Book lovers flock back to libraries
BOOK lovers are returning to libraries in big numbers.
But the surge in demand is coming as expenditure on stock has plunged by a third over the past three years.
Some cash-strapped facilities have even been forced to reduce opening hours.
In the midst of the recession, the network of 359 public libraries has reported a rise in the numbers of people visiting to read newspapers, attend lectures, use the internet and borrow books, CDs and DVDs.
Members of the public borrowed a record 13.8 million books and two million multi-media items during 2008.
There were more than 14.2 million visits to Irish public libraries in 2008, an increase of 17pc since 2002.
And librarians said -- while visitor numbers were not yet available for 2009 -- there was strong anecdotal evidence that even more people visited libraries last year.
"We are witnessing increasing use of libraries by the public and weighing this against falling book funds," Alun Bevan, research and information officer with the Library Council, said.
"It is a source of regret, particularly at a time when people are using libraries more and more."
The amount of money spent on public library stock is set to fall by a further 25pc this year, down from €13.5m in 2009 to €10m this year. This amounts to a 34pc cut on the amount spent in 2008.
Best-selling author Cathy Kelly described it as a "gigantic education step backwards" to cut funding for library books.
"Wonderful children's authors like JK Rowling and Eoin Colfer got children reading again," Ms Kelly said.
"I understand that our country is in huge financial difficulty -- but cutting the lifeline of knowledge from books when not everyone can afford to buy them is like cutting a vital artery."
All 32 public library authorities have reduced investment in library services with around €108.7m expected to be spent on library services in 2010.
The Library Council also warned that the cuts to book funding had a "long-term implication" in terms of the efforts to create a 'smart' economy.
Dublin City librarian Margaret Hayes revealed said its library network experienced a 12pc rise to 2.23 million loans last year and a 17pc increase in internet sessions with 2.6 million visitors.
And there was a massive surge in interest in materials on CVs, jobs and the rights and entitlements around keeping your home.
"People need us more than ever now -- education and learning is more important than ever," Ms Hayes said.
Galway City and County Librarian Pat McMahon reported a 16pc rise in borrowings over the past two years. He said the library was a vital "social space" as it was one of the few places people could go for free and spend a few hours.