Our libraries are in a terrible state o' chassis
The Irish News view: Libraries should be treasured. What an indictment of how our public services have been defunded that they can't buy new books
In yet another vivid example of the steady erosion of our public services under Tory austerity, the consequences of dysfunction at Stormont and more than 18 months of DUP intransigence, libraries are no longer able to afford to buy new books.
Perhaps we should not be surprised. This week has also seen workers from across health and social care strike over pay and conditions. Further Education lecturers have also taken to picket lines this week, and will embark on further action in the weeks ahead. University staff will begin strike action next week.
The state of Lough Neagh, awash with toxic blue-green algae, is another symbol of deterioration and neglect. It seems that even Parliament Buildings, where the canteen roof is falling down, is collapsing in sympathy with the decline in the services and amenities our taxes are supposed to pay for.
Even in this dispiriting context there is something profoundly sad about the fact that there will be no new library books this year.
The dreary litany of declining public services seems to not only grow ever longer but also with a certain grim, almost metronomic, predictability; "The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new," to borrow the opening line from Samuel Beckett's novel Murphy.
Of course, were it published today, the book wouldn't be available from one of the 96 local libraries which provide such a valuable and heroic public service. There will be nothing new. What an indictment.
Libraries NI has been placed in this invidious position because the Department for Communities, which funds the service, has a £111.2 million funding gap to bridge this year. It means that new books are another victim of the budget imposed by secretary of state Chris Heaton-Harris earlier this year.
The cuts also affect new audio book titles, though Libraries NI says it will continue its newspaper and magazine subscriptions.
Libraries have already experienced cuts, with many having to reduce their opening hours in recent years.
They are, perhaps, an underappreciated resource but are essential to their communities. Introducing young children to books and the joy of reading is vital; that work will continue, of course, but it is more than regrettable that the latest books won't be available to young readers.
How books, reading and literacy are regarded must say something about the quality of a society. As Seán O'Casey's Captain Boyle might have declared about this sorry situation, there is a state o' chassis in the land of saints of scholars.