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Recession sending public to the library

Clare Champion, Friday, 26th November 2010

The recession has been a major factor in the increase in the number of people heading into libraries all over the country, a recent national survey has concluded. Almost half a million visits will have been made to public libraries in Clare in 2010.

The visitor numbers are up 18% on 2009, reflecting a trend seen all over Ireland, with library staff reporting increased usage of many services offered by libraries.

The recession is a major reason for this increased usage with people trying to make their money stretch further by borrowing books, CDs and DVDs from libraries rather than buying them and many people availing of the free internet service available in every library.

Dolores Meaney, Executive Librarian at the De Valera Library in Ennis, said staff are noticing an increase in those using the library for lifelong education, as they seek to improve their job skills, accessing the internet, consulting newspapers and books and using the study spaces.

They also report more visits by schools and families with young children, who are availing of the storytime sessions, book clubs, author visits, craft sessions and summer reading schemes.

Research has found that the average library visit lasts for between five and nine minutes but staff are reporting that people in general are spending more time in the library when they do visit, whether selecting materials, on the internet or reading a newspaper or magazine.

Library visits were first included as a service indicator for local authorities in 2008 and visitor numbers for Clare for that year were well above the national average.

Visits to the library website are on target to exceed 400,000 for the year with people using the website to search the catalogue, renew and reserve books, do genealogical research and research all aspects of the history of the county.

Figures released during the Readiscover your Local Library Week show the public borrowed a record 16 million books nationwide from Ireland’s 359 public libraries in 2009. This is the highest figure recorded since the local authorities began collecting figures on the nation’s library reading habits, according to The Library Council.

The De Valera Library, which accounts for 30% of the loans for Clare, last year recorded loans of 154,000, which was the busiest year since 1985. Over 524,000 items were borrowed from Clare’s public libraries in 2009 and the figures for 2010 are expected to be higher again.

Recent years have seen a change in the types of books that people are borrowing, with books on cookery, self-sufficiency, knitting and crocheting in demand, compared to the books on house plans, which were popular during the boom years. Escapist reading, as a counter balance to the times we live in, is now in vogue and crime, thriller and romance books are being borrowed in greater numbers.

A downturn in the economy has historically been a boom time for public libraries, which become busier as people return to economic ways of accessing information, education, entertainment and communication.

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