As Minister Michael Ring launches the new library strategy, we learn more about what the library of the future might look like.

A new five-year strategic policy document re-imagines the country’s 330 libraries as “community hubs”, open from early until late, 365 days of the year. As well as this, fines will soon be a thing of the past, according to ‘Our Public Libraries 2022 – Inspiring, Connecting and Empowering Communities’.

There’s nothing like real consultation, and the new strategy has all-round backing. It was launched, with immaculate timing, a day after unions voted overwhelmingly to call off the threat of industrial action.

The new strategy was launched in the spectacular LexIcon in Dún Laoghaire by Minister for Rural and Community Development Michael Ring.

He said: “The overall aim is to increase active library membership from 16% of the population to 30% by the end of 2022.”

Judging by the 2016 census figures, that means moving membership numbers up from 761,000 people to approximately 1,500,000 members by January 2023.

In part, that will be achieved by ending fines, extending opening hours, and reaching out further into communities.

On ending fines, Minister Ring said the strategy focuses on “removing barriers to access by eliminating fines and other charges and challenging the belief that the library is only for certain sectors of society.”

Fines are already gone in many areas and are on the way out in others.

The roll out of the My Open Library service will see a pilot scheme expanded to “up to 100 libraries by 2023, with the goal of reaching 200 library branches over the next decade”.

This means that libraries will be open at night-time, including over weekends.

The Minister said the strategy “aims to improve access, use and visibility of the library as a community hub, and develop the library as a focal point for community and cultural development”.

It promises to see our libraries “work with local partners to reach disadvantaged, marginalised and new communities, increasing these communities’ awareness of services available and firmly establishing the library as a resource for all”.

The five-year strategy is a joint initiative of the Department of Rural and Community Development, the County and City Management Association, and the Local Government Management Agency.

In the past 12 months, there has been a multimillion-euro increase in funding for our public library service, with the government investing more in libraries last year than in the three previous years combined.

Speaking at the time, Minister Ring said: “This very significant investment in our public libraries will enable the purchase of self-service technology for more than 200 libraries, books to promote literacy for children, and hot desk facilities for business people and jobseekers. It is an exciting time for the public library service and for library staff.”

Interested in reading more about the state of Ireland’s community development sector? Check out our latest issue.