A plan being developed for all local authority libraries will see around 20,000 volumes transported between counties each week to satisfy reader demand — up from fewer than 150 books a week previously.
Members can currently borrow books from most of the 333 library branches run by 30 councils around Ireland, but must wait until an item is returned to its home library, and then a book, DVD, or other item is sent by library staff in the post.
As all public libraries complete the switch to a common system management software programme in the next few weeks, an improved service is planned to allow members reserve any of more than 15m items held in national collections.
Since July, 13 local authorities have been piloting a system under which members’ loans between different councils are collected from branches and brought to where a library member has requested it by a dedicated delivery service.
Effectively, the online or in-branch catalogue search for 30 library services is being replaced by a single national catalogue, which can be accessed in branches or from online from home.
“The new service does not recognise geographic borders, a member of any library service can borrow or reserve any item, and it will be delivered to their nearest branch from any library in the country,” said a spokesperson for the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA).
Its libraries development section is planning a further pilot from March to August, under which the twice-weekly collection and delivery service will be expanded nationally.
“We’re hoping the delivery service will result in quicker delivery times for users, and feedback on the first pilot so far has been very positive,” said the spokesperson.
Most local authority library services have offered members access to the collections of counterpart libraries for the past 10 years through Borrowbooks.ie, due to end next month.
Only around 7,500 items a year, or 140 each week, were sent on such inter-library loans each year before the pilot began last summer.
The LGMA estimate of 20,000 items to be collected, sorted, and delivered each week is based on traffic generated to date in the pilot. It has been running in Clare, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Limerick, Louth, Mayo, Meath, Tipperary, Waterford, Wexford, and Wicklow.
The new service will not replace current arrangements within individual councils’ library services, under which requested items are transferred between their own branches.
The new system will enable other new services, such as a single membership card across all library services.
In the longer term, the expanded inter-library loans and other shared services should lead to savings as, for example, more discerning book purchases may be facilitated.