Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Feature: Kilcullen Library

Most people recently come to Kilcullen quickly realise they're quite lucky with the number of amenities already in the town.

A theatre, a plethora of established sports clubs, a community sports complex that's the envy of many much larger towns across the country, primary and secondary schools with a strong bank of experienced teachers and the land to expand. A new Parish Centre which equally is a showpiece of how it can be done.

One of smallest of the town's public facilities is also one of the longest established services. The Library, now located in the former Boys School, has been run by Julie Donoghue for almost 27 years. And the recent rapid increase in the population of Kilcullen has been making a significant difference to her work in a number of ways.

"Things have eased off a little now, with the fine weather people are staying at home and doing a bit of gardening, or whatever ... but certainly through last winter, the increase in population has added hugely to the adult figures."

At the other end of the readership scale, the Library is also very popular with primary school children, not least because there's usually a class visit on Tuesday mornings.

"I long ago found that the most revealing thing you can say to a child on their first visit is tell them it is their Library, and you hear them go 'hmm ... yeah!' I tell them it is their space, they can sit down, read a book, do their homework ... that they don't even have to borrow a book to come here. And they love it."

The scarce species in the Library is teenagers, so Julie treats them very well when any do appear, like Eve and Amy O'Leary who were there on Friday evening.

"In general, teenagers simply don't read as much," Julie says with a grin. "Especially on Friday nights, maybe they're out chasing boys, or playing with their mobile phones ..."

But Amy O'Leary likes the Library: "It's nice and relaxing ... I can come over and read a book, maybe do some study."

Sometimes a visit is a family event, like the Martins who were there last Friday night — Harley, Maxine, their mother Jeanette and their friend Rose Broughall. They're regulars.

"It's not always easy to come regularly, because it is a part-time service in Kilcullen and we're only open twelve hours a week," Julie says. "And the Library may be closed at times when I'm on leave. So for that reason, I'm not one of those librarians who charge people a lot of money because they're late back with a book."

The Library Service generally has vastly improved over the last decade, and, like her other colleagues, Julie gets her own budget to acquire books. "It means I can buy what I feel suits my readership, in addition to those brought in on the overall acquisitions policy. For instance, there's very little romantic fiction read here (ED: maybe a function of the small teenager profile?) — it's mainly whodunnits that are most popular in the fiction."

Even though the Kilcullen Library is very well stocked, a particular book might not be on the shelves. Julie can get it, though, either from one of the other Kildare libraries, or from any other library in the thirty-two counties. "And that won't cost the borrower anything more than their annual fee. For something more difficult, I can go to the British Library service, and get a book for a small fee. That was very useful recently for one of our borrowers, a man who was writing a book and wanted some obscure volumes."

Samantha Ryan, from South Africa but living in Gilltown at the moment, was also in the Library on Friday night, looking for a Brendan Behan book. She's a lawyer, working in Dublin.

"I've been here since January, and I think it is fantastic for such a little village to have such a well-stocked library. Reading is a passion of mine, and I also write myself, so it is also a great place to get brochures about writer events like Listowel Writers Week, which I'm going to."

Samantha's son Luke was with her, and spent some time deep in discussion with Julie about a shared passion — his collection of crystals from Africa.

There's a large community of migrant workers in Kilcullen who use the Library's internet service as a point for connecting with home. As it happens, the terminal there is the only public internet access point in Kilcullen.

"The internet is very useful to me, for keeping in touch with friends and family," says Agnes Chybinska, who comes from Poland and has been working as an au pair in Kilcullen since last October. She likes Ireland, found it wet at first, but now enjoys the greenness of the grass and trees that we get from that.

And obviously she also appreciates the connection with 'her own space' that is just a part of what is provided in the former old Boys School building. It is a long way from when this writer was a pupil in that same school, where learning then could be a mixture of fear and wonder, with too much of the former in evidence.

Today it is a place of fun and wonder.

— Brian Byrne.