Niamh Greene: Despite the buzz of technology, the magic of the library lives on
Despite distractions of the net, the great Irish tradition of reading goes on
IT'S official -- Irish children love to read. New figures released by the Libraries Development, Local Government Management Agency show that children's authors dominated the 'most-borrowed-from-the-library' lists in Ireland in 2012, with kids' books representing a whopping 46% of all books borrowed from the 336 libraries around the country.
How fantastic that, despite the distractions of the Internet, the TV and other technological temptations, the great Irish tradition of reading is still continuing through the generations.
My own passion for books and reading started in my local library when I was a child. I used to relish my weekly visits there with my siblings. To me it was a magical place -- a space where books were stacked higgledy-piggledy on shelves from floor to ceiling, just waiting to be discovered. I can still remember the excitement I used to feel as I wandered through the aisles, trying to decide which books to take home and cuddle up with.
I would take my sweet time choosing my weekly selection, mulling over the pros and cons of each, before handing them across the vast librarian's desk to be checked out. To my childish eyes, the librarian always seemed quite a stern character.
She tolerated no talking or giggling on the premises, but she always had a special smile for us bookworms. In the pre-computer days, I used to love the way she forcefully stamped each book so we'd know how long we had to read it. It was a contract of sorts -- we were allowed to take the book home and enjoy it, but only if we promised to treat it with care and respect and return it unharmed. Woe betide anyone who gave the pages dog ears or brought books back late.
Enid Blyton was a real favourite of mine back then and, according to the latest figures, she is still incredibly popular with today's kids. The data reveals that Irish children love the classics, with authors such as Roger Hargreaves and Roald Dahl still in the top 10, alongside newer writers such as Daisy Meadows, Francesca Simon, Jacqueline Wilson and our own Judi Curtin.
If we forgot about the benefits of the library for a while, it seems we are coming back to it in droves -- there are over 16.4m visits to Ireland's libraries every year, resulting in more than 19m loans of books and non-book materials.
In these recessionary times, when books have become more of a luxury purchase item than ever before, book lovers don't have to suffer.
Irish libraries still offer the same incredible resources they have always done.
Just one visit to a public library will appease even the most ardent and choosy reader, offering a mind-boggling selection of books to read, all for free. These days, a library isn't just a place to borrow books either -- it can act as much as a meeting point for the wider community as anything else.
People go there for a coffee, a browse and a chat, to peruse the daily newspaper or to attend a parent and toddler story time. There are reading groups, informative talks, exhibitions -- everything and anything you can imagine.
But, for me at least, at the heart of the library is still the simple search for a good book to curl up with at the end of the day. Maybe one that will help you learn a foreign language, explain how to finally finish that DIY project that has stalled, or simply transport you to a fictional world that offers a complete escape from your own reality.
There's nothing better than picking up a book you like the look of and taking it home to thumb through the pages and discover new worlds and exciting adventures.
You're never alone if you have a book, that's what they say. Thanks to our local libraries, we never have to be without one -- and that's a wonderful privilege.