Mary Stuart, county librarian.

Moate to get ‘My Open Library’ status

Library members in Moate and Castlepollard will soon be able to visit their local libraries from 8am to 10pm seven days a week, all year round.

The libraries in the two towns are the first in the country where the My Open Library service will be rolled out. While the current opening hours with library staff will remain the same, library users will be able to take out and return books without assistance thanks to the installation of self-service facilities. The will also be able to access other library services such as Wi-Fi, self-service printing and photocopying, and other IT and study facilities.

Speaking at the September meeting of Westmeath County Council (held online), where she gave a presentation to councillors, county librarian Mary Stuart said that the work on the libraries in Moate and Castlepollard to bring them up to My Open Library status is complete and the service will be rolled out fully when more Covid-19 restrictions are, as expected, lifted on October 22.

Ms Stuart added that upgrade works were ongoing at Mullingar and Athlone libraries and that it is hoped that My Open Library will be rolled out in Westmeath’s two largest towns before the end of the year. She also noted that as restrictions are eased, members will be able to avail of the full suite of services at their local libraries, including new sensory rooms in Mullingar and Athlone libraries.

Covid restrictions had a major impact on the provision of library services, Ms Stuart told councillors, and many moved online. For example, in July and August 2020, the number of physical loans decreased by almost 70 per cent and library visits by 60 per cent compared to the same period in 2020. However, the number of online loans increased by around 90 per cent.

An cathaoirleach, Cllr Frankie Keena, praised Ms Stuart and her staff for “keeping the show on the road” during the pandemic.

Cllr Ken Glynn said that the library staff had done “great work” over the last 18 months and he saw some of it first hand during his time as cathaoirleach.

He said initiatives such as the online story times “make a difference to so many people”.

Cllr Aoife Davitt, the mayor of the Mullingar Kinnegad Municipal District, praised the library service for its Dee The Bee Storybook Trail along the old Rail Trail in Mullingar. Launched last month, by Cllr Davitt, the trail is a joint initiative between the Westmeath Library Service and the council’s Environment Department in conjunction with local writer and illustrator Deplores Keaveney.

The storybook trail encourages literacy and exercise and is an educational and fun way to build a child’s interest in reading while engaging in outdoor activity. It is an enjoyable stroll of 550m located on the Old Rail Trail Greenway, which starts near the Newbrook Bridge entrance in Mullingar.

Cllr Davitt said that it was a “fantastic” initiative and “explained pollination in such an innovative way”.

Cllr Denis Leonard welcomed the introduction of later opening times and said that the study spaces provided by libraries are “essential” for many the students with poor or no broadband. He added that he would like to see the introduction of a local mobile library service.

Cllr Hazel Smyth said that a mobile library would be a valuable addition to what is offered by Westmeath Library Service. She also enquired if the library would accept book donations from the public.

Cllr Liam McDaniel, the mayor of the Athlone Moate Municipal District, said that while he welcomed the increased opening hours at his local library in Kilbeggan, he was “concerned” that it hasn’t been included in the rollout of the My Open Library programme.

Ms Stuart said that the “main aim” of the local library service is the rollout of My Open Library in Castlepollard and Moate later this month, and Mullingar and Athlone later this year, as well as working on plans for the new library in Kinnegad. However, she said that the inclusion of Kilbeggan Library in the programme is something that can be looked at.

Responding to Cllr Leonard and Cllr Smyth’s queries regarding a mobile library service, Ms Stuart said she and her colleagues are currently focused on developing the five libraries in the country as well as plans for the new library in Kinnegad.

While it is a service that “we’d love to have”, Ms Stuart said that there is a process that the Westmeath libraries would have to go through to access funding.

She also told Cllr Smyth that local libraries welcome donations from the public, as long as they are in good condition.