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Why you should try and visit your local library more often in 2019

Now that they’ve scrapped fees, you can go back without fear of judgment.

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PEOPLE WHO LIVE within strolling distance of a library were eased into 2019 with some very good news when the government announced that they were scrapping all library fines, even for people who had an outstanding balance to pay.

It was a great idea. I went to my local library pretty regularly as a kid and a bit less regularly as a teenager, but I always found it particularly difficult to go back with an overdue book, and the longer that I left it, the worse that it got. None of my fines ever exceeded more than €1, but I understand how the dread and shame of keeping a book for too long can put people off ever going back.

My best mate took out a book for her Leaving Cert History project in 2011, and for the last eight years, she has walked a little bit quicker every time we’ve passed a library – just because she thinks they know (and for some reason, still care). Now, she’s finally free. 

Dublin City Council are well aware that there are plenty of people out there who feel the same way about paying library fines. When they announced their plans to scrap fines, a spokesperson from the council said:

Library charges have been shown to have a detrimental effect on library use by children and the disadvantaged. However, there is little evidence to show they ensure timely returns – rather they may actually dissuade members and users from returning overdue items. 

It’s not always the actual fine that’s the problem, but the fear of judgement from the librarian. It’s like when you put off going to the dentist for a while, and you find it harder to return in case the dentist gives out to you for leaving it so long. I’ve heard of dentists doing this, but I’ve never actually heard of a librarian going spare over an overdue book, nor have I experienced it. Most of the time, the staff in my library would just laugh and tell me it’s grand, while refusing to even take payment from me. 

Librarians are sound and libraries are great. We take them for granted. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to support your favourite authors (particularly if they’re Irish), but I know so many people (including myself, sometimes) who would rather get the little dopamine hit from seeing a cashier add a few more stamps to their Hodges Figgis card (or to see points build up on their Easons or Dubray cards) than drop into their local library to ask if a particular book has been ordered in yet. 

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It’s all fun and games building up points and collecting stamps, until you realise just how much you’ve spent on books (that might still be untouched and piling up on your bedside locker) over the last few years. And then you hear Marie Kondo saying that you shouldn’t own more than 30 books. I don’t really care how many books Marie Kondo thinks I should own, but I do care about the fact that I’ve nowhere to put these books and I can never find the time to bring them to a charity shop. This very minor problem in my life never would have occurred if I had been making proper use of my local library. 

Aside from saving us all loads of money and space in our homes, libraries and the staff that work in them are crucial parts of many Irish communities, whether you can see the immediate benefits of them or not.

For children, there are innumerable resources, like computer facilities, book clubs, homework help, storytelling groups, toddler groups and language and culture lessons. Once a month, Ballymun library hosts a group of adults whose first language is Japanese, who teach kids in attendance the basics of Japanese and tell them about Japanese history and culture. Other libraries offer introductions to mindfulness for kids. 

Parents who are becoming more concerned about the amount of screen-time their kids are getting should probably turn to their local libraries to find some new activities to entertain their kids. 

PastedImage-94983 Ballymun Library's Baby and Toddler Book Club Dublin City Public Libraries Dublin City Public Libraries

For adults, there are a similar range of activities available, as well as facilities to trace your family history and heritage, rent DVDs and CDs, learn languages and computer skills, and access to eBooks and eAudiobooks as well as digital magazines. Across Dublin, libraries host a range of very diverse classes, from yoga, drama and preparation for the Camino Santiago, to child psychology classes, talks on dealing with diabetes and history lectures. 

If you haven’t been to your local library since you were a teenager, a child, or if you’ve never been at all, you should go and take advantage of everything that it has to offer.  It’s not too late to make a New Year’s resolution, and paying a monthly visit to your local library won’t cost you a thing.

There are very few quiet places in Dublin that you can go and sit down for an hour or two without being expected to buy something, never mind somewhere that gives you access to hundreds of books, dozens of classes and a reliable, working printer. Let’s be real – a smoothly running printer is very hard to come by, even in 2019. 

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