Library supply change could threaten Irish jobs

Library supply change could threaten Irish jobs

Up to 100 booksellers could lose their jobs if library supply in Ireland is centralised, European Booksellers Federation president John McNamee has warned.

McNamee, owner of Laois Education supplies in Portlaois, issued the stark warning after the Irish government set out its vision for the future of libraries in Ireland in the document Opportunities For All: A Strategy For Public Libraries 2013–2017 last month.

The document stated that “a policy for shared acquisitions for libraries will be developed, including a national acquisitions consortium for public library print and electronic resources that maximises the cost-effectiveness of resources expenditure, increases purchasing power and gets the best choice of material to the user in line with government policy.”

The government of Ireland has ambitious plans for public sector reform: it aims to make savings of €500m on public procurement.

McNamee told The Bookseller that many of Ireland’s independent bookshops rely on supplying local libraries as a vital source of revenue, and added that several more companies specialise in library supply exclusively.

McNamee said he feared these companies would be wiped out if a central library supply policy was decided upon, because the contract was likely to be awarded to a multinational wholesaler outside of Ireland, such as Bertrams or Gardners in the UK.

McNamee said: “Our estimates are that 70–100 jobs could be lost in bookselling if there is central library procurement. That is very significant given the size of our market. The government should consider the potential impact of this across the board—a cultural deficit could be made by this decision if we lose bookshops, booksellers, and their knowledge.”

He added: “The government may save money on a single line on the Exchequer balance sheet, but there will be longer-term consequences to the economy and the cultural health of the country and the government is not recognising that.”

Brendan Bannigan, owner of Open Book company Library Supply Limited in Fingal, Dublin, employs eight people and is concerned for the future of his business. He told The Bookseller that employees in his company were already working reduced hours after three local library supply contracts in Dublin were won by Bertrams last year.

“I think everybody should be concerned about this, libraries too, because all our specialist knowledge will be lost if library supply is centralised and I think this will have an impact on Irish literature and Irish local interest books,” he said.

“Ireland is a country which prides itself on its literary heritage—we should be doing something to protect that and libraries should be seen as custodians of that heritage.” Bannigan added: “My appeal to the government is to look instead to the practices in continental Europe, where France, Germany and many other countries seek to retain their unique cultures with public policies that support local indigenous booksellers and publishing.”     

Bob Johnston, owner of the Gutter Bookshop and also president of the Irish branch of the Booksellers Association, confirmed the issue was “a big one” for Irish booksellers, and that he had been in touch with many people concerned about it.

In response to the concerns, a spokesperson for the Irish government told The Bookseller the implementation of a policy for shared acquisitions for public libraries was a “catalyst” for economic, social and cultural development. “As yet, no specific elements have been determined and the development of a national policy will be undertaken by a working group, representative of national and local government, which will look to establish a policy framework that has regard to national and local priorities,” the spokesperson said.

However, centralising library supply was just one option the working group would have to consider.