Self-service could make Islington libraries like supermarkets

Fears have been raised that Islington’s libraries will become “soulless and impersonal” like supermarkets after town hall bosses agreed to roll out self-service machines.

Automated terminals for checking out books will be introduced in all 10 of the borough’s libraries in a bid to save �250,000 over three years.

But critics say the system will make the service less accessible for elderly and disabled people and could wreck the treasured library experience.

Jane Doolan, branch secretary of Islington Unison, the trade union that represents library staff, said: “They are going to make it a bit like a supermarket. I would not even use one of those machines in Tesco - I don’t trust them and I want a bit of human contact, and a lot of people feel like that.

“My daughter with Down’s syndrome won’t be able to use one of these machines. It’s going to be older people and people with disabilities that will be affected.”

Cllr Terry Stacy, leader of the Liberal Democrat opposition, said: “The next thing we know, libraries will be run by Tesco. It will be much more impersonal and soulless. Our libraries have always prided themselves on the personal touch and that’s what residents like and expect.”

The machines will cost an initial �565,000 but are projected to save �250,000 through staffing reductions by 2014.

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The move is part of a �650,000 cuts plan approved by Islington Council’s executive on Thursday. It will also see hours slashed at eight libraries set to be “twinned”, which will only open on alternate days.

Cllr Paul Convery, Islington Council’s executive member for planning, regeneration and transport, said: “Going to a library is not like shopping at a supermarket. The most important part is not the transaction of taking a library book out, it’s about staff and user interaction. We think the self-service works and people will not lose that interaction.”

He added: “We are keeping all 10 libraries open and spending the same on books. If things get better, we have retained all our libraries and would be able to increase opening hours again.”