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Irish booksellers 'could lose their jobs' after library contracts outsourced to UK

The chair of Bookselling Ireland said that “at least three Irish companies will more than likely go out of business”.

File photo
File photo
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

IRISH BOOKSELLERS have said that they are at risk of going out of business after a State decision to outsource the majority of procurement for new library books to the UK.

The tender process for the procurement of library books has granted 60% of the €6 million annual contract to a UK company.

The announcement of the contracts in December was met with dismay by Irish cultural bodies, such as the Irish Writers Centre and Poetry Ireland.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, the chair of Bookselling Ireland, Frank Kelly, said that the move may mean “at least three Irish companies will more than likely go out of business”.

He also pointed out that the short-term gain for the government in terms of savings on books will be offset by the cost of people losing their jobs as smaller booksellers struggle to compete.

Kelly said: “In the short run, the UK might be the cheaper option. Next time there’s a tender there won’t be any competition. They’d be free to increase their prices then. It’s a short-term gain for a long-term loss.”

As well as the impact on local jobs and communities – Kelly employs over 10 people at his Sligo business – there are fears that there will be a negative cultural impact from this outsourcing.

In a statement, Bookselling Ireland and Words Ireland said:

Irish booksellers and library suppliers offer unique local industry knowledge, and have been instrumental in supporting Irish publishers and authors by ensuring Irish content is available in Irish libraries.

Author and former Children’s Laureate Siobhán Parkinson said that, a year after we commemorated the 1916 rising, we should continue to promote events of Irish cultural and historical significance through the books we have in our libraries.

She said: “A nation that aspires to develop independent thinking in its children needs a public library system that can provide our children with books written by Irish authors, published in Ireland (as well as elsewhere), mediated by specialist Irish librarians.

“And supplied by specialist [children's books] Irish library suppliers who have expertise in Irish requirements and can source and recommend the titles that Irish readers and especially Irish children want and need to read.

If library supply contracts are outsourced to corporate entities outside Ireland, the cultural consequences will be enormous and irretrievable.

Cultural groups want the government to implement a “cultural exemption” to the procurement process which, under EU directives, can make tender processes subject to cultural sensitivities.

They say that, instead of locking out suppliers from overseas, “it would provide smaller Irish firms with some security for the future”.

Kelly added that specialist Irish suppliers had worked with libraries here for decades, and that they were aware of the specific requirements that libraries up and down the country have.

He said that a specific skillset will be lost if the contracts go ahead, and companies from outside Ireland take control of library supplies.

“We won’t be around the next time a procurement process comes along,” he said. “We want this to be looked at again before the contracts are signed, but it’ll be a tough battle.”

TheJournal.ie has asked the Local Government Management Agency, the State agency responsible for the provision of services to library authorities, for comment on the issue.

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Sean Murray

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