The number of visitors to the National Library of Ireland (NLI) has fallen to its lowest in four years as collections go digital, new figures have revealed.
In an annual review of the 140 year old institution, figures showed 197,000 people visited the library last year down 20pc on the 247,000 who visited in 2016.
In the past decade, the highest number of visitors was recorded in 2014 when 270,000 visited the library of record's exhibitions and research rooms.
Director of the NLI, Dr Sandra Collins said the move towards digital and online media had impacted visitor levels at the library and brought about new challenges to make collections accessible to the public.
“Digitisation is a really massive game changer for libraries. It is something we need to challenge ourselves on as well because we don’t want to close our doors.
“It is something I think libraries around the world are watching now,” she explained.
“It is about taking the challenge of the digital time and still staying true to our really fundamental ethos which is about collecting materials and making them available.
Historical publications, newspapers, journals as well as e-publications, photographs and films are collected and preserved by the NLI.
The library is also home to an exclusive collection of literary and historical artifacts including the recently donated letters between Ireland’s most famous writers, James Joyce and WB Yeats.
In 2017, it received more than 14,000 new books while also archiving over 300,000 websites, some of which are not available elsewhere.
Almost 14,000 digital images were created last year in an initiative to bring the library’s catalogue to an online audience.
Earlier this year, the government announced additional funding would be made available for renovations at the National Library under Project Ireland 2040.
An additional €10m was also announced under the new proposals to digitise national collections at the NLI as well as the National Archive.
Junior Minister for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Joe McHugh said the library also played a vital role in preserving the Irish language which he said it was doing “in style”.
The library was making the Irish language relevant “in style” by offering Irish language events and tours to schools around the country, he said.
“I am completely impressed with the amount of effort and ingenuity you’re bringing to opening your doors both electronically, digitally and physically to young people and schoolchildren.
“Learning is not just a classroom based process anymore… it makes it relevant, it makes the Irish language relevant. It makes it come alive.
“When you bring tourists through the door, history comes alive and the language doesn’t just become a communication tool.
“I think we can have a complete analysis as to where we went wrong with the Irish language down the decades,” he added.
A new Seamus Heaney exhibit which opened at the Bank of Ireland building last month is expected to boost visitor figures over the coming months.