In Dublin, Ireland, twenty-three library branches will offer a new Open Library service in 2017, meaning libraries will stay open and operate without staff during the evenings and weekends.
This initiative has made the library staff uneasy. And the librarians have come out against the initiative stating “We truly believe that this move is the beginning of the end for our Public Library Service.”
This has become a bit of a hot-button political issue as the Dublin City Councillors voted against the initiative to show support for librarians and library staff. However, the Minister of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government Simon Coveney said, “There will be no closure of library branches as a result of the Open Library service. Similarly, there will be no reduction in staffing levels or staffed hours as a result of the service, either in the short or long term." He added that “funding is allocated to libraries on the basis of applications received from local authorities interested in rolling out the service in their respective areas. My Department received 27 applications under the My Open Library initiative following a call for proposals from interested local authorities in June 2016.”
It's a difficult situation because of the potential future ramifications of such an initiative. In the short-term, it's wonderful that the libraries will be open to the public during the evenings and on weekends for greater access to materials. In the long-term, however, if the initiative is deemed successful by the powers that be, what's to say that the Minister of Housing won't cut staff as a future cost-savings measure?
Library staff are such an important part of what makes a public library the heart of any community. To cut the very people who are the glue of the institution would be a grievous error. If this initiative is truly about creating greater access to information, then bravo! We should, however, keep a watchful eye on this trend.
To learn more about staff-less libraries, see a forthcoming book to be released in March 2017.
From the book's description:
Staff-Less Libraries: Innovative Staff Design considers the challenges of this approach, its pros and cons, identifies international experiences, and discusses best practices. It presents a step-by-step approach to implementing a staffless library and/or services, and seeks to inspire professionals to share experiences and optimize their library. Staff-less public libraries, enabled by technological developments, represent a significant and innovative aspect of the development of public libraries. The concept radically enlarges the availability of user access to public libraries. Some Danish public library branches have, for example, increased their weekly opening hours from 20 to 80 hours per week. In Denmark, the concept has been quite successful, increasing the number of staff-less libraries from 81 public library units in 2011 to 260 in 2014.