Clare Champion, Friday, 13th September, 2002
by Éibhir Mulqueen
The county's libraries are as big a visitor attraction as the Cliffs of Moher, new figures reveal. Both facilities are on target to attract around half a million visitors for the year. However, its not the cliffhanger novels the libraries stock which are the attraction there, but the Internet.
Noel Crowley, the county librarian, said the decision three years ago to provide the branch libraries with a bigger number of free Internet access points than any other service in the country proved to be a hit with the public. There are 98 free access points at the 16 library branches. Usage increased dramatically this year, Mr. Crowley said, with the number of Internet sessions in the branches from January to July amounting to 68,395 compared to 73,058 sessions for all of 2001. "It now seems that the year end figure will exceed 100,000 sessions", he said.
The introduction of stand-up PCs for email use at Ennis and Shannon was also a success. Following the results of a sample survey in the library branches over a six-day period in February, Mr. Crowley projects that there will be 471,796 visits to the county's libraries this year. The survey was done to discover what members of the public felt about the library service, what the reasons for their visit was and to take on any suggestions or observations they had. Mr. Crowley said the full survey results would be available shortly. He added that the number of free access points per head of population was one of the highest penetration rates in Europe.
"The response has been incredible, particularly in places like Ennis. They are very highly used by asylum seekers. They can keep contact with home and see what is happening at home". The library service made the decision three years ago to maximise the purchase of PCs with government funding of about €317,500. "Our eye was bigger than our belly, I suppose. We decided if the staff could do most of the wiring, we could afford, out of the money that was available, to put in more access points. We have three qualified information technology people on the staff. We put a lot of energy into education and training rather than into consultancy. The whole county gets the benefit then really", Mr. Crowley said.
Kilkee recently increased its access points from four to six and was "incredibly busy" for the summer. The De Valera Library in Ennis partly became a victim of its own success when four "standup" PCs were installed. People did not have to book for these and it was thought that because users would be standing, they would not be on the machines for long. "The trouble was people stayed on for over an hour or two hours so we had to reduce them to email only. Still, you will find queues in Ennis".
According to the survey figures, 9,073 people, two thirds of which were adults and post-primary pupils, visited the 16 branches in February. De Valera library had 3,212 visitors in the six-day period, giving it an annual visitor projection of 167,024. Shannon was the second busiest library with 1,521 visitors, giving it an annual projection of 78,624. Kilrush was third with 821 visitors, giving a projection of 42,692, followed by Ennistymon with 589, and a projection of 30,628. In fifth place was Killaloe with 552 visitors, and a projection of 28,704, followed by Newmarket-on-Fergus with 445, and a 23,140 projection. Sixmilebridge was in seventh position with 432 visitors and a 22,464 projection. Then came Kilkee with 282 visitors and a 14,664 projection. Miltown Malbay followed in ninth position with 253 visitors and an expected annual number of 13,156. In tenth position was Scariff with 233 visitors and a 12,116 projection, followed by Tulla with 207 visitors and an expected annual tally of 10,764. Next came Corofin with 189 visitors, giving it a projection of 9,828. Then came Kildysart with 117 visitors and an annual projection of 6,084 followed by the Local Studies Centre in Ennis which had 95 visitors and a 4,940 projection for 2002. This was followed by Kilmihil with 63 visitors and a 3,276 annual tally, followed by Lisdoonvarna with 62 visitors and a 3,224 projection.
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