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Launch of Clare County Library's Automation Project

On the 15th Of September 1998 at the official launch of Clare County Library’s automation project, the Chairman of the County Council, P.J. O’Ceallaigh, suggested that, to outsiders, it may have appeared that Clare County Library was slow to grasp the nettle of computerisation. In fact, he stated, the library spent a considerable time in planning the strategy which eventually resulted in the library having what has been described as the ‘Rolls Royce’ of Library Computer Systems. The single most important decision made by the library was not to approach computerisation in a piecemeal fashion, but rather to go for the ‘Big Bang’ approach, going from a card and paper-based system to a county-wide, fully integrated automated service. This was largely achieved within the space of two years.

The aim of Clare County Council in introducing library automation was to improve the service to users in order to better meet the public’s need for general education, information and recreation, to better support study and the independent quest for knowledge, and to better meet the public’s interest in literature and the arts. This would be achieved by improving access to and the use of existing material resources, and the development of new services for the benefit of the people of Clare.

The library has now developed an on-line public access catalogue allowing the public full access to its total collection of material. Readers can find out where a particular title is available, if it is on the shelf, on loan, etc. Searches can be made under author, title, subject, keyword, etc. The public can also renew books, check loans or any outstanding charges etc. etc..

In his address to the audience at the launch, County Manager, Willie Moloney, said that the next step had been the creation of the library web site on the Internet (www.iol.ie/~clarelib) to allow people from inside and outside the county to visit the site, learn a little more about Clare, the history and development of the library and its services, and a host of other aspects of library-associated projects, e.g. Clare Local Studies Project and Shoot The Scattering. The library’s Local Studies department has seen a sharp rise in the number of local history and genealogical queries through email as a result of this development, with queries coming from all over the world. In general, most of those who send queries from abroad eventually turn up on the doorstep of the Local Studies department to further pursue their investigations.

County Librarian Noel Crowley stated that Ennis had been the first town to adopt the 1855 Public Library (Ireland) Act when the decision was unanimously taken at a public meeting held on 16th October 1855. The grand Jury provided the site of the old Convict Depot, Jail Street. The editorial in The Clare Journal and Ennis Advertiser of the 18th October, 1855, announced “A Free Library for Ennis - Books as free as the air we breathe. Books to gladden our path and cheer us in our journey through life. Books free to all, without restriction and without price, “Glorious privilege. Come and drink at the fountain of knowledge. Imbibe ye at the running stream of intelligence that the mind may receive that information collected through past ages, so fitted to enlarge the sympathies and the sphere of enjoyment both bodily and mental. The establishment of a Public Library in Ennis is a great step in advance. It is impossible to calculate the amount of good that will be derived from it...” The Library project was later abandoned and the building became the new Town Hall and is now part of the Old Ground Hotel. It took three quarters of a century before the next move was made when on the 16th January, 1930, the late Paddy Hogan, T.D., moved that the Council adopt the Public Libraries Ireland Acts. Dermot Foley, the first county librarian appointed, described his earliest experience in Clare thus:

“On stepping off the Dublin train at 1.30 p.m. on the 1st September, 1931, I made straight for the Courthouse to meet the Secretary of the County Council, M.J. Carey. He showed me my ‘Library’ a sawn-off portion of the Council Chamber, fully shelved, which he said he himself had ordered.” Thus the Clare County Library Service commenced.

The library had come a long way since then, the development of library branches now giving way to the development of services which couldn’t even have been imagined even ten years ago. Clare County Library was committed to development, to managing the change that was necessary in the modern world. As a graphic example of this, the county librarian said that the library automation system selected (Talis from BLCMP) was Internet oven-ready. Thus, Clare County plans to place its catalogue, community information database and local history databases on the Internet. The public will then have full access to all the library’s resources from the comfort of home. They will be able to renew their books, search for and reserve titles; find information on local government, events, clubs, societies and services; and avail of the substantial work done in the field of local studies. He reminded the audience of the words of Dan Flinter, Chief Executive of Forbairt and one of the judges for selecting the Information Age Town. Commenting on Clare County Library’s presentation to the judges, Dan Flinter stated that

‘it was really interesting to see how they are using the technology to deliver newer and better services in the library system. Staff are being re-trained and re-positioned and the brains and skills of the people on the library team are better deployed. Here is a public library service actively re-inventing itself, and finding new ways of adding value to its work in the community in the digital age. That has a huge social and community value.’

He stated that today we celebrate our successful introduction to modern technology. We have worked diligently over the past few years to ensure that the people of Clare will get the best possible service and the maximum benefits from new developments. He thanked the Clare County Council both the elected members and officials for making this possible also the Library Council, particularly Alun Bevan for his advice and his role as agony aunt, and the Department of the Environment and Local Government. He also thanked the Clare Champion and Clare F.M. for their constant support and encouragement.

Executive Librarian Anthony Edwards, who had managed the automation project over the previous 3 years, emphasised that the Library Service had gone from the ‘Paper Age’ to the Electronic Age entirely within its own resources. It was a credit to library staff that they had, without exception, coped with and indeed enjoyed, a dramatically changed work environment. It was a source of pride within library management that every member of staff had risen to the challenge of automation, and that none would now wish to return to the ‘old ways’. He especially praised the database creation team of Mona O’Connor, Connie Guthrie and Margaret Cullinan; the staff of the Kilrush, Corofin and Kilkee libraries who were the ‘guinea pigs’ during the piloting of the Circulation Module, and the staff of Killaloe and Ennistymon libraries for piloting the public access catalogue. He also praised Jackie Dermody for her work on the Internet Website, and thanked the library’s colleagues in CLASP for their help with the website. The success of the automation project was the result of a series of successful partnerships between the library and a number of organisations including Telecom Eireann, BLCMP in Birmingham, and not least the Information Technology section of Clare County Council. He thanked all their representatives at the launch for their continuous co-operation.

In conclusion, he said that the automation of Clare County Library is for the benefit of all the people of Clare. The resources of the library are now more available to all, and the people of Clare can look forward to exciting times in company with their library service.

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