Councillors were effusive in their praise of county librarian Mary Farrell, who is to take early retirement from the council after 17 years at the helm of the county’s library services.
Presenting an update on library services to councillors on Monday, Ms Farrell then thanked councillors, county manager Dan McLoughlin, local media, and her library staff for their support during her tenure.
During 2011, there were over 275,000 visits to Westmeath libraries. The number of items issued has almost doubled from 200,000 in 1997 to 380,000 items in 2011, while membership has increased from 8,000 to almost 15,500.
Other achievements during Ms Farrell’s time included the extension of opening hours in all the county’s libraries, the development of the Healthy Reading Scheme, the installation of wi-fi and the provision of internet and e-book services, and the opening of six new libraries including Ballynacargy, Killucan, Castlepollard, and Kilbeggan.
Cathaoirleach Cllr Mark Cooney led tributes to Ms Farrell for the work done under her stewardship.
“Your presentation shows the huge work that has been done and the huge uptake in membership. You are quite obviously taking early retirement, and you are leaving a marvellous service behind with a great foundation to build on,” he said.
Cllr Ken Glynn said Ms Farrell would be a big loss to the county’s library services, while Cllr Mick Dollard paid tribute to her work to increase readership and membership.
Cllr Frank McDermott said that, thanks to Ms Farrell, “it is now cool to be seen with books under your arm in Castlepollard”.
Meanwhile, referring to the numbers of council staff leaving their offices as part of the early retirement scheme, Cllr Joe Whelan said “This week in history will be looked on as a time when the public service was drained of a lot of its best people, and one of these is Mary Farrell”.
“I am shocked to see her leaving us at such a young age; she will be impossible to replace,” he said.
Cllr Paddy Hill added that the library established in Castlepollard had been “an outstanding success” and is now one of the greatest assets in the Coole area, while Cllr Johnny Penrose said the importance of libraries in rural villages such as Ballynacargy should not be underestimated.
“Walk into any library in Westmeath and you will find people studying, using e-books, getting assistance with school projects, highly professional staff...the service offered is second to none,” commented Cllr Denis Leonard, adding that he hoped Kinnegad would be next on the list for a library.
County manager Dan McLoughlin said Ms Farrell’s service to the council had been “exemplary”.