Official Report (Hansard)

Session: 2006/2007

Date: Thursday, 31 May 2007

Libraries Bill

31 May 2007

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr Barry McElduff (Chairperson)
Mr Dominic Bradley
Mr Francie Brolly
Lord Browne
Mr Paul Maskey
Mr Nelson McCausland
Mr Pat Ramsey
Mr Jim Shannon

The Chairperson (Mr McElduff):
The First Reading of the libraries Bill is scheduled for Tuesday 19 June, with the Second Reading scheduled for Monday 2 July. The Committee will be glad to hear that the Second Reading of a Bill involves a debate on the Bill’s general principles only, and will be informed, in this case, by the Committee’s recent question-and-answer session with departmental officials, and particularly with Mr Colin Jack.

The Committee Clerk has drafted a paper on the draft Bill’s general principles for members’ information. This session will provide members, in general, and the Committee Chairperson, in particular, with an opportunity to air views on the general principles of the draft Bill. When I speak on this matter in the House, it will be to represent the Committee’s views, and the Committee Clerk will assist me in preparing a statement on behalf of the Committee.

The Committee must decide whether it is content with the general principles and purpose of the Bill rather than with individual draft clauses — the Committee will have an opportunity to scrutinise the Bill in detail at Committee Stage.

Does the Committee welcome the draft Bill? Does it support the idea of a single library authority? Does the Committee have any general concerns about the draft Bill, or are there any issues that the Committee wants the Minister or the Department to clarify? Those are the questions that the Committee must answer today.

Mr D Bradley:
Chairperson, it was mentioned either by you or the Committee Clerk that deliberations on legislation would be recorded by Hansard. Is that correct?

The Chairperson:
Yes.

Mr D Bradley:
Can I take it that the Committee’s discussion two weeks ago was recorded?

The Chairperson:
It was not recorded by Hansard.

Mr D Bradley:
Therefore, there is a record of the questions asked, but no record of the answers given.

The Chairperson:
That is correct.

Mr McCausland:
Members could listen to the tape of proceedings.

Mr P Ramsey:
Chairperson, how can you reflect the Committee’s opinions in the Chamber if there is no record of them?

The Chairperson:
There is a tape recording of the meeting and the information provided by Mr Jack, which will be studied.

Mr D Bradley:
Will the transcript be made available to us?

The Chairperson:
Yes.

Mr P Ramsey:
The Committee would find a copy of the speech that you will be making in the Chamber of more use.

The Chairperson:
My speech will be based on the discussion that day and on anything that members wish to say today. For example, members raised issues about ensuring that core library services are free. That must be stated explicitly in the Bill. What other issues do Members recall?

Mr D Bradley:
I recall that there was concern to provide flexibility in opening hours so as to accommodate different age groups. Libraries should continue to open on Saturday mornings to facilitate parents with young families and on weekday mornings to facilitate older people.

Mr Ramsey:
My concerns included research; development of creativity; social inclusion; targeting social need (TSN), and rural areas, which are an ongoing concern and which are threatened by the loss of schools and post offices.

Mr Bradley made the point that libraries must be more family-friendly, which would include opening on Saturdays.

Lifelong learning and provision for literacy were also concerns. Recently, a debate on literacy and numeracy was held in the Chamber. All of those issues have a bearing on how a centre of excellence could be provided, outside mainstream education, which would enable cultural minorities and other groups to access information and increase their participation. Existing library services must be utilised fully. Up-to-date training should be provided for existing staff, and trained staff should be valued highly.

During the consultation exercise, concerns were expressed that the library service would only be provided on an initial basis. The Committee must ensure that the library service will continue.

The Chairperson:
If other members wish to express concerns now, those will be factored into the Committee’s statement.

Mr Brolly:
My point relates to the continued provision of free access to reading. Draft clause 4(3)(b) states that the authority shall have power:

“to make such charge as the Authority considers appropriate for anything that it does in the exercise of any such power and to calculate any such charge on any basis that it considers to be the appropriate commercial basis.”

The Committee might consider that as threatening.

Mr P Maskey:
The importance of TSN areas must be hammered home as regards urban and rural areas. People living in deprived areas may have no access to computers or to places in which to do homework. Young people should be able to access such facilities in local libraries. That is important.

Lord Browne:
As there will be only one authority, its membership should reflect urban and rural interests. Furthermore, it should reflect the make-up of the population through the inclusion of trade unionists and elected representatives. Perhaps the proposed library authority could be expanded to include those elements.

Mr McCausland:
I agree. The library authority should reflect the whole community. It would be a cultural agency and should reflect the cultural diversity of Northern Ireland.

Mr D Bradley:
I agree with Nelson. The library stock — books and modern media — should reflect indigenous languages and cultures. In addition, libraries should serve the new population arriving in Northern Ireland.

Pat Ramsey referred to the library service in rural communities and to the mobile library service in particular. Recent cutbacks have led many in the countryside to be anxious about the future of that service.

When I mentioned opening hours, I neglected to mention evening opening hours.

Mr McCausland:
There is a point that I omitted to mention. Northern Ireland does not have a national library, and there is a regional service that must be borne in mind concerning the maintenance of substantial stocks of literature and archives. The Bill should include reference to that regional service as well as local services in various areas. It is important that that be mentioned because much of a country’s cultural wealth resides in its libraries.

Mr D Bradley:
May I make a final point about the Irish and Local Studies Library in Armagh? It is a valuable resource for people who are researching and exploring local history and family history. Unfortunately, the library’s stock has recently been reduced, removed and put into storage. That is alarming. It is a specialised library that is a tremendous asset to local areas and to Northern Ireland. I hope that the new library authority will value the service provided by libraries such as the Irish and Local Studies Library in Armagh; that the stock will be on display and that there will be staff to facilitate the type of service that is needed.

The Chairperson:
We each have our own cultural interests. I remember hearing that a library should reflect the interests of the community: in other words, a person should be able to walk into a library and put his or her hand on a book about something that excites their community. For example, if there is a textile factory beside a library, the library must attract the people from the textile factory. Forty thousand people in High Street, Omagh welcomed home the Tyrone gaelic football team, but the number of books on gaelic football in Omagh library could have been counted on the fingers of two hands. It made me realise that libraries do not always keep abreast of the interests of the community.

Mr D Bradley:
Maybe Armagh people had borrowed them all. [Laughter.]

Mr McCausland:
Was there a big red hand on the cover of Omagh library’s books indicating that they were about the Tyrone gaelic football team?

The Chairperson:
Yes — on several of them. I remind members that if they intend to speak during the Bill’s Second Reading on 2 July, they must inform the Business Office. There is a chance that the Bill may be referred to the Committee for consideration at the Committee Stage before recess. The Committee Stage will include taking evidence from interested parties. The Department’s deadline for passing the legislation is April 2008. Therefore members will be glad to hear that there is no need for the Committee to take evidence over the summer recess.

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