Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Library service helps beat recession

People who haven’t been to their local library in years might be surprised at what they find once inside the front door. Staff at branch libraries throughout the county have noted increased usage of services with both membership and loans up 10% on last year. There is no doubting that in recessionary times people look for value for money and in every instance this is evidenced in the service provided by the local library. There are best-selling books and magazines available and most libraries carry the daily and weekly newspapers. With the modern need to access the Internet in the home costing a tidy sum each month, savings can be made by accessing the Internet for free in your local branch library. Added to this is the supply of music CDs and film DVDs available in the bigger branches which makes library membership a “no brainer” for so many. Extending beyond this are the extra activities available in every branch which varies from bookclub membership for both adults and children to scrabble clubs, chess clubs and poetry clubs. Sixmilebridge library has a cross-stitch club. Shannon library has a language centre offering learning materials in a wide range of languages. Also in Shannon library, people have the chance to brush up on their PC skills through a FÁS e college and Library Council project.

Every summer parents are under pressure to find suitable and rewarding activities for children out of school for the holidays. Many of the bigger branch libraries run weekly storytimes and craft sessions for younger children. With the average price of a week in a summer camp for children nearing the €100 mark, libraries in Ennis, Shannon and Scariff are offering free summer programmes which include activities such as art, craft and music workshops, talks and tours. Children who are joined up in any of Clare’s public libraries can participate in the Summer Reading Challenge where they receive a ‘passport’ and other incentives to read a certain number of books throughout the summer holidays – might be useful if the weather turns bad!. Feedback from parents on the summer reading initiative is always reassuringly positive and appreciative.

All of this is available for an annual charge of €5 for adults, with preschool, primary school and secondary school kids being free. Senior citizens and unemployed person can also avail of library membership free of charge. And all events and activities run in the county’s public libraries are free of charge.

A lapsed member of Ennis library commented that “her family had forgotten about the library in the good times when there was loads of money around and now that it’s tight again, have come back”. People are now prepared to put their names on a waiting list for a popular book rather than rushing out to buy it. Many families are joining up and a particularly noticeable feature is that more fathers are bringing their children to the library and spending more time there reading to them. Research has found that the average library visit lasts for between 5 and 9 minutes but staff are reporting that people in general are spending more time in the library when they do visit, whether selecting materials, on the internet or reading a newspaper or magazine. Staff at Killaloe library have noticed people bringing their laptops to the library and working or studying there. They have also noticed a change in the age profile of library users with more people in their twenties and thirties in during the day, obviously now out of work. More young men than usual have been frequenting libraries looking for DIY manuals, whether it’s for the car or the home. There has also been an increase in demand for books on job-seeking and employment rights. During the Celtic Tiger years, books on house building were in great demand. Now it is books on self-sufficiency - growing your own veg and keeping chickens- that are in demand. Six of the top ten non-fiction books last year were cookery books; a good indication that staying in is the new going out! Escapist reading as a counter balance to the times we live in, is now in vogue: crime, thriller, and romance books are borrowed and reserved in greater numbers.

A 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. When looking for value for money, there is no better public service provider out there at present than the local library. For further details – see: www.clarelibrary.ie

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