The recently refurbished Coolock library feels spacious. It’s well-lit and open-plan and colourful.
Next to the reception is bright-blue seating, where library-goers can sit with one of the newspapers laid out on the coffee table.
The centrepiece of the children’s area is a reading tree: a circular wooden structure with five benches backed against wood veneers that reach like open hands to the ceiling. It’s a space for children to grab a book and sit down and read.
“Everybody that walked in, they were asking, ‘Is it bigger?’ But it’s exactly the same space. It’s just that the layout is totally different so it just feels a lot bigger,” says on-duty librarian Noreen Herlihy.
The library was closed for a year and decamped to the Northside Shopping Centre while the €3.5 million refurbishment was being undertaken, says Herlihy.
It created a sense of anticipation, she says, among both the local community and the library staff eager to see the new look. They opened again on 2 January.
“There was so much looking forward to it, over a year waiting and waiting after being crammed up in a little room in the shopping centre,” says Des Murphy, a regular library goer.
Murphy is just settling into a desktop computer where he comes to do some writing and research for his stand-up act.
“It’s a credit to whoever organised this as there is a gloom in the community at large but there’s pluses also and this is a plus, as ordinary working-class people can come in here and read a book, have a CV, have a laptop, you know,” says Murphy.
Mixing It Up
The open space in the library can be shuffled and re-arranged, depending on what’s on and who wants to use it.
“On a night like this you can leave the study area open,” says Herlihy, last Monday night.
A handful of people are dotted around the desks in the study area – some browsing newspapers, some tapping away on laptops, others engrossed in open books.
But if there’s a big event on, the walls can be pulled across, creating one to three separate rooms depending on the size of the event.
“You could potentially have three or four things on at the same time,” says Herlihy.
Library usage in Dublin has remained relatively steady over the past number of years, with 2.6 million users in Dublin city libraries in 2017 to 2.5 million in 2019, according to figures from Dublin City Council.
The Local Government Management Agency’s local libraries unit is kicking off a four-week campaign from 29 February called Take a Closer Look, aiming to show people what local libraries have to offer in order to encourage more library use.
A key tenet of Libraries Ireland 2022 – the government strategy launched in 2018 by the Department of Rural and Community Development – is for public libraries to become an essential community service, a “‘go-to-place’ for integrated public services”.
Different groups use the Coolock library’s meeting rooms, says Herlihy: book clubs, art groups, and community groups. Like Communiversity, a weekly gathering where lecturers come in from Maynooth University to give potential future students a taste of what’s on offer at universities.
“Everything is multi-functional,” Herlihy says, as she walks towards a strip of desks with USB chargers, ethernet ports, and charging facilities.
Behind the desk is another meeting space, available for Skype interviews, says Herlihy. It’s also used by project groups and Irish-speaking groups.
“A girl earlier asked me about using it for tomorrow. She’s putting together a business plan and she’s got an online meeting looking for advice so she’s coming here to use it,” says Herlihy.
For library-goer Christine Quirke, the library is both a great space to escape to and a good meeting spot.
“It’s great to get you out of the house. I do nothing in the house except make tea,” says Quirke, smiling. At the library, she has the freedom to concentrate, she says.
“I’m following an Irish-language course so there’s lots of books and documents and then you can come in use,” says Quirke. It’s also a good space for meeting people too, she says.
Says Murphy: “I’m not caught in the house all the time. I find it a solace environment, you know.”
More to Use
Libraries need to develop different services to meet “the needs and expectations of a modern society”, says the Libraries Ireland 2022 strategy.
These “needs and expectations” were gathered through public focus groups of library users, workshops with library staff, public submissions and members of local authorities.
For the Coolock library, that means adding a Maker Space – where people can come and tinker with different tools and machinery. It’s due to launch on 29 February.
In the Maker Space room at the moment there are two 3D printers. One is shaped like a cylindrical glass box, its printhead running along a plane, and hums softly as it builds up a 3D model.
Already-made objects sit on top of the printer: an egg cup, a small ring, a bookmark, and a miniature statue of a woman with her child.
As well as the 3D printer, they also have a laser scanner and a 3D scanner. The staff are still getting to grips with the technology, says Herlihy.
“But it’s not just all high-tech, we’ll still have Lego and the sewing machine. It’s a mixture of low- and high-tech,” says Herlihy.
Over the next few months the library plans on having a weekly Maker Mondays event where library staff can show people how to use the new facilities on offer, says Herlihy.
For Murphy, the space isn’t about the high-tech new additions or even the books.
“I’m not an avid book reader but I use the computers and all that but there’s stuff here for everybody,” he says. “Where would you get it?”