The Aidan Heavey public library is contained in the Athlone civic offices.

Footfall halved in Westmeath libraries but online engagement up 239%

Funding of €100,000 has been allocated towards small project works for both Athlone and Mullingar libraries.

The monies will be spent on enhanced study spaces and facilities for digital learning.

That’s according to Mary Stuart who outlined at a meeting of the Housing, Community, Corporate and Culture committee today that the number of people visiting Westmeath libraries has decreased by almost 50% due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Last year a total of 22,000 people visited Westmeath libraries in the first six months of last year, while this year that figure stood at just 11,845.

The upshot of this however is that there was a considerable increase in online engagement and resources - with an increase of 239% recorded.

Between January to September 2019, a figure of 23,434 was recorded for online engagement, while for the same period this year the number was 79,546.

“We have three national programmes running in all the libraries around the country and this year we took part in the National Summer Stars reading programme,” said Ms Stuart.

“Due to Covid-19, the numbers attending the library have reduced and the focus is shifting towards providing online access through different resources, including online programming including online stories and events.

“We also developed a Work Matters social media campaign this year, promoting library supports for access towards online learning and working. The department have also funded digital equipment to assist the libraries in providing online programming,” she said.

In terms of programming, a diverse range of activities were delivered online over the last quarter including online science seminars, Heritage Week, online exhibitions and Cultural Night events.

Ms Stuart said Westmeath Library Service is committed to enhancing services to the public through extending opening hours, and the Open Library for Moate had just been completed.

“We will be commencing the Open Library for Castlepollard, Athlone and Mullingar by the end of the year,” she added.

As well as the €100,000 funding towards small project works for Athlone and Mullingar,

Westmeath received €40,000 towards the installation of sensory equipment for both Mullingar and Athlone libraries from the Department of Rural and Community Development.

A further €15,806 was provided for digital literacy supports, while €12,270 was allotted for the marginalised and disadvantaged communities.

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