A day in the life of county librarian Mary Reynolds
The most satisfying for me is being part of a large national network which is a valued presence and meeting space for information, ideas, imagination and culture
Mary Reynolds: “I was very attracted to the idea and the ideals of the public library as a free democratic space open to everyone regardless of their age, education or ethnicity. I liked the idea of working in a dynamic environment helping to manage a world of ideas, imagination, information and culture”
What made you want to become a librarian?
Looking at career options I was very attracted to the idea and the ideals of the public library as a free democratic space open to everyone regardless of their age, education or ethnicity. I liked the idea of working in a dynamic environment helping to manage a world of ideas, imagination, information and culture. Reading has always been an important and joyful part of my life: I wanted to be able to share that joy with other people.
I started my career in Dublin public libraries where I spent 15 happy years and then volunteered for three years to set up a library/resource centre for the co-operative movement within the ministry of agriculture in Swaziland. When I returned I was delighted to take up my current position as Longford county librarian and move back with my husband Bernard to my native place: Mohill, Co Leitrim.
On a typical day, when and where does your reading happen? In the office? At home? Travelling?
I love to read and always have a stack of books beside my bed – a mix of poetry, local history, memoir and contemporary fiction. I am often reading the work of an author who is due to give a reading at the library or diving into the work of a new author who is about to launch their book in the library. Writers are my heroes and I feel privileged to be able to assist a new author to unveil their work for the first time to an appreciative audience.
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the library?
Like most people I check my emails and calendar and have a quick meeting with other members of the hard-working team here at Longford Library to finalise the agenda for the day ahead, knowing that no two days are the same and that most likely the programme will be adjusted as the day progresses.
In addition to the day-to-day business, engaging with the community, attending meetings, liasing with colleagues in other departments of the local authority or with other service providers there is always something new to look forward to at the library – the opening of an art exhibition by a local artist, the launch of a new book, meeting with a new author from the county, speaking to a group of students and their teachers or parents or assisting a local community group who are planning a cultural event or writing and researching a history of their parish.
What usually happens on your lunch break?
Lunch-time varies depending on whats happening at the library.We regularly run a lunchtime community or cultural event in partnership with any one of the many local organisations we work with, eg we run a monthly lunchtime Irish conversation class with a cuppa for anyone who would like to drop in.
And what’s the last thing you do before you leave?
It depends on what time that is. Some days can extend late into the evening. I may have an invitation to speak at a school PTA, launch a book, open an exhibition, attend a lecture or event in one of the six libraries in the county or just support another venue that is running a cultural event in the county. Before I leave I usually take one final look at how far I progressed the agenda for the day, add another few items for tomorrow and check and update my calendar
What’s the most satisfying part of being a librarian?
The most satisfying part for me is being part of a large national network which is a valued presence and meeting space for information, ideas, imagination and culture located in every town and village in the country. The public library is open and available to everyone free of charge and has survived and thrived over the past 150 years because of its willingness to grow and adapt to the changing needs of society. The motto for our library service in Longford is “a welcoming space for all” and we really strive to ensure that everyone has a good experience when they visit us. Last year over 17 million visits were recorded to public libraries in Ireland and the customer satisfaction level in all surveys that have been carried out is always very high. This is primarily due to the commitment and professionalism of library staff and our strong belief in equality of access for all.
A very rewarding part of my job is nurturing the “reading habit” among children and young people and opening up a magical window on the world to a whole new generation of readers. There is an ongoing children’s programme of events targeted at early readers including storytelling, creative writing, author visits, the summer reading buzz and of course the very popular annual children’s books festival.
Another satisfying part of being a librarian is the positive rapport and co-operation that exists between colleagues locally and around the country and the support we get from the Department of Environment, the Local Government Management Agency and our professional body, the Library Association of Ireland. We learn from each other and work collaboratively to improve and strengthen our role in the community and in local government at local and national level.
Do you find it difficult to switch off from your job?
I love my job and enjoy working with a great team of people. I do look forward to the weekends and having time to enjoy family and friends and lots of long walks in the beautiful countryside around Longford and Leitrim. I also enjoy the theatre and appreciate how lucky we are to have a number of wonderful theatres on our doorstop. I love going to productions in the Backstage, the Dock and the Cornmill.
In your time how has the library’s role changed?
The role of the library as an effective, socially inclusive national network which can deliver – both physically and online – a broad range of information, learning, employment and cultural services to local communities is now being recognised. Information technology has had a huge impact on the range and reach of services the library can deliver and has helped to greatly improve access and cost efficiency. Currently one single library management system is being rolled out for the whole country, which will allow citizens universal access to the vast range of resources being held in every library. Open libraries – a pilot project which is running in Sligo and Offaly – allows customers physical access to the library outside of normal opening hours in the evening and at weekends.
In recent years, libraries – like so many public services – have suffered enormous cutbacks. What are the things that you miss the most?
Public libraries like every other sector of local and national government have faced huge challenges in continuing to develop and deliver our services with very limited resources. Demand for the service has continued to grow and we are continuously exploring more innovative and cost-efficient ways of delivering quality customer service.
One of the things that I, and indeed many parents, teachers and children, particularly in rural communities, regret most is the lack of a library service to primary schools. In 2008, the Department of Education abolished a small grant to library authorities towards the cost of purchasing a selection of quality children’s literature which was delivered to every school in the country. It was a great opportunity to expose children to the wider world of literature and the joys of reading for pleasure as well as for study.
What’s the most misunderstood thing about librarians?
That we preside over large, silent, book-filled rooms and say “ssh!” when somebody dares to speak!
What’s the thing you’ve done that you’re proudest of?
We have received huge support from the local community and the elected members of Longford County Council for the the refurbishment and redevelopment of our branch library network in Co Longford, especially in two of our larger towns, Ballymahon and Granard. We hope very soon, in partnership with the local community and with capital funding from the Department of the Environment, to develop a new, state-of-the-art community library in Edgeworthstown, the second fastest growing town in the county.
And what’s the experience you learned the most from?
I am learning something new every day and as anybody who works in libraries knows: the only constant is change. I am very proud to be part of a dynamic local government service that is continually adapting and changing to meet the information, learning and cultural needs of our citizens. I am proud to work for the public service and to work with people at every level in Longford County Council who have a strong ethos of public service and serving the community.
Can you tell us what you’re most excited about for 2016? Any commemoration events on the horizon?
Each local authority has been asked to lead on the Community Participation strand of the Ireland 2016 Centenary programme. Longford County Council like many other counties has chosen the library department to coordinate the programme. So far we have over sixty events planned ranging from art installations, drama, music, poetry, historical re-enactments, exhibitions and many more events with everyone young and old from across the county involved. A central part of the Longford programme is the commemoration of the fourteen Longford people who participated in the Rising. You can follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/LongfordIreland2016. Other new projects planned by Longford Library this year will be the launch of a new Enterprise and Employment Information service in partnership with the Local Enterprise Office which is aimed primarily at jobseekers and local business. We will also lead on the rollout of an information hub for older people as part of the local authority strategy to make Longford a better place to grow older in.
This year Mary Carleton Reynolds celebrates 25 years at the helm of Longford County Library, Heritage & Archive Services. She has spearheaded the development of the public library service in Co Longford as a key cultural and community resource and a focal point for social inclusion, active citizenship and lifelong learning for all.
Sarah Bannan is the author of Weightless (Bloomsbury)