Broadening our horizons - Innovation in libraries

THE internet has had a radical impact on access to education and knowledge.

It has allowed millions of people to avail of an opportunity their life circumstances — poverty, geography, the need to earn money, or the 24/7 obligation to care for a dependant — might have put beyond their reach.

Another small but important step in that process will be made this week when a change in how our libraries are managed spectacularly broadens the horizons of those who use the country’s 333 public libraries. The innovation means that readers will get quicker access to more than 15m titles, irrespective of which library has the book they are interested in. The step-change that has made this possible is the creation of a national catalogue of all of the books held by Irish public libraries. These can be ordered online and will then be delivered to the library nearest the interested reader.

There are few things as empowering as a well-stocked library — a truth recognised by the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie when he established more than 2,500 libraries around the world in the decades before 1929.

It seems, though, this welcome innovation can only be temporary. It cannot be too long before a new Carnegie understands that the same objective can be realised not by building libraries, but by giving those who would use them the devices needed to access the world’s libraries online. What a positive contribution that would be; what an uplifting gamechanger.

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