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Speech by Mr. Damien English, T.D.,Minister for Housing and Urban Renewal
‘Interpreting Ireland through Writers, Historians and Local Collections.’
Main Conference Hall, Dublin Castle, 6th December 4pm
Good afternoon everyone.
I am delighted as Minister to represent the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government at today’s Conference:
Interpreting Ireland through Writers, Historians and Local Collections.
Due to other Government business I have missed the many contributions from today’s speakers including:
- national figures from print and broadcast media,
- national authorities on history,
- local history and literature from the academic sector
- and prominent figures in the local authority library sector.
The importance of collecting cultural memory, the impact of the national collections on the local, and the local on the national, has been examined; this is an area of great interest to the State and its people.
Local history provides insights on how life in Ireland in the past evolved in a variety of settings, both urban and rural.
Future generations will one day mine these treasures, to better understand their heritage and culture.
The preserved history and research within the collections, will allow them glimpses into the diverse, interacting worlds that are the basis of the Irish historical experience.
Even the unique regional diversity of Irish society in the past will be preserved within these collections.
I hope the experience of the Conference has been an exciting and thought provoking event for you.
The influence of politics, historians and writers has been explored.
The value and opportunities for the public provided by the national collections and the local studies collections in public libraries has all been debated, challenged and refreshed.
Indeed this Conference is a very fitting addition to the great number of really worthwhile events which have been held throughout this year as part of the Ireland 2016 celebrations.
I know that in many cases, the entire Ireland 2016 programme of events in the local authority was co-ordinated by the County or City Librarian and their library teams.
I have had many interactions in my current role with the librarians and library staff.
Their dedication and passion for the service they provide is an inspiration to me.
The fantastic showcase, including the Dublin City 1916 Exhibition bus, has been provided by many of the public library services from across the country and made available throughout the day for everyone to explore and enjoy.
Such a showcase demonstrates the work undertaken by the public libraries on collecting and making available information and resources on Irish history and writers as an on-going practice and also particularly on the commemoration of 1916.
2016 is now drawing to a close, but the Decade of Centenaries is of course on-going.
The local place is becoming more and more important as we move towards events such as the War of Independence, which directly impacted on and still resonate in the towns, villages and parishes across the country.
In light of this, the role of the local collections will come even more to the fore in the coming years.
Collecting and making available resources for the history and culture of communities and places is one of the key roles of the public library.
All thirty-one local authorities have local studies collections as part of the library service and provide a dedicated local studies service for the public.
Local studies collections are like an ‘Aladdin’s cave’, rich and abundant with treasures.
These hold the precious gems of our culture, and the list is astounding; such as:
- manuscripts of local interest,
- collections of local and national newspapers and journals;
- iconic photographs and other visual materials;
- ancient maps, church records; estate records;
- and administrative records such as ‘of the Poor Law Union’.
Public libraries not only collect original source materials, but also seek to acquire copies of materials held in national and other repositories, making it easier for users to access these materials.
Examples of these are:
- the Primary Valuation (Griffiths’);
- the Tithe Applotment Books,
- and the Census returns.
There is no doubt that the existence of excellent local studies collections, and the support and expert advice offered by local studies librarians, has contributed greatly to the interest growth and development in local history publications.
Public libraries also collect these local publications, ensuring that knowledge gained about a locality is widely shared, enabling successive researchers build upon previous work.
The socio-economic development of Ireland in recent decades has led to huge changes in the make-up of even the most rural communities.
There are now large numbers of people living in areas with which they have no personal or family connections.
In addition, housing and other developments have changed both the infrastructural and cultural landscapes of many communities, leading to changes in how local people interact with their own localities.
In such an environment, local studies are important as a means of fostering a sense of place and belonging – crucial to the well-being of individuals and communities alike – is more important than ever.
Public library collections are fundamental to the pursuit and enjoyment of local studies. Of course, as you have heard, there are variations in the nature and extent of collections across the country.
The question of providing and managing access, physical and digital, has both enormous benefits and some extra challenges.
The need is, of course, to balance providing the widest possible access to the public with the preservation of the materials for the future.
There is the need to ensure that copies, particularly digital ones, cannot be exploited inappropriately.
It is a delicate balance.
But the overriding requirement and the basis on which the public libraries operate is to make as many of the resources as accessible to as many people as possible.
I know, from my constituent’s exploration of the local studies collection in both the Meath and Westmeath library services, the importance of being able to research and find information on family and place through the centuries, through local sources in our local area.
The development of local studies, collections and enhancing access to these formed part of the public libraries strategy 2013 to 2017, Opportunities for All.
As my Department now starts to plan for a new strategy, it is important that we build on the developments achieved in the last five years and that we incorporate the learnings from today to help shape the future of local studies.
I look forward to hearing a full overview of Today’s proceedings.
I look forward also to your input next year into the framing of the successor to ‘Opportunities for All’ – A new strategy for Public Libraries in Ireland.
We are in a wonderful position to learn from the past and plan for the future so that we can do something positive for the Library Services in Ireland.
Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you again for inviting me today, congratulations on an excellent conference and I wish you all the very best for the festive season and the New Year in 2017.