2 Sept 2014

Library Ireland Week 2014: Diary of a Staff Exchange

Guest post by Bernadette Mellon, Library Assistant, Maynooth University.

Each year the Library Association of Ireland (LAI) organises a week of events to promote libraries throughout Ireland. One of the events that takes place during ‘Library Ireland Week’ is the ‘Library Exchange Scheme.’ This allows staff from different libraries exchange for a day to experience ‘a day in the life’ so to speak. I had read interesting accounts of various exchanges undertaken by my colleagues and I decided it was time to experience it for myself. Our Deputy Librarian, who is responsible for staff development, suggested that the John J. Jennings Library at Stewarts Care Ltd., in Palmerstown, Dublin, might be able to facilitate the exchange. I contacted the Librarian, Siobhan McCrystal and she was kind enough to agree to host my visit.


The John J Jennings Library, named after a former Chairman of the hospital, is situated on the Stewarts Care Campus at Palmerstown in Dublin. Stewarts Hospital is a charitable foundation and provides care for people with intellectual disability. It also offers support for people with severe disabilities regardless of age, religion and socio economic background. The Library at Stewarts Hospital was officially opened in 2000 and is the result of a partnership between the HSE, Stewarts Care Ltd., and South Dublin County Council to address the information needs in Stewarts and to provide a public library service to the wider community in Palmerstown. Siobhan McCrystal’s article “Value Added: Case Study of a Joint-use Library,” An Leabharlann, Vol. 21(1), March 2012  gives a very good insight into the various roles and user groups.

The Library at Maynooth University caters for upwards of 8,000 students from all walks of life and in 2013 opened a new state of the art library which will facilitate the needs of our students into the future and greatly enhance their university experience.

Exchange Day 3rd April 2014

Bernadette Mellon at the John J Jennings Library
While Library Ireland Week is in November each year, Maynooth University has scheduled exchanges outside this period, because it is a particularly busy time close to start of term. April 3rd was agreed as the day I would go on my exchange. Also, because of staffing constraints in Siobhan’s library, it was agreed that rather than a return visit to the Library, Siobhan would be invited to attend some events in the Maynooth University Library to suit her schedule.

I set off with a slight trepidation. What would my experience be like? I was greeted warmly by Siobhan and immediately noticed the colours around the library. I realised that the books still had their covers on and this was adding colour to the room. It was such a small thing but very obvious. Book covers are removed in our library so the colours tend to be more uniform, black, grey and green. Siobhan took me through what would be the normal morning procedures, logging on to their library management system ‘Open Galaxy’ which is used by all South Dublin County Council libraries. Checking emails, answering phone calls and dealing face to face queries from service users and staff, were all part of the routine. The post was delivered that morning by a very happy and chatty service user accompanied by his guide dog.

Siobhan explained that patrons registered with Stewarts Library can request books from any South Dublin County Council Library. Books are transported in boxes to and from the relevant library depending on the request. The library collection consists of up to date best sellers, which are shelved alphabetically under author, while medical and course books for students are catalogued using the Dewey Decimal System and shelved accordingly. The library also has a dedicated section for children with up to date books, a multisensory collection, DVDs and talking books. Daily newspapers and magazines are available. Brochures and information pamphlets are also available. Library holdings can be accessed by searching http://library.sdublincoco.ie. Internet access is free to all patrons. Assistive technology is available if needed. Printing and photocopying facilities are available for a nominal fee. Stewarts subscribe to 30 medical journal titles but have access to hundreds of other journal titles through their membership of the Irish Health Care Libraries Group (a co-operative of Irish healthcare libraries sharing journals). Databases and journals are available on the IDAAL website.

Needless to say the morning flew by and Siobhan very kindly treated me to lunch in the staff canteen which provided an array of delicious hot and cold meals, sandwiches, wraps, tea and coffee. We had a chat over lunch about the events of the morning which included a visit from local school children who were celebrating ECO Week by listening and singing along to songs about the environment ‘as gaeilge’.

It was fortunate that Mary, the library assistant was off that day as it would have been a tight squeeze behind the desk. With group visits etc., there is very little space. After lunch it was just as hectic with people dropping in to use the internet, choose a book, or just relax and read the paper. The ECO event was repeated in the afternoon for some of the service users who sang along with gusto. As with the morning the afternoon went by very quickly and it was with reluctance that I took my leave of Siobhan and her wonderful library. That evening the library was hosting a music appreciation class for the local community and a monthly book club meeting was scheduled to take place the following week. The book club, with members from the local Palmerstown area, meets monthly. We were really pleased when the club picked “Silence Would be Treason: Last Writings of Ken Saro-Wiwa” for their February read. The book is based on letters held in Maynooth University Library.

I thought prior to my exchange that as the library building was small in comparison to the library at Maynooth University I might find the day going by very slowly with little happening. How wrong I was! The John J Jennings Library is a hub serving the wider Palmerstown community as well as staff and service users at Stewarts Hospital. It is a library first and foremost but it is also a place where people can relax and feel welcome, whether it be on their own, with a group or just taking time out to chat or sit and reflect. A wonderful atmosphere of belonging prevails in this library, one that I reluctantly left. I learned so much about a library service that is quite different to my experiences in Maynooth University: it was certainly a very enriching experience.

I would like to thank Siobhan for her patience and time in making this a special day to remember. I would definitely recommend a library exchange visit. Go for it, you never know what you will discover.


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