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The Northern Ireland library authority assumed responsibility for the public library service on 1 April 2009, as planned. The chief executive is in place, senior staff positions have been filled, new finance and IT systems have been set up, and staff have transferred to the new authority. Work has begun on the procedures and programme for the library authority board.
This is a significant new era for a valuable public service, which, henceforth, will be known as Libraries NI. I look forward to a fruitful relationship with the library authority as we work together to develop the service to the public and to ensure its continuing relevance in these changing times.
It is very important that the new library service in the Province relates to all communities. Many people are asking — it is important that the Minister responds to this question today — how the library service will make itself relevant to the whole of the Province and, specifically, to the areas that have libraries.
I thank the Member for a very relevant question about an authority that has been established for only the past three weeks. It is important that the service that Libraries NI will deliver has local relevance and importance. Its organisational structure provides for senior staff at director and business-managerial level to be located in the areas that they serve. Board meetings will be held throughout Northern Ireland in order to provide opportunities for board members to visit different local libraries and to meet staff and users. In addition, in order to ensure that the library service takes account of local needs, it will establish four pilot local engagement groups, which will bring together representatives of other organisations — statutory, community and voluntary — including the local council in each area. In due course, the library authority will also play an active part in the community planning process.
I am glad that I caught your eye, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to the Minister for his earlier answers. Has he any concerns or does he see any disadvantages arising from the separation of education and library governance when it comes to keeping educationally relevant book collections, considering that schoolchildren are major library users? If so, how does he intend to address such concerns?
The chief executive, chairperson and other members of the Libraries NI board would be content to meet MLAs or any public representatives who have concerns such as those outlined by the honourable Member. My understanding is that the new authority does not have any concerns about access to the libraries as they are envisaged.
I recommend that the honourable Member and, indeed, everyone visit their local library. Some of the new libraries are fantastic resources and provide access to excellent services, not just for schoolchildren but for the wider community. I have visited a number of the new libraries, including Bangor library, where I launched the new authority on 2 April. I recommend that MLAs and the wider public avail themselves of the services that libraries provide. I also recommend that MLAs hold discussions with members of the Libraries NI board if they have any concerns that there may be a contradiction or problem. I do not envisage any problems, and no such issues have been raised with me prior to today.
How will the Minister ensure that there is a connection between the library authority and schools? School libraries were always supplied by libraries in the main library service; how will the Minister ensure that that relationship remains for the benefit of children?
I thank the Member for her question. I understand that the authority is already doing that. Indeed, we had a live video link-up with a school in the Western Board area at the authority’s official launch on 2 April, and a number of primary-school children took part. The new board, its officers and members are acutely aware of the need to ensure that schools are an integral part of the library service. They realise that a first-class service must be provided to children of school age as well as to adults.