Library Love Letter

Libraries deserve a lot of love. They’re a linchpin in so many communities for people not only to help themselves, but those around them. Whether it’s a source of books to keep your kids engaged, or a way for you to learn new things without having to attend a school or university.

One of the priorities about setting up shop in Ireland was to get set up with the local library. It was pretty simple and straightforward; a form, showing of IDs, and proof of address. Once it was over I was let loose on the stacks.

I hate to admit it but Arthur was right…

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Why were Belov’d and I so anxious to get our hands on library cards? Simply that our books are spread across two continents right now- literally. Most of mine are still residing in England with my parents, but Belov’d’s are scattered amongst mine or over specific states in America. Being without one’s books means having to find another source.

Cork City Libraries

A pleasant surprise about Cork City’s libraries, not including the university one, is that they’re all linked and work together. With the card that I received in the city centre, on Grand Parade, I can take out books from the other locations, ones nearer to home and the ones on the other side of the river.

It always makes requesting books that much easier, as the net you have to cast to find it is literally bigger. The obscure books that fascinate Belov’d can be requested easily, they have even explained how to contact the county library system for more unusual requests.

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One of the biggest perks about the Grand Parade library is that the children’s and young adults section is in a completely different room to the rest of the library. It’s not my whole childfree ethos leaking into different areas of my life- not at all. It means that children can be encouraged to read out loud, express what they’ve read, enjoy being read to without disturbing those who cherish the silence of a library.

My previous library, in England, about half the size of the city centre one, was not nearly as connected to the others in the shire. You could go in and read at your own leisure but you couldn’t take out a book from a library you weren’t signed up to, even if it was in the same network.

Updating with the times

One of the biggest changes these few years is how automated libraries have become; and how positive and negative that is. Like some many workplaces and jobs; saving money and manpower via automation has become common place- often it’s suggested that it makes thing more effective and so that more important things can be focused. Personally, I’m not sure.

The automation at Grand Parade seems to be the set up for libraries in the UK and Ireland. Terminals operating with a mixture of barcode scanning and Radio Frequency Identification (RFI) readers and tags deal with the day to day lending and returning of books. Even though I completely understand how the terminal knows which books I’ve put into the alcove, I can’t help but feel surprised.

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But for what cost?

Although they are very quick, and the little loan receipts are exceedingly useful, I can’t help but feel short changed.

Part of the experience going to the library was the interaction with the librarian. It’s a similar experience when you go to an independent book shop these days, they’re brimming with suggestions and thoughts. The shared camaraderie of reading in a world that pushes technology on you at every corner.

An element I’m sorry to see go, even if it was to be replaced by handy receipts, was the stamp sheet at the front. It’s a library book’s life. Sometimes, especially on older more frequently used books, I like to imagine the places they’ve gone. Perhaps it’s the same person who always take it out at a certain time of year. The discoveries and thoughts that the book has given someone. But it’s gone now, and we’ll never know the other story that book has to tell.

From what I’ve seen the switch over has not been without it’s bumps. A few librarians in Ireland at least have claimed that the automation is threatening their jobs. The article does point out that librarians are still doing the parts of their jobs that can’t be run by PC;

These included assisting older people with the use of computers, or giving people information on what was available physically or in searchable form online.

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Automation or not, it’s important to sign up and use libraries. If we don’t, there is that real chance that they won’t be there when we need them.

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