New Duchas Service at Ennis Library

Clare Champion, Friday, 5th May 2000

A new initiative involving the Department of Arts, Heritage, Gaeltacht and the Islands and the library service to provide heritage information to public libraries has been launched in Ennis. The De Valera Library is the first of five libraries selected on a pilot basis for the project and it was launched by Minister de Valera last Thursday night in the Ennis library where she also opened an exhibition of aerial photographs of national monuments in the Burren area.

Minister de Valera, who said that the other participating libraries are located in Galway, Tipperary, Kilkenny and Blanchardstown, added that the significance of the new initiative is that for the first time Duchas, the heritage division of her department, will have a dedicated noticeboard in public libraries to highlight its activities, both local and national. In addition, shelf space will be made available for Duchas publications for reference and borrowing. She said that her colleague, Noel Dempsey, Minister for the Environment and Local Government, was presented with a report on "Branching Out - a new public library service" in 1998. The key message coming from the report was that the role of the public library service was as valid today as it ever was. This report made many recommendations on the future development of the public library service in Ireland.

Among the many recommendations of the report, a case was persuasively made for the provision of access to information and communication technology and the use of the library service to promote social inclusion; the public library service to be a primary source for information in relation to the arts, local history and local heritage.

Minister de Valera said she shared the view confirmed by the report that the library service is already widely used and is widely appreciated. The training and expertise of library staff is particularly suited to the responsibility of guiding citizens through the learning and public information opportunities that are now available. The report identified what will be necessary to enable the fullest potential of libraries to be achieved and, not surprisingly, the provision of greater funding for libraries, are among the more significant recommendations which were made.

It was a fortunate coincidence that at the time that the report was published, her department was also considering ways by which an appreciation and respect of the myriad aspects of our national heritage could be brought to the attention of the wider public.

The report stated that about 850,000 people are members of public libraries in Ireland, while about a further 500,000, who are not members, regularly frequent them. This convinced her department that it should seek to establish a presence in the public libraries, with a view to promoting public awareness of its activities. This view was reinforced by the recommendation in the report that the libraries should be used as an interface with government at both local and national level, the Minister said. "It was gratifying that a meeting with officials of my department, with Norma McDermott, Director of An Chomhairle Leabharlanna, it was confirmed that such a development would be welcomed. I was pleased to learn that all of the libraries which were contacted with a view to participating in the pilot project, and particularly Ennis Library, indicated that they would be more than willing to do so. I understand that an Chomhairle Leabharlanna has made a submission to my department in relation to the Heritage Plan, as recommended by the report and I expect that the Heritage Plan will be completed during the second half of this year".

Minister de Valera outlined in practical terms what the Public Libraries Heritage Initiative involves is the provision of dedicated shelf space for heritage related material and a notice board of heritage activities. "It is appropriate, I think, that the title chosen for this feature is "Heritage Update", while the sub-title is "what is happening nationally and in your area".

The intention is that information of events of national and local significance will be given on the notice board, for the attention of the local community. At present, notification is being given of Heritage Week, which this year will commence on September 3rd, while visitors to the library are also being informed of the availability in the library of books relating to farming and nature and other heritage related books.

Minister Sile de Valera looking at the work
of calligraphy artists John Boyd and
Fred Williams at the launch of the
Heritage update in Ennis Library.

Photograph by John Kelly, Clare Champion.

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