Most public libraries in Ireland will soon be open every day of the week from 8am to 10pm and overdue fines abolished.
It’s part of a plan to double visitors to Irish libraries over the next five years.
Should New Zealand be doing something similar?
Although we’re a similar-sized country, we don’t have the same challenges, says Paula Eskett, the incoming president of LIANZA (the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa).
But she thinks abolishing all fines is a fine idea.
“It’s a really Dickensian model of punishing people for wanting to keep something for longer.
“It doesn’t acknowledge communities are made up of many different cultures and ways of working … sharing [library resources] with extended whānau or community.”
While the extended library hours are “amazing” for Ireland, we don’t need to take such measures in New Zealand at this stage, she says.
The Irish plan is a response to five years of economic downturn and underfunding of libraries – and far fewer visitor numbers than we get.
Only 16 percent of people in Ireland are members of their 330 public libraries, while close to 50 percent of New Zealanders are signed up with our 414 public and community libraries, she says.
According to a 2015 study, that year over two million Kiwis were public library members – and there were 32.6 million individual library visits to libraries, 41.9 million print loans and 1.6 million ebook loans.
New Zealand library-goers are lucky to have institutions like LIANZA, Public Libraries of New Zealand and The Aotearoa People’s Network Kaharoa, which provides free internet access at 150 sites around the country, and the biggest ongoing challenge here is providing equitable library resources across the whole country, she says.
Public libraries and their staff help people not only with language literacy but also information literacy, digital literacy and media literacy, Eskett says.
The self-checkout machines we now have in many public libraries and some school libraries free up staff to move around supporting people in many different ways, especially on computers.
Auckland librarians were instrumental in helping the city’s homeless fill out registrations for the last census, she points out.
“The library is a community commons that serves its community. It’s the last free space in many towns and cities where anybody can go to, regardless of what’s in their pocket.”