25 Sept 2012

Dublin to get new main public library

The "Development Plan for Dublin City Public Libraries 2012-2016" has just been published. The most exciting part of the report from a public library viewpoint is that Dublin City Council has selected several sites on which to build a new massive central library for the city. The current main public library in the city is situated in the Ilac shopping centre on Henry Street. As well as standard facilities such as an OPAC and study spaces, the library also has a world literature collection, an extensive music collection and regularly hosts exhibitions and lectures. It was the site of Dublin's first central library and opened in 1986. However, there are huge problems with the current location. I was in the library recently and it comes across as being an unattractive, physically deteriorating, old, dark library with little room to expand. It has no on-street presence whatsoever and casual library users would have to have looked up its location to find it. Even in the shopping centre itself, it is not all that easy to find. The library does not even have toilet facilities. 

Little surprise then that the report describes the establishment of a 21st century library for Dublin city as the "key civic infrastructural objective for the capital city in the lifetime of this developmental plan". An 8000 square metre site is the ideal size for the council. This would compare favourably with best international practice as seen in cities like Helsinki, Copenhagen and Oslo who all have libraries in excess of this size. The hope is that the new library can "be at the heart of the literary life of the capital...be a meeting place both for people and for ideas...and imbue in its users a sense of ownership and  a sense that they, the citizens, will develop the library through the events that happen there." To address the lack of visibilty and street presence of the current site, Assistant City Manager Philip Maguire sets out his vision for the new library:

"It should be a cathedral for the city. A landmark, rising above it, visible to all around and allowing views over the city from within it. The building’s commanding presence marking its importance to the citizens and inviting people to ask the question ‘what is that place?’"

It all sounds fantastic but, it should be noted, these sort of promises have been made before. The objective of building Dublin a modern library was included in previous reports for the years 1996-2001 and 2000-2012. Undoubtedly the big obstacle will be funding. The new library failed to be built during the economic boom so will be harder to justify in the current economic situation. The report claims that "the ultimate cost of a new city library will depend on the kind of project undertaken. A new-build project will entail a different set of costs and challenges to those presented by a conservation project." Somewhat worryingly, there are no figures on how much the library will cost or where the money will come from. The council have identified a few possible sites for the new library. Plans to use the Ambassador cinema  have been abandoned since late 2011. Here's hoping that we will have our super library in Dublin before too long.


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