Saturday, June 18, 2011
What is a library?
It's a place where you get books out on loan and where you can consult a lot of general reference works. It is also a reading room where you can sit and read their books or even bring your own.
At least that's how it used to be.
Today your local library is so much more. Quite apart from automating book loans by (almost) replacing friendly and efficient staff with intelligent machines (see above), the library has become a much wider community facility and focal point.
This is a current view inside my local library, the second busiest in the city of Dublin. You can see the desk, which still does a brisk business despite the intelligent machines at the door. You can also see one of the exhibitions which turn up regularly throughout the year. This particular one displays some of the really excellent photography of members of the Sutton Camera Club. Other exhibitions cover the work of local artists and aspects of local history, and there are yet other, more general, Dublin based exhibitions which travel around the city's libraries.
The study space is a new feature. This gives students a chance to study uninterrupted in a quiet environment away from home. The library provides free Wifi to all its clients. There is another space in a secluded corner which hosts language classes and conversation groups. The children's spacious area is also requisitioned on some evenings for illustrated talks on a wide range of subjects. These are very popular and well attended.
And if you don't have access to the internet at home, for one reason or another, the local library is your only man. You can book hourly slots on one of the four open computers. This not only allows you to access the internet generally, but you also have free access to a number of databases which would cost you at home, such as the Irish Times digital archive and the Irish Newspaper Archive which covers the Independent and Freeman's Journal at national level and is steadily increasing its coverage of the provincial papers.
The children's area has been reorganised from the old days when the emphasis was simply on taking out books. As you can see from the photo above, the emphasis is now on space, allowing plenty of room for both reading and joint project work.
There are even outdoor facilities. This chess/draughts bench sits in the middle of the front lawn and provides good healthy open air brain stimulation to players of all ages.
Not to forget the clothes (charity) and bottle (recycling) banks.
I was mulling over this post, and had raised it with my local librarian when, coincidentally, the Irish Independent carried an article on how to save money by using your library. It's well worth a read.
I intended the post to draw people's attention to the significantly enhanced role of the local library in today's world, not only to provoke its use but to sound a warning note. Library services are provided free at the point of use but they incur a significant resource cost and can be a tempting target for public expenditure cutbacks or charges.
A greater appreciation of this wonderful service and its universal availability will hopefully encourage people to defend it agains such depredations.
By the way, the library carpark is most definitely not a place to park your car while you go to the gym, do your shopping or raid the hole in the wall across the road. The car parking is to facilitate the public using all the other facilities provided by the library.
Update: Raheny Library celebrated its 40th anniversary on 5/12/2012.