ON Monday evening (7th February), the Save Killyleagh Library Campaign committee gathered in the Bridge Centre to update members of the public about the position regarding the consultation on their local library.
Feelings were running strong at the meeting as one person after another endorsed the work of the action committee. Clive Scoular, chairman, explained that while a meeting with Irene Knox, Libraries NI Chief Executive was pending, that it was necessary to get the message across that Killyleagh library was a key, integral part of the community.
He said, “We are very heartened by the response from all our local schoolchildren. They have each written a letter to Mrs Knox telling why they do not want their library to close down. There are 387 letters altogether. And we are now using the social media to engage in our campaign through Facebook and Twitter, and we will have our video up in YouTube very soon.
“Our campaign has also been supported by Killyeagh’s international soccer star David Healy.
“On Friday 25th, we are organising a ‘big borrow’ from the library hoping to completely empty it of books by our local supporters as a gesture that our library is wanted and is used by our community. This begins at 10.30am on Friday 25th February. Everyone must come along and support this protest. It was done very effectively in Stony Strattford in England and will work here.”
Mr Scoular welcomed Strangford MP Jim Shannon to the meeting and Counillors Eddie Rea and Billy Walker adding that the campaign was delighted to have all the politcal support it could get. He explained that the committee would be making a presentation to Down District Council the following week to gather their support.
Alan Bucknall, campaign committee member added that out of the 76 libraries in Northern Ireland, Killyleagh is one of the ten that were eamarked by Libraries NI as not being suitable as future libraries.. He said, “Libraries NI may have rational reasons for wanting to close the library. These reasons fall into four categories: not fit for purpose, it can’t deliver Libraries NI vision, it is not in the right location, or it is not sustainable. It seems the Killyleagh library fails in all four counts.
“We have to stop them in their tracks and let them know that if they proceed down this road they will encounter an awful lot of trouble. We have the opportunity to speak to Mrs Knox on the 28th February and we must take this opportunity to demonstrate that they are wrong in their decision.
“I have written to Mrs Knox and asked her 29 questions under Freedom of Information. One key issue is that Libraries NI do not own the building… it is owned by SERC. They may feel that they cannot keep the building running sustainably as they do not own it. But across the country no library pays its way. The issue of installing a lift to create disabled access to the upper floors is a big issue and the cost is in the region of £41,000.
“I have written to SERC and requested a copy of the plans of the building. An architect has offered to look at the plan and give an opinion as to what can be done with the building,
“The building needs renovated.The top floor could be used by groups and for meetings and a charge would help make it more sustainable. In the past groups did use the upstairs space. But because of health and safety and disabled access it is now unusable.”
Martin Craig, local man, speaking from the floor congratulated the group for their efforts and said he thought that the issues were very much a result of EU legislation effecting the use of the premises. he added, “We also need to put something back into the library… and make Libraries NI an offer to move this forward.”
Library user Elizabeth Irvine said, “When Libraries NI took over from the Education and Library Boards, they did not look at the issue of shared services. We need our politicians to sort this out.”
Strangford DUP representatives Jim Shannon MP and Simon Hamilton MLA have already met with the Chief Executive of Libraries NI Irene Knox to discuss the consultation on the future of Killyleagh Library.
Mr Shannon and Mr Hamilton were joined by Clive Scoular and Alan Bucknall from the save Killyleagh library campaign.
Mr Shannon said, “I welcome Irene Knox’s readiness to meet with me, Simon and representatives of the Save Killyleagh Library campaign and discuss the reasons why Killyleagh has been put on a list of 10 libraries across Northern Ireland which are deemed “potentially not viable”.
“We made clear to Libraries NI our firm belief that a library is about much, much more than simply lending books and that losing the service would be a hammer blow to the people of Killyleagh and only add to the sense that many public services have retreated from the town.
“Whilst I appreciate that usage of the library has fallen in recent times, this is not a phenomenon unique to Killyleagh and has been experienced all over Northern Ireland. We also learnt that the cost of keeping Killyleagh Library open is roughly £40,000 annually which, while it cannot be dismissed, is not huge.
“What was highlighted for me by our conversation was the focus by Libraries NI on the building. They do not own the current library building and do not have capital money to spend in upgrading it to meet required disability standards or enhance it internally.
“It is now essential that those of us who care about Killyleagh Library turn our minds to arguing the alternative to closure and input our ideas into the ongoing consultation process”.
Simon Hamilton later added, “The outcry within the local community against the closure of Killyleagh library has been impressive. I don’t think there is anyone in Killyleagh who thinks that moves towards closing the Library make sense.
“It would not only deprive Killyleagh of a book lending service but would adversely affect our local schoolchildren, disadvantage older people, rob the community of a valuable resource and marginalise people who would be unable to travel further afield to avail of the services offered by a modern library. We all know this would be the case. Now we need to convince Libraries NI.
“I was impressed at Libraries NI’s willingness to be open to ideas that the Killyleagh community generate. I welcome the fact that this is not an open and shut case and that Irene Knox and Libraries NI are prepared to work with the local community to explore alternative ways in which Killyleagh can retain its critical library service”.
The meeting ended on a positive note of a community committed to maintaining its library service. But what final outcome that will take remains to be seen. There will be much negotiation and discussion ahead with Libraries NI, with politicians, and possibly even on the floor of the NI Assembly if the dialogue breaks down. The campaigners are very capable and determined, and will try and “unpic” the case that Libraries NI will present. But they equally need a strategic plan in place which considers a range of options to keep a library service in place in Killyleagh.
The Killyleagh Library campaign Facebook Page is: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-Killyleagh-Library