Linen Hall Library to close on Saturdays amid funding pressures

Linen Hall Library in Belfast city centre. Picture by Hugh Russell
Linen Hall Library in Belfast city centre. Picture by Hugh Russell

THE oldest library in Belfast has announced plans to close on Saturdays due to funding pressures.

The Linen Hall Library, the last subscribing library in Ireland, will close its doors on Saturdays from October for a six-month trial period.

In a letter to members, the president of the library's board of governors said the decision had been made in light of a "challenging economic situation affecting many third-sector institutions".

Alice Chapman wrote: "This was not a decision that was taken lightly, but as you can appreciate, we have to constantly analyse and adjust our business plan in a way that will ultimately maintain our sustainability."

The library, which was founded in 1788, is normally open weekdays from 9.30am to 5.30pm, and Saturdays 9.30am to 4.30pm.

Ms Chapman said the trial Saturday closure will run from October 1 to March 30 next year.

Linen Hall Library. Picture by Hugh Russell
Linen Hall Library. Picture by Hugh Russell

It comes as the library earlier this month revealed its application for around £25,000 of funding through the Arts Council of Northern Ireland had been turned down.

The library said it is appealing the decision over its National Lottery project funding bid, and has urged supporters to write to the Arts Council expressing their views.

Julie Andrews, director of the Linen Hall Library, said she was "very disappointed" with the funding decision.

She said funds had previously been in place for some years and were a "vital part of making our collections available to residents and visitors from all over the world".

"The Library has approximately 2,100 members. Because of the serious nature of the funding cessation, each member was personally written to," she said.

She added: "We are appealing the decision. It is important that the Arts Council realises the contribution that the Linen Hall Library makes to the arts and cultural life in Northern Ireland."

Linen Hall Library in central Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
Linen Hall Library in central Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell

The Arts Council said it was unable to comment on the specific application for National Lottery funding because it is currently under review.

However, a spokeswoman said: "Given the well-publicised pressures on arts funding over a number of years, the knock-on effect of government disinvestment has now, regrettably, also affected the Arts Council's National Lottery Project Funding.

"The board of the Arts Council had to take difficult funding decisions, based on balancing art forms across Northern Ireland in the context of a 33 per cent reduction in money available for that particular funding programme.

"Regrettably not all organisations worthy of funding received support. Of those which did, most suffered reductions on previous years.

"As a result valuable programmes of arts activity and engagement are lost to those who have previously enjoyed them and that is a source of regret."