2014 saw the (re)opening of two new libraries in Co. Dublin: Dún Laoghaire and Blackrock, two exciting but expensive projects that generated some controversy. Do we need more libraries built in the age of technology, with its ecological concerns about paper production and where Amazon sells more electronic than paper books? Well, it depends on what you mean by “library”.
The new Dún Laoghaire library, inaugurated on today’s Culture Night, the result of a €36m mammoth project and an outstanding example of ultra-modern Scandinavian-style architecture, is called a cultural centre and will comprise a café, gallery space, an auditorium, a crafts workshop and a children’s library. Once finished, it will open six days a week, with four late evenings. Rebranded the “DLR Lexicon”, it’s equipped with mobile computers and room space for meetings, events and activities to be used free by schools, book clubs, community groups, artists.
The new, refurbished Blackrock library opened on Bloomsday as part of a new complex housing the original Town Hall and the new Blackrock Further Education Institute, a combined renovation/conservation project, where original features have been retained and restored. The library itself, open late two days a week, now has state-of-the-art IT facilities, a dedicated children’s section, and modern mezzanine study space plus separate reading room – a student’s dream.
When I visited these new buildings, the first thought that came to my mind was that they are the new Starbucks – a hilarious and ironic reversal of roles that somehow makes sense. They are places where you go to study, enjoy a little quiet time, flick through some magazines, work on your laptop, do research, join your friends for a bookish meet-up over gourmet coffee – free, modern, relaxing oases right in the middle of buzzy town centres and within walking distance from your home. The question is though, did we really need them and can we justify the costs of (re)building them?
Questions have been asked about the sustainability of traditional libraries for a long time. With the world at your fingertips thanks to online book archives and electronic bookreaders, who will actually use these buildings? Plenty of people, turns out. Students going to central Dublin colleges might appreciate not having to trek all the way into town to exchange their books. Older people enjoy the company of other readers and a free read of the day’s papers in a nice location not far from their home. And, finally: children. Most parents will have a bookcase brimming with books at home, but nothing compares to a visit at the library; seeing the expression on kids’ faces at the sheer volume of books and the impressive interiors where everybody is reading in silence is priceless. Even office workers could use their lunch break for a well-deserved literary breather over a nice cuppa – without the queues and white noise. See? Starbucks!
Culture and literature are not material, but they need material investment, which is why I hope that these libraries will do well. And if you need a reminder as to why we need libraries, here is a short list of reasons:
– They cost nothing (unless you’re late and they fine you): you don’t have to buy books you don’t like; you don’t have to buy books at all. They don’t discriminate: even broke geeks can afford the library.
– They encourage reading: once you’re in, you have to read (most effective way to get children to read – fact). If you like a book, you tend to read more by the same author.
– Great place to do your research. Librarians will help you find sources, get the books you want from another library and often point you in the right direction.
– They’re about the only remaining places that offer free meeting space.
– They have music, films and e-books, too.
– They entertain your children with free activities and get them to read.
– They are beautiful.
So Hurray! for the libraries, because without them, “we’d be dumb!”
Haven’t made plans for tonight yet? Our Culture Night musts will help.