HUNDREDS of thousands of pounds worth of technology that unions fear will lead to job losses is to be installed in Portsmouth’s libraries before the end of the year.
Radio Frequency Identification Data technology (RFID) was introduced at Copnor’s Alderman Lacey library yesterday, and will be introduced at Southsea Library and Customer Service Centre this month.
The system, which will be operating in all nine of the city’s libraries by the end of December, will see tiny chips implanted into books, which are automatically checked in and out by sensors – similar to the way the London Underground’s Oyster Card system works.
Portsmouth City Council believes the £400,000 scheme will cut the time it takes to borrow and return books.
But unions say it’s just a means by which the authority can cut jobs.
Unison’s Portsmouth branch secretary Lindsay Williams said: ‘It’s totally unreasonable. They are introducing the machines, keeping people on to train people how to use them and then those who trained them will be laid off. It’s totally unfair.
‘We believe eight jobs will be lost, all front-line librarian staff.
‘The council thinks it’ll save money, but in Waterlooville, where they already have the system, they have actually had to employ an extra person because the machines break down so much.’
Ms Williams cast doubt over whether the system will be welcomed – or even used – by library visitors in the city.
She said: ‘We have performed straw polls outside our libraries and people have been unanimously opposed. They say they will go and talk to a librarian instead.
‘That’s what people want, human interaction. These machines take that away, making the experience worse for the customer, and for our staff.’
Portsmouth City Council’s library services manager Lindy Elliott said the machines would improve customers’ experience – and played down the potential effect on jobs in the service. She said: ‘The machines will allow customers to quickly run their books through a machine to check them in and out.
‘It will make the process quicker for them.
‘It’s also thought it will take a little of the pressure off people returning books late. It may be easier for them to pay their fines to a machine than to have to pay a person.’
She added: ‘We do hope the system will help us make savings. But there’s no hurry. We need staff, to show customers how to use the machines, and also to help ensure they can find the books or products they want. It’s a gradual process and we hope any job losses may come from retirement and natural wastage.’