One in five people who use Westmeath’s libraries don’t live in the county, research into the library service has shown.
Director of services for Westmeath County Council Jimmy Dalton told this week’s monthly meeting of the council that this is evidence of the importance of the service to people who work and shop in the county.
He was outlining the council’s Strategy and Marketing Plan for the Library Service.
While membership increased by 26 per cent between 2008 and 2012, it fell slightly last year, possibly because of a new library in Tullamore.
There are now around 15,000 members countywide, he said, adding that it is impossible to overstate the importance of fostering a culture of reading.
Most users travel an average of 5km to use the library, but some travel as much as 15km, according to information received through Geographical Information System Mapping carried out last year.
The Library Service’s core values remain the same despite dramatic changes in technology and “endless information in the Google culture”, he said.
“The Library Service must reach out to those groups not currently using our services and work towards making our services relevant to their lives,” he said.
He said the Library Service is a quality product which now must be marketed to a wider audience.
Libraries must provide a welcoming space which is open to all, provide access to information and an inclusive hub for community groups and individuals, and it must also offer a platform for culture and heritage.
The library must also encourage education and life-long learning.
These values are central to the staff culture in the Library Service, and the document points out that a well-trained and committed staff member can have “a long term beneficial impact on a person’s life”.
Central to the marketing strategy is the objective of “repositioning the library in the minds of people who don’t use the service,” and the initiative will target social media.
One of the indicators of success will be the number of Twitter followers the service has, currently fewer than 500.
The Twitter account @whcclibrary provides links to articles on subjects as diverse as the death of Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe; the Dewey Decimal System for classifying books; shortlists; prize winners in library competitions; and details of events.
The initiative will also see the setting up of partnerships with other Midlands library services.
While the plan is high on aspirations and aims, and shows an analysis of the service’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges, it is vague on numbers.
It outlines how it will measure its success in general terms, but it doesn’t set goals for the number of new members, level of borrowing or the quality of partnerships and what they should achieve.