In a cautionary tale of the kind of damaging cutbacks that lie ahead, the School Library Service in County Waterford is set to cease in the new year after four decades of literally delivering education to tens of thousands of children.
County Librarian Donald Brady has informed local primary school governors this week of the “proposed cessation” from January 1 – closing the cover on 40 years of unbroken service.
In the lead up to what’s likely to be one of its toughest estimates since the Eighties, Waterford County Council have been informed that no central grant will be provided towards the €100,000 annual cost of the book-lending operation in 2009.
Portlaw Fine Gael councillor Brendan Coffey, who is a member of the local primary school’s board of management, says: “As the council revenues have been hugely reduced as a result of cutbacks this ongoing commitment cannot be sustained by the local authority.”
He is calling on Waterford’s Government representatives, “especially Minister Martin Cullen” to make urgent representations to embattled Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe “to reverse this crazy decision immediately and provide the necessary funds to allow this invaluable service to continue.”
Since 1968 the County Library Service has provided books to primary school pupils the length and breadth of Waterford. “While the service was occasionally curtailed in times of economic stringency it was never completely stopped, even in a year when no grant was supplied by the Department of Education,” Mr Brady confirmed.
In the current year the grant supplied by the Department is just over €32,000 for the entire county and has been spent exclusively on books. “This year, as in previous years, the Library has endeavoured to supplement the figure spent on stock from our own resources,” the county libraries chief explained.
“The entire administrative, processing, and distribution costs are carried exclusively by Waterford County Council. Our van was purchased with funds supplied in total by the Department of the Environment, Heritage & Local Govt. It is estimated that the total expenditure on the schools service this year is close to €100,000.”
Having been informed that no grant will be provided for the coming 12 months, Mr Brady says “rural Waterford schools and schools in many smaller towns and villages not served by Branch Libraries have now been effectively deprived of access to books. When allied to a general reduction in schools capitation grants this will be a devastating blow and removes any pretension of commitment to books as an essential tool in maintaining literacy levels.
“Now we are likely to see no improvement over the next few years in literacy standards and we are also likely to see a significant degradation in measurement against international standards,” he warns.
“In an era of frequently expressed concern for the maintenance of rural communities and the tackling of social exclusion this is a massive blow and it is with the deepest regret that Waterford County Council must cease providing this service from the beginning of 2009 as our own revenues have been hugely reduced and cannot sustain the commitment,” he insisted.
Mr Brady hopes local committees can convince the Government to reverse “this extraordinarily short-sighted decision by the Department of Education which will blight the lives of a generation of school-goers in a very brief period.”