Ireland’s libraries are an open book again

Librarians reflect on the lessons learned in lockdown and look forward to opening up

 

There’s nothing quite like the library. Like so many other services over the past year and a half, libraries were forced to shelve what they do best – open their doors to communities. While many adapted quickly with incredible online offerings, we all missed the real deal. Now that libraries in communities around the country are open for business again, here’s what a few of our librarians have learned and why they’re so excited to see you again...

Ballymahon community library
Ballymahon community library

Liz Corry

Libraries have always had a very physical presence in the community, a place to go, a trusted space, a source of information and reading materials for all ages.

In 2020 libraries diversified in a way that we had never envisaged. Although we already had excellent online resources, it was rare to host events virtually and this was the new landscape in which we found ourselves. To stay visible and relevant to our citizens we learnt how to do things differently, online workshops, talks, classes, all designed to keep our engagement alive.

The first few months of lockdown were incredibly difficult, our libraries were closed and like most people we struggled with technologies and new concepts. However, by the end of 2020 we had delivered more than 1,200 online events. We are excited at the prospect of the return to in-person events, but the strong online presence that we have built will have its place also.

Liz Corry is senior executive librarian with South Dublin Libraries

Alison Yates

I work behind the scenes on South Dublin Libraries festivals and events including the Red Line Book Festival, which celebrates its 10th year this October. We are currently busy organising a celebratory programme of events on the theme of The Roaring 20s. We really missed the live element of the festival last year, and we hope to have the festival live in person this year. However, the past year has shown us that there is also an appetite for quality online events and workshops and so we still wish to incorporate an online element into the festival.

South Dublin Libraries are open once again for browsing and we are delighted to welcome the public back. We have put in place measures to ensure our borrowers are safe while they are in the library such as regular cleaning, sanitisation stations and limiting browsing time. Staff have been working tirelessly over lockdown to keep up our level of service and we had moved all our events and resources online. We hope in the near future to be able to expand in-person services and maybe later in the year to return to in-person events and courses.

Alison Yates works in library development for South Dublin Libraries and is one of the programmers of the Red Line Book Festival.

Deirdriu McQuaid

Our library – located in the ‘stony grey soil’ of Monaghan or ‘basket of eggs’ due to our geological drumlin landscape – is home to a community which likes to socialise, meet people, chat, laugh and debate about everyday life. Our libraries have developed so much in the past years – especially technologically – but the sense of community when those doors open each day is a vital part of our service.

Not knowing each day who will cross the threshold into our library world brought a sense of excitement, intrigue and enjoyment of meeting their needs or to simply have that warm, friendly chat. This is what we have missed the most during Covid, that community engagement, the desire to reach out and assist. It is simply not in our DNA to have those doors closed and whilst, yes, we became innovative and quickly set up new services for customers to keep that connection alive – not greeting, seeing and chatting to them in person is alien to us.

However, I can say that Covid has been actually positive for our library service in many ways – our staff came to the fore without question, went beyond the call of duty and reconfigured the delivery of our services.

We are now very excited as life begins to reopen, to greet our customers again and all the new customers who have joined during lockdown – we welcome them all with 2m-distance open arms!

Deirdriu McQuaid is senior executive librarian with Monaghan County Library Services

Mary Reynolds

Our public libraries are democratic, free civic spaces and vibrant social and cultural hubs in the heart of every community. Here in Longford, as with every other part of the country, we have been faced with serious challenges in the face of Covid-19. Together with our dedicated library and county community forum teams we have spent the past 15 months finding innovative and creative ways of reaching out to and keeping connected with the most vulnerable and isolated in our communities.

As our doors closed suddenly in March 2020 we had to quickly move most of our services online and engage with our customers in a more dynamic way through social media. We provided a broad range of programmes online, everything from cookery and gardening to minding your mental health, building resilience and art, story and sing-along sessions.

The wonderful community spirit that exists in rural Ireland was one of the most inspiring aspects of this very challenging period. The local civil defence, community gardaí, postmen, sporting organisations, family resource centres and many more helped with our library housebound service and the distribution of information on relevant services targeted at our most vulnerable citizens.

Our online programmes for children which included storytelling, coding, creative writing and art were promoted by school principals as part of their weekly newsletter to parents and children. In partnership with Age Friendly Ireland basic online digital skills programmes were run and because of demand these will continue into the future.

Our vision for Longford Libraries is “A Welcoming Space for All” and this past week library staff were delighted to reopen our doors and welcome everyone back to browse and borrow books. We are delighted with the response from the public who have shown how much they value the service and appreciate the trusted inspirational space that libraries have created in every part of the country. There is a full programme of exciting creative events planned over the summer although (for now) most of these events will continue to be delivered online. We look forward with hope to a brighter future for everyone and to the day when our customers can sit and read and relax for as long as they wish in their local branch library.

Mary Reynolds is county librarian in Longford

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