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One for the Books

Clare People, Tuesday, 4th March 2008

Thursday is World Book Day and libraries all over the county will be marking the occasion, writes Ronan Judge.

Libraries aren't supposed to be noisy, galloping places. But at midday on Thursday, it's a different story. The De Valera Library bustles with schoolchildren, zipping from shelf to shelf, aisle to aisle. Some sit and pass the time before returning to school by comparing their choices with those of their classmates.

Libraries aren't supposed to be playful, but since opening in 1975, the De Valera Library and its role in the community has changed and it is this change that, on World Book Day, Clare County Library are keen to emphasize. "We would be hoping, I suppose, that the image of libraries themselves have changed an awful lot over the years, from the cranky person at the desk with the bun in her hair. We'd be hoping that that image of librarians has changed and that the place itself is more user-friendly", explains Executive Librarian, Frances O'Gorman.

March 6 is World Book Day and Clare County Library are marking the occasion in Ennis with 'Celebrating Libraries', an evening of music, reading and chat in the De Valera Library. There will be readings on the night from Clare-based writers Knute Skinner and Goeran Peterson, who writes under the name Frank Hogan, and the Galway poet Rita Ann Higgins. More than that, according to O'Gorman, the event aims to celebrate the role played by libraries in the lives of children and how it has evolved to keep pace with emerging trends. Frances says, "It's just to highlight libraries. So much happens in the building that people maybe aren't aware of. It's just an excuse, in a way, to promote the library and hopefully to people who are out there that may not use the library. There are a huge amount of activities, particularly children's activities, and it's just about getting people to come in the doors".

World Book Day arrives at a busy time for library staff, coming as it does in the middle of Library Ireland Week 2008, the start of Seachtáin na Gaeilge, and just after the Ennis Book Club Festival.

Frances explains that the occasion presents the ideal opportunity to increase awareness of the library and the services we offer. "We'd be really keen on getting children in, to have them introduced to the library as young as possible so that it becomes a normal part of life they they grow up with books. I often remember Gay Bryne saying on his show that it is the greatest gift you can give your child. I would agree with that - it really is. Libraries are just keeping abreast of changing trends in the country - film, DVD, the web as well is obviously a huge part of it. There is free Internet access in all the branches now.

Similar events will be held in library branches throughout Clare. In Tulla, writer Hugh Weir will talk on local history. Writers Jane Flynn and Nigel Benson will share their experience of writing with children in Miltown Malbay library.

Having worked with Clare County Library services for 16 years, Executive Librarian, Patricia Fitzgerald believes the involvement of local writers and historians is hugely beneficial. "A lot of branches are having local writers and historians visit the branches to meet with local schoolchildren. Again, the idea is to introduce children to books and reading as early as we can and just to make them familiar with the library and staff. A lot of people use the library for research and lifelong learning is something that carries on right through from toddlers to old age".

Already staff are thinking beyond this week and ahead to plans to broaden the appeal of Clare's libraries even further. For Frances O'Gorman, that means taking the library to a wider community. "We're hoping to launch a library newsletter to be distributed widely around the county to let people know what is happening in the libraries. It will be produced quarterly, we hope, to let people know what goes on here that they might not be aware of. I would hope that we could take the library to the community a bit more in the future, even doinig things like having information stands at certain points, maybe even at a GAA match or less likely places".

Outside, the schoolchildren have left and a hushed calm has been restored to the library floor. The computers near the door are all occupied and the racks of DVDs are attracting a bit of attention. "It's about getting people in through the doors", says O'Gorman. Mission accomplished by the looks of things.

Celebrating Libraries takes place on Thursday, March 6 in the De Valera Library at 8.00pm. For information on all other library events taking place during Seachtáin na Gaeilge, contact your local branch.

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