New library strategy with no fees and late opening

By  Peter McNamara

Do you have a habit of forgetting to return library books? Does the prospect of a sizeable fine keep you from visiting your local library? Now that the government has decided to get rid of late fines, to remove all service charges, and to extend opening hours, the time may be right to reconnect with the library.

These changes are part of a new strategy plan, Our Public Libraries 2022. The plan aims to increase membership. Although membership of all public libraries has been free since 2016, just 16% of the population are currently joined. According to Rural and Community Development Minister Michael Ring, efforts will be made to bring that up to 30% by the end of 2022.

Using the library is already entirely free: there are no charges for ordering books from the catalogue and having them delivered to your local branch. It is also a local service with a nationwide reach; members can use all library services, including borrowing and returning items, at any library in the country.

One measure is a plan to extend a self-service technology scheme called the My Open Library Service. Mr Ring plans to see this service extended from three pilot locations to 100 of the country’s 330 library branches in the lifetime of the strategy. This would see facilities open from 8am until 10pm all year, with kiosk facilities for checkout and return of books.

Understandably, these proposals have raised some industrial relations issues. The Fórsa union of Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) have insisted on safeguards that prevent the expansion of staffless library services until completion of a joint review by the union and management.

Local Landmarks

With so many user-friendly services on offer, the time may be right to take a fresh look at your local library.

The Ringsend Library, built in 1936, is something of a landmark in the locality. This simple building has Art Deco styling around the doors and simple modern window treatments. Bright and spacious inside, Ringsend library offers a host of facilities and services to its members. Not only are all the latest literary, romance, crime, and science-fiction books available to borrow, the library also offers email and printing services, book clubs, and reading groups.

Pembroke Library is another Dublin 4 staple. This graceful brick building stands just off Merrion Road. It was built in 1929 by the Pembroke Urban District Council on part of the site occupied by Pembroke Town Hall. The library was funded by the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust; the first librarian was Irish short story writer Frank O’Connor.

The Ballsbridge, Donnybrook and Sandymount Historical Society was founded in Pembroke Library in 2006 with the aim of promoting an interest in local history in the area. The Society arranges lectures, exhibitions and walking tours. Lecture meetings are currently held in Pembroke Library, at 1.00 pm on the last Wednesday of each month. Details of the complete programme are on the Society’s website

Dublin City’s Pearse Street Library was built in 1909 with the financial support of American millionaire Andrew Carnegie. Today it features a public library downstairs and a special study area upstairs. It’s a place where visitors can trace their family trees or look up the history of their area, as well as archival material and old newspapers.

Another feature is the stone head of Admiral Horatio Nelson; Nelson’s Pillar on O’Connell Street was blown up in 1966, and the head of the statue was saved.

Pearse Street Library also houses the Dublin Collection, including Dublin and daily newspapers and periodicals, dating from the 18th century. As well as that, the library houses the Irish Collection and the City Archives, the latter of which dates all the way from the 12th century.

Health, Employment and Literacy Programmes

As part of a Dublin City Library scheme, each library in Dublin 4 is currently running a host of initiatives, all of which are free to members.

The Healthy Ireland programme is designed to encourage people to enhance their health and well-being. This service provides brand-new books, e-books, e-audiobooks, and e-magazines, as well as talks, discussions and workshops. Healthy Ireland will focus on a range of areas, including obesity, tobacco use, healthy eating and sexual health. It aims to establish libraries as the “go- to” place for health information in communities.

Also ongoing is the Right to Read campaign. This is a national initiative to deliver systematic literacy support at local level. Rolled out nationally in 2017, Local Literacy Action Plans are being developed for each local authority area to provide continuity and reinforcement outside of formal education, supporting children, parents and adults with low levels of literacy.

On top of this, libraries are also running the Work Matters programme, which provides a range of business and employment supports for locally-based entrepreneurs, start-ups and job seekers.

Time for a Visit?

With over 17 million visits annually, libraries play an important community role as centres of knowledge, information and culture. As a result of ongoing investment in the public library service, there are new opportunities for education, life-long learning and personal development, through enhanced multimedia services.

It’s very easy to misplace a library book, or forget to return one. Now that the government has decided to forgive fees and remove charges, there’s nothing to stop people returning to their local library, and enjoying the rich benefits of membership. And with later opening hours and self-service kiosks, it’s never been more convenient to drop by.