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In November 2005, my Department undertook an extensive consultation exercise that included the views of the rural community. Those views were recognised and incorporated into the resulting policy framework. The boards are responsible for delivering public library services in line with public libraries policy, which includes engaging with rural communities on local service priorities. Local engagement is ongoing within the boards and will continue when the Northern Ireland library authority is created.
The Carnegie Library redevelopment in Bangor is almost complete, and the building should open to the public next month. The £2·7 million investment in the Ward Park facility is one of a number of projects that will modernise and improve the public library estate.
Next month’s opening of the new Carnegie Library in Bangor will be a welcome development that everyone will embrace. How will communities be consulted after the creation of the Northern Ireland library authority?
An appearance at Carnegie Hall will take on another connotation in Bangor.
The Northern Ireland library authority will become operational in 2009 and will have local consultative groups. A pilot group will be established in each of the four geographic business areas within the first three months of the library authority’s establishment. Library services must continue to be relevant to local needs. Therefore, although the service will be planned and led regionally, it will be delivered locally.
As I have outlined on previous occasions, the provision of library services is a matter for the board. However, I appreciate that mobile library services — particularly in the western area — have a cross-border context, and there is a mobile library facility for that specific purpose. Given the terrain and the rural nature of the land along the part of the border to which the Member refers, it is sensible and productive for such liaison to take place. The facility is, apparently, well used. I encourage people — particularly those in Northern Ireland but also those in the Irish Republic — to make use of that facility, and I hope that everyone will.
Since 34% of the population live in rural areas, does the Minister agree that his Department’s raw expenditure on library provision needs to be rural proofed? The rural population of 565,000 is served by only 30 mobile libraries — that is approximately one library for every 20,000 people. Does the Minister have any plans to increase that provision?
That issue was raised during my last appearance at Question Time; indeed, I think that that was as a result of a question from the honourable Member. The provision of library services in rural areas is primarily a matter for the education and library boards. My information is that provision in rural areas is satisfactory and has been satisfactory over recent years because no new demands for additional services — either from members of the public or public representatives — have been made to the education and library boards.
If Members feel that there are areas that could be adequately covered by existing services, or in which additional resources might be deployed in order to provide that service, that information must be made known — in the first instance, to the relevant education and library board. The board and I will then consider that information.