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Clare Library Service Leads the On-line World

Irish Examiner, 27 Feb 2001 2001

E-mails from all over the world confirm the invaluable service that the Clare County Library provides. From the US-based electronic correspondent, John Lahiff, there came the responsible: "Whoever is responsible for the site deserves a major pat on the back. You've brought out what I think personifies new Clare, happy to use the tools of the new to show the heart of the old".

This sentiment is echoed in thousands of emails the library service - the jewel in the crown of the various services Clare County Council provides - receives. Denis Power from Australia remarks: "What a wonderful site. It has found my ancestral roots and I will certainly be visiting Clare and Coonagh island, particularly as a direct result of the information you have provided".

Noel Crowley and Triona McInerney in De Valera Library, Ennis
Clare County Librarian, Noel Crowley and Triona McInerney, Assistant Chief Executive, eircom Ennis Information Age Town, in the De Valera Library, Ennis at the stand-alone "surf till you drop" Internet terminals.
Picture : Kieran Clancy.
According to dynamic County Librarian Noel Crowley, the library now provides a range of services unparalleled in Ireland. He says the Clare library website is a one-stop shop for Clare people all over the world. He says: "It also brings the library to the sitting room and into the classroom". He said that new and exciting developments in information technology put Clare at the forefront of library development world-wide. "We believe that what we have achieved in Clare can provide a useful model for the rest of the country", Mr. Crowley said.

In tandem with the embrace of the new technology, Mr. Crowley can afford to look happy when he relates that membership of library services in the county went up by 15% last year on the previous year's figures. He added: "It is a massive jump when you consider DVD, digital television and our book issues have risen by two or three per cent. That is a huge bonus". He continued: "People were saying that when TV came in the book would be finished, when technology came in they said the same, but in actual fact it is flourishing".

The library network around Clare has a large number of personal computers with internet access. According to Mr. Crowley, during the past year 45,000 free computer sessions were booked in the library's county-wide free internet access service. An interesting feature is that many of the people accessing the Internet are asylum seekers, who find solace in their often lonely existence through the free access provided at the library.  Noel Crowley says: "It is marvellous to go down there and see a number of them every day keeping contact with home through reading their newspapers and emailing their friends". Such is the popularity of the facilities at the de Valera Library, when you go into the main library alot of time the PC's are occupied. To overcome this the library has put in place four stand-up "surf 'till you drop" Internet points which can be used by the public without advanced booking in the library.

At the recent launch of the service, Environment Minister Noel Dempsey was visibly gobsmacked as Mr. Crowley and Anthony Edwards, also of the Library service, brought him through the various sites on the library's website. They demonstrated how readers can reserve library books from home, renew books, place requests for particular titles, post reviews of books they have read and recommend titles for purchase by the library. At the event, the Minister launched eight new on-line publications, the community information service and new readers services.
The on-line publications include Hely Dutton's Statistical Survey of County Clare 1808, an Index to Biographical Notices in the Clare Champion over a 50-year period from 1935-85, and the Index to Griffith's Valuation which contains 33,000 names of people in Clare in 1855.

Chief Executive of eircom Ennis Information Age Town Michael Byrne, said it was not an overstatement to claim that Clare County Library has re-invented itself over the past few years. He said: "We are proud to have played a significant part in the development of the library services which benefits not just Ennis but all of County Clare. The resources of the library are now more available to all and the people of Clare can look forward to exciting times interacting with their library service. He adds: "The investment of 112,000 by eircom Ennis Information Age will bring benefits to the public far in excess of the sum of money involved". In addition, Mr. Crowley said the user can also search a wide-ranging community information database featuring clubs, societies and organisations as well as local facilities, education and training resources.

It is planned to keep adding to the substantial number of online publications on the site, which can be read, researched and enjoyed by all from the comfort of home.

The biggest undertaking so far by the library service is the publishing on-line of the Clare 1901 Census. Noel says: "It is absolutely massive, it has 100,000 names for Clare and to date we have recorded 10,000. It is a work in progress". The County Librarian said he would also like to acknowledge the substantial funding made available by the Department of Environment and Local Government toward the overall projects the library service is currently carrying out. Mr. Crowley said that in five years the library has moved from a paper-based model to the most sophisticated computer system available.

At present, all branch libraries are on-line using high-speed ISDN and ADSL links. The library is a member of Talis Information Ltd., a co-operative of over 100 public, special and academic libraries, giving the library immediate access to the largest biographical database in Europe of over 16 million records. "This new venture in partnership with eircom Ennis Information Age Town is a huge step forward, with full and free access to our catalogue, reader services, community information database and online publications being available from anywhere in the world.

This is not just a first for Irish libraries, but establishes Clare County Library at the forefront of library development  world-wide. Mr. Crowley added that the staff of Clare County Library are tremendously proud of this achievement. Mr. Crowley said that the next challenge is how to use the modern technology to isolated communities in the county.

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