s Park, Hazelbank PS, Synge Court, Shaw’s Court, Hollymount, Prehen Park, Eglinton Village, Mullaghbuoy and Maydown.

The document proposes that “the limited space on public mobiles should be used to provide services mainly for the key target groups, namely older, retired people and children of various age groups and their carers.” It admits that whilst good for the old and the young this will not be so good for everybody else.

“There will be a minor adverse impact for people in other age groups, but they will still be catered for and there is a well established system allowing mobile users to order, free of charge, specific materials for collection during the next visit,” the strategy states.

The strategy also proposes eliminating internet access from the mobile library service suggesting it is not an ideal method of delivering access to the web.

But it admits older people could miss the service stating that “(older women and disabled people) tend to have more restricted access to the internet than others. “There is therefore potential for these groups to be differentially and adversely affected by the service proposal.”

The strategy outlines certain criteria for providing stops in both urban and rural areas.

In the countryside a mobile stop must have at least five regular customers and must not be within three miles of a branch library. In the city it must not be within easy access of a branch library; must be in an area of social need and must have at least five regular customers on an on-going basis with a sustained level of use.

Libraries NI says it does not want to slash the number of stops but does not rule this out either.

It states: ”The strategy is designed to result in an equitable service which provides value for money and there is no desire to reduce the number of stops significantly.

“Nevertheless, there will be some adverse impacts on customers in areas where these criteria cannot be met and the impacts will be differential for young people, older people, women and disabled people simply because they make up a large percentage of existing customers.

“At this stage, the number of stops which will be affected by the adoption of such criteria is unknown and further analysis of the customers affected is not available, but Libraries NI is committed to working with existing customers to ensure that practical mitigating measures are developed to help them to continue to access library services.” Services to local schools may also be affected under the proposed shake-up.

Whilst Libraries NI says it is committed to increasing “the number of the services to schools and playgroups served” and to developing “a more targeted approach to publicising public mobile library services” this must be balanced with “the suitability of available days and times, the effect on fixed libraries, the potential level of use and the level of need e.g. distance from a branch library.”