Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Clare libraries rise to the Recession

Killaloe Public LibraryA serious downturn in the economy - such as we are currently experiencing - has historically been a boom time for public libraries.

Libraries become busier as people return to more economic ways of accessing information, education, entertainment and communication. More people tend to borrow – rather than buy – books, CDs and DVDs. In County Clare over 480,000 books, music CDs and film DVDs were borrowed from all branch libraries during 2008, an increase of 40,000 on the previous year. In Killaloe library Gráinne Ryan, Senior Library Assistant, has remarked on the increased usage saying "without examining actual statistics, I can tell from simply observing the number of people coming through the door that the library has been busier in recent months."

Libraries large and small become increasingly important as centres for job seekers and those returning to education, by providing diverse resources including free internet access, self-help books, and information on community assistance services.

Commenting on the situation Mayor of Clare, Madeleine Taylor Quinn, stated "Libraries are a great resource for those who wish to re-educate themselves financially and otherwise, and to learn new ways of cutting costs both in business and in the home. We have a wonderful service throughout the county. Practically any book you need can be acquired, either directly from the huge and varied Clare County Library stock of books or through the inter-library loans system. It’s a great and economical way of learning, educating and of reading for enjoyment."

In 2005, Senator Barack Obama spoke of libraries as "sanctuaries of learning". Today we’re more likely to hear the words "recession sanctuary" being employed to describe the public library and its increasingly vital role as a primary information provider in these challenging times.

Library usage patterns during difficult economic periods provide an interesting barometer of the psyche of a nation. Experience shows that people don’t like to read about doom and gloom, but instead like to read about good times. Escapist reading comes to the fore: crime, thriller, and romance books are borrowed and reserved in greater numbers. Romance publisher Mills & Boon says it has traditionally enjoyed stronger sales in times of crisis.

The borrowing of non-fiction books in particular casts interesting light on the effects of a negative economy on library users. Self-help books become ever more popular. Do-it-yourself becomes more than just a hobby. Library users are now looking to fix their own cars and homes, grow and cook their own food, manage and reduce their own budgets.

Six of the top ten non-fiction books for the year were cookery books; a good indication that staying in is the new going out! And books of house plans and designs – for many years in the top ten most borrowed library books – have dropped way down in the popularity stakes.

The Official Driver Theory Test has topped the list of the top ten non-fiction books borrowed from Clare libraries since 2002. It was joined this year by Conor Faughnan’s Pass That Test, as changes to the provisional licensing system were implemented. Will there be a similar demand for this type of book in 2009?

There has always been an interest in books on spirituality and self-help in Clare Libraries, and 2008 showed a particularly strong move in that direction with high issue figures for Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose, Rhonda Byrne’s The Secret and Lorna Byrne’s Angels in my Hair.

Finally – and most encouragingly - the amount of children’s books borrowed in Clare during 2008 increased significantly, up a healthy 14% on the previous year, a good indicator that parents and children are eschewing the high cost of children’s books and making more use of that most reliable of flexible friends: the library card.

As the Dole queues lengthen, so do the queues at the library desk. Your local "recession sanctuary" is open for business.

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