My Open Library leading rise in use of service

Use of library services in Westmeath is on the up, particularly the My Open Library, according to newly appointed county librarian, Paula Leavy McCarthy.

Addressing the monthly meeting of Westmeath County Council, she reported that visits to the libraries were up 39 per cent last year. There were 20,603 visits to the My Open Library and 2,044 have signed up for the service.

Paula Leavy-McCarthy, county librarian.

There are five full-time libraries open six days a week and at least one late opening in all branches. Castlepollard, Moate and Mullingar have a My Open Library service offering access from 8am to 10pm, 365 days a year. That is to be extended to Athlone and Kilbeggan, and Kinnegad, when the new library opens there.

Ms Leavy McCarthy presented a four-year library development plan for the county. It takes account of the fact that 15 per cent of Westmeath’s population is over 65 years of age.

Cllr Denis Leonard called for homework and after school clubs in Kinnegad library, a local history section in every library, and reading clubs for the elderly. He also suggested that when people die, their book collections could be filtered by the library and put back into circulation.

Ms Leavy McCarthy said that if any local groups are interested in setting up homework or after school clubs, the library service would be happy to work with them. She said they encourage anyone with historical material relating to the county to donate it and donations of books depend on their condition.

Cllr Emily Wallace spoke of the importance of taking devices out of children’s hands and replacing them with books. She called for a musical instrument lending scheme in local libraries to give children and older people the chance to learn a new skill, and a seed library to encourage people to grow their own food.

Ms Leavy McCarthy said a musical instruments programme is going to be run by Music Generation in the county. She loved the idea of a seed library and agreed to look into it.

She went on to say that the library engages with local schools on an ongoing basis. They have book clubs for children, story times, outreach to schools, and they work with Foróige and transition year groups. A toy lending scheme has been introduced and is proving popular.

In reply to Cllr Paul Hogan, the council chief executive, Pat Gallagher, said that their local studies section does great work archiving local historical material. The Heritage Council have indicated that they are going to support that work.

Cllr Frankie Keena was told that while eBooks are popular, more people continue to take out physical books. He asked when the My Open Library would be introduced in Athlone.

Cllr Aengus O’Rourke was annoyed that there was nothing in the 36-page development plan about his proposals to enhance, expand and improve the Aidan Heavey library in Athlone.

Director of services, Jackie Finney, said the priorities in the plan were the new Kinnegad library, the upgrade of Kilbeggan, and upgrading Athlone to put in the My Open Library service.

In Athlone, there are works required at the entrance and a lift has to be upgraded. Designs are completed and the council are waiting on the fire certificate and quotes for the lift that has been out of action for a number of years. It is a big project, but it is progressing, she said.

Cllr O’Rourke was not happy. He insisted that his proposal, that a feasibility study be done on the Athlone library, be included in the four-year plan. He was seconded by Cllr Paul Hogan.

Cllr John Dolan called for the return of the mobile library service. He remembered it visiting when he was in school. It would be a way of promoting the service in rural areas, he suggested.

Mr Gallagher said that in a county of this size, the priority has been to grow the branch network and reach out to the communities. A mobile service would consume a lot of resources.

Cllr Frank McDermott said 30 years ago Delvin had a library, but not any more. Delvin and Clonmellon have about 4,000 adult residents and they have to go to Castlepollard, Kells or Mullingar. “I would dearly love to see a structure put in place, over time, to correct the situation,” he said.

Cllr Tom Farrell asked if books could be supplied to rural community centres once a month for older people. He mentioned Loughnavalley, Ballymore and Glasson as areas where people would be willing to help out.

Ms Leavy McCarthy suggested that the idea of drop-in library services in community centres could be looked at on a pilot basis for areas such as Delvin.

Cllr Mick Dollard said it was important to strengthen links with Longford Westmeath Education and Training Board, Aontas and NALA, organisations that create a whole new world for people who might have a deficiency in numeracy or literacy, he remarked.

Cllr Ken Glynn said his son, a third level student, would go to the Mullingar library to study quicker than to Maynooth library.

In reply to chairman, Cllr Liam McDaniel, Ms Finney said work should get going on the Kilbeggan project in the first quarter of this year.