Library the Envy of Ireland and Beyond

Clare Champion, Friday, 8th September 2000

Dermot Foley came down from Dublin to take up his post as Clare Librarian. It was in the late thirties and the story goes that he wasn't so welcome. He got a bullet in the post and a warning to leave the job to a native son of Clare. He didn't budge in the face of such hostility and took to his job with gusto. This was a time when library services in Clare were at base camp, starting out on a slow adventure of bringing books to people in Ennis and beyond, into all the nooks and crannies of Dal gCais.

Books weren't that bountiful in the early years and branch libraries were an aspiration down the long and winding road. As for technology, it had nothing to do with the subject. It was a case of visit library, get book, read book and return it.

Not anymore as a jump forward in generations tells us. Dermot Foley can probably be used as a case study of where the Clare library service is now at. On the Clare Library Services website there is an index of biographical notices in the Clare Champion covering the period of 1935 to 1985. By keying in Dermot Foley's name the chances are that the dates in which he was referred to in the "Champion" will come on screen. It's just one example how the services have developed - and this development is set to continue as the Clare Library Services, under Noel Crowley, embrace the information age.

In a way, Noel and his staff of Ted Finn, Anthony Edwards, Maureen Comber and many more are carrying the torch lit by Dermot Foley back in the thirties. Their enthusiasm for their subject shines through and they don't get bullets in the post, just messages of thanks that come in on e-mail. They come from Ireland and all over the world. "In the most sincere form of flattery, we are stealing some of your wonderful website ideas and transplanting them in Idaho", said Joe Reiss from his library in Idaho. "What a tremendous website you have provided. Second only to spending the day in your library as I would wish to. My Clare ancestors Ellen Murrihy and James O'Brien who settled here in Kansas would be proud of you", wrote Catherine Green. "You have a very well done page on John Holland. He is an important figure to say the least for we U.S. submariners as we approach our century mark", offered Sid Harrison. There are hundreds more messages like this as the Clare Library Service touches a world-wide audience.

It's a pride and no doubt joy to those involved. That's because the Clare service is leading the way for libraries in Ireland and beyond. "We are the only public library in Ireland with our catalogue on the internet. People can use our library catalogue from home or from China", reveals Noel Crowley. "We have put alot of effort into developing the site. We got a grant of 110,000 from the Information Age Town and 25,000 from the Department of the Environment. This has allowed us to fast-track the development", he added.

The website is a mine of information. Information on the arts, economic development, history, community services and any category one can think of is contained. Why?, comes the innocent question. "If we didn't do it, nobody else would", comes an answer of honesty.

But they're not embracing technology for the sake of it. A commitment to this technology cause runs through the organisation. "If you stand still in I.T. for two weeks you are falling behind. We make a point of having something new on the web every week", reveals Noel.

And, apart from the congratulatory e-mails, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that they are getting it right. The library service has achieved "Gold Star" status among its peers throughout Europe, meaning that in the Directory of Library in Europe, Clare is firmly in the Premier League.

"The website is busier than the De Valera Library. We have 140,000 visits per year to the library but since January there have been over 150,000 hits and it's growing all the time. We are ahead of any other library in the country", says Noel. And, they aim to stay ahead. "We have been staggered by the amount of hits. We have had to widen our horizons alot quicker than we expected. People's expectations are getting greater all the time, so we have to move with what people are expecting", adds Noel.

They'll have no problem in going with this flow.

Maureen Comber of the Local Studies
section of the Clare Library with County
Librarian, Noel Crowley, check out the
internet to find Biographical notices in
the Clare Champion archives.

Photograph by John Kelly,
Clare Champion.

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