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Minister Dick Roche Launches New Library Projects in Clare

4th February 2005
Address by Dick Roche T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government
launching new Library projects in Clare on the occasion of the 21st anniversary
of Clare County Council's First Library Development Programme

I am delighted to be with you here in Ennis today and to be part of the celebrations to mark the 21st anniversary of the completion of Clare County Council’s first library development programme.

As many of you will know, that first programme made provision for the development of five purpose–built libraries in the County – the de Valera Public Library where we are today and libraries in Ennistymon, Kilrush, Newmarket-on-Fergus and Shannon. The de Valera library was indeed considered a landmark in branch library development and the programme, which my Department was happy to be able to assist financially, has had a major influence on library development, particularly in rural Ireland. I understand from the County Librarian (Mr. Noel Crowley) that to date these five branch libraries have issued some 8.5 million books - a considerable number by any standards - and registered 300,000 customers.

Much more recently, and three development programmes later, the branch library in Sixmilebridge opened its doors to the public in 2000 and I know from my own officials that proposals for a branch library in Scarriff are at an advanced stage.

It is quite appropriate that today’s event should take place in Ennis, as Ennis was of course the first town to adopt the Public Library (Ireland) Act, 1855, the 150th anniversary of which we celebrate this year. To mark this anniversary, I am delighted to have been in a position to fund a programme of events to further promote the role of the modern public library service as a key cultural function of local authorities. You will be hearing more about these events in the coming weeks.

Of course we all know that libraries are more than bricks and mortar. Indeed, today, they are so much more than the books they loan or provide as reference material. As those closely associated with our public libraries will tell you, the development of ICT has opened a myriad of opportunities for the further development of the public library service. We cannot discuss delivery of service today without reference to information technology and the relatively new role of the library in facilitating access to the Internet. The Government has given a high priority to ensuring that access to the Information Society develops in a socially inclusive way and in particular to mitigating the effects of the digital divide. The Internet initiative which provided more than 1,400 Internet access points in over 300 libraries is generally regarded as a success story.

Putting Internet PCs into libraries, however, is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the potential synergy between the library and information technology. As more public services become available online we will seek to make information and assistance available to library customers. I am particularly pleased that my Department, with its allocation from the Information Society Fund, has been able over the last few years to fund a number of exciting ICT initiatives – many of you will be familiar with the Cultural Heritage projects and the National Digitisation Strategy – and I hope to be in a position to announce funding for some further ICT initiatives in the very near future. So against that background of ICT development I am particularly pleased today to launch Foto: Clare Images on Line.

At present, I understand, about 3,000 images in total are available on line: you can see images from the Bluett Collection showing life in Clare in the 40s, 50s and 60s; photographs from the Clare Railways Collection; photographs from the Irish Tourist Association Survey in the early 1940s, the Krieger Burren Flora Collection; some early 20th century photographs of archaeological sites by Dr. George Mac Namara of Corofin; and 100 images from the National Library of Ireland's Lawrence Collection with detailed enlargements. This project is the only one of its kind in the country. It’s a very exciting development and again I’m happy that my Department was able to provide start up funding for this project as part of an Information Age Project for Clare County.

Genealogy is an area of ever increasing popularity. The Internet is opening up new avenues for Irish people at home and in all corners of the world to research their family roots. The Clare Tithe Applotment Books Transcription Project, another ICT project managed by Clare County Library, will make the information contained in the Tithe Applotment Books available on line. This project employs a novel approach to data input in that volunteers from Canada, the U.S.A., Australia, New Zealand and a growing number of other countries transcribe the data, and forward it to the library where it is checked and posted on the library website. Something else unusual about this initiative is that it originated with the people who frequently use the library website for historical and genealogical information.

You can view both of these projects on the Clare library website www.clarelibrary.ie. This site is a very important and ever growing part of the library service. I understand that it now attracts over 300,000 people annually with the cumulative figure since 1998 standing at 1.4 million.

You may be wondering, with all our talk about ICT in libraries, whether the book has disappeared from the library altogether. I’m happy that it has not and of course where you have books you have bookmarkers, from the humble bus or train ticket to the purpose made leather marker. During 2004, Clare County Library organised a Design a Bookmark Competition for children. I understand that there was a huge response from children from all over County Clare. The entries were judged at Library Headquarters and the winning entry was by Niamh Keogh, aged 12, from Ennis C.B.S. National School. Niamh’s prize was a €50 book token which I’m sure she’s put to good use and an award certificate, compliments of Clare County Library and The Youth Library Group of the Library Association of Ireland. I’d like to congratulate Niamh on her achievement and hope her talents continue to flourish and she develops a love of books that remains with her throughout her life.

Finally, I wish to thank Noel Crowley, Clare County Librarian for inviting me here today to celebrate Clare Public Library Service’s coming of age. I have every confidence that the development of the public library service here will continue apace and I wish staff and users alike my very best for the years ahead.

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