Irish Carnegie Libraries Transcript

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The following is a transcript of "Irish Carnegie Libraries, an Architectural History" a talk by Brendan Grimes, Architect and former lecturer of the School of Architecture, DIT, on Wednesday 16 October 2013 at 6.30pm, at Rathmines Library.


Welcome to the Dublin City Public Libraries and Archive Podcast. In this episode, marking the centenary of Rathmines Library, architect and former lecturer Brendan Grimes details the architectural history of the Library and outlines the history of Irish Carnegie Libraries. Recorded in front of a live audience in Rathmines Library on 16 October 2013.

…talk to you about some of the Carnegie Libraries and it’s really fitting that we’re in your library, 100 years after it was opened.  Now, I think that any place with a Carnegie Library has something to be proud of, because the presence of the library in an local community indicates local initiative, and generosity from those with money.  Well at least from some of those with money, and that was the case here.  We managed to get a site to build the library and get some local contribution and a contribution from Carnegie.

Now before going further, I want to show you a graph of where the libraries were built in Ireland and the graph showing how the grants were made.  So let’s look at this.  So there you see a map of Ireland with those little circles showing where the libraries were.  You can see there’s a cluster of them around Dublin, around Belfast and the North, around Limerick.  And then the graph shows you the rush to get the money, the gold rush as it were, a little spark in 1897 and then quiet in 1898 and ‘99.  A grant for, I forget which one got that grant for a £1,000 in 1900.  These were the dates when the grants were promised.  And then the gold rush, as it were, in 1902 and 1903.  And then it fizzled off a little bit with the graph going up and down.  And 1913 was the last year that the grants were available, because then he made it…he set the whole thing over to the Carnegie UK Trust.  So 112, somebody got £112 in 1913. 

Now, as we’re in Rathmines Library, I just thought it might be fitting if I just read from my book what I said about the library, knowing of course that there could be errors there, and Helen was saying something to me about the spiral stairs, the back stairs which may or may not have been original.  Now, what I said was in 1887 was the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria’s coronation.  And that year, many library authorities in the British Isles adopted the Libraries Act to mark the occasion.  Rathmines was the only authority in Ireland to adopt the act in that year.  Not only did they adopt the act, but they also established a library, a consequence that is not always immediate or inevitable with library authorities.  We’re very good in this country at making laws and making declarations, but doing something about it doesn’t always follow.  But it did follow in this case.  Now the council decided to apply to Carnegie for money to build a proper library in 1902.  The request for a grant was at first refused on the basis that they had the premises already, but another application was made a year later and after convincing Bertram, Bertram was Carnegie’s private secretary, and he was in charge of dispensing the money, a job which I think he really loved.  After convincing Bertram that the library building was inadequate, £7,500  was offered.  The council had difficulties finding a suitable site without legal complications, a task which was to take eight years.  By December 1910 the site had been bought, and the winners of an architectural competition for the library, Batchelor and Hicks had been asked to proceed with the plans.  The building was designed to incorporate a library and technical school at a cost estimated by the architects to be £18,265 pounds, of which £8,565 was to be the cost of the library.  The estimate and the plans were sent to Carnegie with a request that the grant be increased by £1,000.  The building, the letter said was to be in keeping with the Town Hall and an ornament to the township and a lasting monument to your generosity.  The town council like to add things like that, a little bit of plámás to Carnegie.  But he didn’t really lap it up very much, at least his private secretary didn’t.  He had no time for that sort of carry on. 

A more important argument was also put forward that the township had increased in population and valuation and that the council would have more money to maintain a bigger library.  After some enquiries from Bertram concerning population figures, the extra £1,000 was promised.  Even then, Bertram could not resist a cautionary word to the council.  He said, be careful that the £8,500 covers the cost of the building complete and ready to occupy.  He didn’t like requests for extra money and he always dismissed them.  Now the plans shown, I’m just going to move the slide on, so you can see the plans there.  The plans shown have been re-drawn from the plans contained in the first rulebook of the library, entitled Rathmines Public Library Bye Laws, Rules and Regulations.  And I think there might be a copy of that in the vetrine there.  The rulebook was published in the same year as the building work was completed and the building was laid out almost exactly as shown on the plans.  There are some differences in the plan as built and as shown.  It seems that the librarian’s room and the strong room were not built, and the present circular stairs on the ground floor to the first floor of the north-west corner, appears to be original.  Well, I said appears to be original, I think I might be wrong there.  It might have come later.  The library forms the smaller part of a large building comprising the technical school and the library.  The school and the library are physically and visually united, but they have separate entrances and are cut off from each other on plan.  Bertram did not like the idea of libraries being combined with schools as it was impossible to know if Carnegie’s donation was being spent on the library, when accommodation was being shared with the school.  He raised no objection for Rathmines as the two buildings were clearly separated although united.  And you can see them there, fine building.  And indeed as the clerk of the council said, in keeping with the town hall and an ornament to the township and a lasting monument to his generosity. 

Now as was common in libraries at the time, the room for the reading of newspapers was one of the best in the building.  Provision for thirty-eight newspaper readers was provided in a fine south facing room on the ground floor.  The room could be supervised by the librarian at the issue desk in the hall.  Access to the lending library was controlled by a wicket gate operated by the librarian at the central desk.  This was a system advocated by James Duff Brown called controlled open access.  A grand stairs which divides into two parallel flights leads to the first floor.  The stairs is light by a stained glass window with an allegory of literature.  The reference room is directly over the news room and contained accommodation for thirty-two readers at tables.  The inner reference room was probably intended for the housing of valuable books and for serious students.  A book lift operated by hand communicated with the lending library below.  This lift is still maintained in working order, but Helen tells me that it’s not maintained in working order now.  It’s regarded as not safe; I think health and safety won’t allow it, even though no librarians were lost in it in a hundred years. 

Now the original rule book refers to a juvenile department in the library, but this was not shown on the plan in the books, but I’m glad it was.  I think this provision for children was a very good thing.  The lecture room probably doubled as a juvenile library, that’s where we are now.  Sanitary accommodation was provided in the basement for both men and women.  The façade is built with red brick and what appears to be Portland stone.  It takes a close examination to see that the Portland stone is in fact a glazed terracotta.  The terracotta facing was mentioned in the architect’s estimate.  The use of terracotta was a disappointment to the stone workers of Dublin who tried through the Dublin United Trades Council and Labour League to persuade the architects and Carnegie to allow the use of stone.  The Trades Council reckoned an extra 3260 would have been enough to allow the use of stone, and they pleaded in vain to Carnegie to increase the grant by this amount.  It didn’t happen though.  The terracotta has proved itself suitable to an urban environment by weathering very well.  You can see the building looks in perfect condition after 100 years, and that’s a tribute to the architect and the builders.  The library has a baroque façade in the style of many contemporary American and British buildings.  The entrance is marked with two ionic columns, a device common on American libraries and also used at Kingstown, Dun Laoghaire, as it is now.  The ionic columns are two stories high, with a base above head level.  Above the door is a large landing window, seemingly hollowed out of the building’s façade.  The visitor enters the building at street level into a small oval vestibule before ascending a short flight of steps to the ground floor.  Above the entrance at roof level is a ventilated cubicle.  The rooms on the ground floor on either side of the entrance are lit by Venetian windows.  Two storey ionic pilasters adorn the curved exterior of the news and reference room.  All the coins and dressings around the window have recessed joints which read strong horizontal lines in the façade.  So enjoy your building and it should make you feel good as you enter this building and ascend that double stairs, lit from above with high lofty ceilings. 

Now, I’ll just show you a few slides.  This of course, is in the vetrine, there’s a couple of the original vetrine and you’re very lucky and Helen has put up, and her staff have put up a lovely history of the library on the panels here, and some original artefacts in the showcase there.  So there you are, the opening ceremony was a big thing, reported in the newspapers and those invited were given this little ribbon to pin to their jacket or dress.  And this was used in Rathmines, the catalogue and Cotgreave Indicator.  Now a Cotgreave Indicator is an interesting little thing.  It’s a little miniature books, you can see one there, that’s my hand by the way.  And this gave all the details of the book.  And you consulted your catalogue, saw the catalogue number, and you can see at a glance whether the book you wanted was in or out.  And they were used in some of the big libraries - they were used in Pearse Street library, Great Brunswick Street and Charleville Mall, Kilkenny, maybe others.  But the problem was they took up a lot of space.  So they were discontinued.  And it was very common to have to fill out a ticket.  Now this one is for Drogheda library, but it might have been the same for Rathmines, I’m not sure.  Same as being in the National Library where you fill out the docket and wait for your book, in many of the libraries from this period, you had to do the same.  And at the back of this one for Drogheda library is the rules and regulation of the reading and reference library.  There’s one there that I like, yes, 'readers giving a false name and address will be held responsible for the consequences'. 

Well that was about open access.  Argument against open access was the theft of books would be more frequent, and books would be misplaced on the shelves by the public.  And the books would be subject to increased wear and tear.  And librarians from the period really didn’t like the public coming in and mauling the books.  They’d prefer if they were handed out and properly, with cautionary advice, like some of the stuff you see in the back there, not licking your fingers when you turn the pages, or washing your hands and handling them carefully.  So they didn’t really like people coming in, but that was the fashion for the time and it slowly changed.  One of the writers, Brown, James Duff Brown, advocated a safeguarded system where the public entered and left the book stacked to a supervised wicket gates, just like it was here in Rathmines.  And that’s what I remember too when I was growing up, I frequented Drumcondra Library and Phibsboro’ Library, and it had that system, where you went in one side and you were controlled and you came out the other, and your books were stamped as you came out.  And many libraries changed from the closed to the open shortly after they were built.  The plans of the Irish library show that most Irish library committees were slow to accept the open access systems for the lending library.  Access to the books in the reference rooms depended on whether the books were kept on open shelves or in locked cases.  Except for the very small one roomed libraries, almost all the libraries were planned to operate the old closed system.  And we’ll see that in a moment when I start showing plans.  Now, it’s doubtful in a small library, that the system that’s strictly adhered to.  Nevertheless, small libraries could operate a system of closed access by keeping the books in locked bookcases, which they did, lock them up.  Now the Falls Road library in Belfast for example changed to an open access system in 1914.  Now I’ve written here, the only Irish municipal library known to have been originally designed to allow the public direct access to the book stacks is Rathmines.  So you were ahead of the posse, you were ahead in your thinking in those days. 

Now, I just want to talk about the use of the rooms and I want to talk about ladies reading rooms and children’s reading rooms.  So I’ve shown a plan there of Kilkenny library, I’ll just walk you through it.  So you came in here.  On the left hand side was reading area, probably for newspapers.  On the right hand side was a separate room with a little lavatory and a wash hand basin.  That was designed for ladies, ladies would go in there.  And then there’s the counter there where the books were kept, behind the counter there with the librarian protecting them.  This was a reference room, and this believe it or not was a gymnasium.  Imagine that.  Kilkenny wanted a gymnasium and they managed to get it in the building here.  And then there were lavatories out the back.  And then with a separate entrance, the librarian had a special room there with a fireplace, don’t you know.  A librarian could be comfortable in there. 

But I just want to talk about the ladies reading rooms and the children’s reading rooms.  The planning of the libraries tells us something of the attitude of the authorities and libraries towards the readers, and this changed from time to time.  It seems ridiculous to us today that women should be given a special reading room in the library.  And yet there must have been reasons for it.  I think probably these Victorian notions of modesty, or being kept separate, and having their separate lavatory was a thing which often was provided.  The idea that a women would be seen going into a lavatory just didn’t seem to accord with Victorian notions of propriety.  Even the National Library of Ireland provided a special reading room for women.  This provision of special rooms for women was an old fashioned idea which several Irish library committees seemed to accept without question.  Now, here are some contemporary writers on library planning giving their advice.  Thomas Greenwood, that’s 1890s.  In the earlier edition of free public libraries was inclined to favour separate rooms for ladies and boys.  But he later changed his mind in the light of experience.  He thought that the presence of names in a large room aided the general decorum and added cheerfulness and brightness.  Without the presence of men, he did not think ladies would be deposed.  And this is what he wrote, this is a quotation from his book: 'A separate ladies room means very often, a good deal of gossip and sometimes it is from these rooms that fashion sheets and plates from the monthlies are most missed.  Ladies need not faint at the statement, but it happens to be unfortunately true'.  Well that’s what he said.  Now, another writer Amian Champneys in his Public Libraries. A treatise on their design, construction and fittings, writing in 1907 warned that 'the amount of supervision required will depend largely on the locality.  It being always remembered that the least conscientious class in a library are very often the idle women of upper middle class.' How about that?  Now in the Carnegie libraries, and they’re all American shown in Theodore Wesley Koch’s book, A Book of Carnegie Libraries, not one of them has a separate room for lady readers.  So it can be assumed therefore, that the idea of providing ladies rooms is a British one and an Irish one. 

In his correspondence with the Irish authorities, Bertram did not often object to the provision of ladies reading rooms, and he certainly never recommended such a provision.  If he was irritated by a correspondent he was inclined to make his opinions known.  That’s why I really loved reading his letters - they’re in the Scottish National Archives.  And his letters are wonderful, very straight talking man.  So, the clerk of Rathkeale Council was curtly asked by Bertram, 'Why do you require a ladies library and a gentleman’s library?  Do ladies read one kind of books and gentlemen another?'  Separate rooms for female readers were provided because many women would have felt out of place in the newsroom, or even in the general reading room, which in some libraries took on the atmosphere of a public house or betting shop.  There may have been other reasons, and the reason just given does not explain why the National Library of Ireland also provided ladies with a room.  And that’s a newspaper room in the Donegal Road library.  But I’ll talk about newspapers now in a minute.  I just want to go on to children now. 

Children were usually subject to some restrictions in the Irish libraries.  In Kenmare, children under 16 years of age were not to be lent books.  The rules of Drogheda library stated that the omissions of persons under fifteen years of age shall be at the discretion of the librarian, suggesting a cautious attitude to children.  After the first librarian of Drogheda died, his widow who succeeded him as librarian took a more liberal attitude to young readers, an attitude that the committee did not share.  And you can imagine at this po-faced committee.  We are told that young children were frequenting the reading room and they were not allowed to use it again.  The same instruction was repeated a few months later that they were not to use the reference room, but they were allowed into the other reading rooms.  Now children were especially catered for in Pembroke Library, but they were not allowed to use the reference department.   And those under fifteen years of age were not allowed to use the news room unless accompanied by an adult.  And I think you might get some sense of why that might be when I go on to talk about the newspaper rooms.  Now James Duff Brown whom I’ve mentioned earlier, in his Manual of Library Economy and the edition published in 1903 had a few forthright things to say about ladies and children, and also believe it or not on dogs.  But we’ll confine ourselves to the women and children, which is enough to be getting on with.  He did not think much of women’s rooms, he wrote, 'a few extra women of a fidgety or timid sort may be attractive to the library because of this exclusive accommodation, but the great majority of women prefer to use the ordinary departments of a public library, on the same footing and conditions as men.'  Champneys informs us that women’s reading rooms served no useful purpose and that it is a mistake to make them private because the women need to be supervised.  He writes, “women’s rooms have been found to require more supervision than those of which the presence of the sterner sex acts as a check.  Mutilation of papers, particularly those containing fashion plates been far too common”. And on children, Browne did not see why children should be treated differently to other library users and he didn’t see why there should be an age limit for users, except that librarians should not issue books to children who could not read. Isn’t that charming.  He wrote, 'it is not a very strong tribute to their capability to propose to treat them, [children that is] like a lot of helpless imbeciles, as is done in certain American libraries, where the craze where grandmotherly library management is in the exclusive interests of children, is carried to a ridiculous extreme.' 

Now, I just want to talk to you about newspaper rooms.  On the left hand side, you can see there, this is from Rathmines, and there down in the basement now, a detail of one of the newspaper slopes.  And there’s a nice orderly newspaper room in the Donegal Road Library.  So you can see what they look like when they were new.  Now nearly all the libraries, even the bigger ones allocated generous amount of space to the newspaper rooms.  And some of the smaller libraries were almost exclusively used as newspaper reading rooms.  More money was generally spent on newspapers in the early days than on books.  For example, when Newtownards was considering in 1904, applied to Carnegie for a grant, they decided to collect some statistics on the running costs of enabling libraries.  They were told that Lurgan spent £10 a year on books and £27 a year on newspapers.  That Portadown had £200 to spend on books and newspapers.  And Banbridge spent £25 a year on books and £12 on newspapers, but the statistics for Banbridge mightn’t really help us in this argument, because it was really being used as a school.  And so Newtownards decided that they would probably spend £15 a year on books and £25 on newspapers.  Now about ten years later, Professor Adams, he was a librarian scholar, was to note that some libraries were still spending more on newspapers than on books.  He found that Bangor was spending £13 a year on books, £26 on newspapers.  Newtownards, £12 books, £21 newspapers.  Balbriggan £12 a year on books, £25 on newspapers.  Blackrock £12, against £40.  And Dun Laoghaire or Kingstown as it was then £50 as against £70.  The reason for this really was that you had to spend the money just daily on newspapers.  So instead of getting big lumps of money together to buy books, it was easier just to buy newspapers and I think that was the reason, it was cheaper, or at least the cash flow was easier.  One library that did not hold newspapers was Listowel.  This was due to the influence of the scholarly Matthew J. Byrne who wrote, “they collect idlers, distract readers and serve no purpose of a library until they have passed into history, when no-one but the most earnest students will read them.” 

Now regarding books, the purchase of books seems in many cases, this is from reading a library committee minute books, seems to have been a cause for celebration.  Swords committee members were called to a special meeting in July 1930, to consider the purchase of eighteen books, four of which they rejected.  They went through them all and said oh no we can’t have that, so there you are, they had a special meeting for that.  And that was common. 

Now back to the news rooms, Champneys had this to say about news rooms, 'the atmosphere of public libraries in general, and newspaper reading rooms in particular has become a proverb, and will in all probability continue in this evil notoriety, as long as the news room continues to afford a free and agreeable shelter to the unwashed.'  An American writer Charles T. Sole noticed that the newspaper department was prominent in all libraries, large and small, and that the room was generally the largest and most convenient.  He pointed out that in contrast, American libraries provided a few newspapers in the light reading room, but only in large libraries was there a separate room for them.  He suggested that if a newspaper room was to be provided, it should be in a basement with a separate entrance.  Burgoyne, another writer in a discussion on library furniture remarked, 'that the general users of newspapers and magazine rooms do not consider the removal of their hats to be at all necessary, so plentiful provision of hat pegs need hardly be made for them.' Was his advice to the library builders, don’t bother wasting your money on hat pegs.  These people don’t even take off their hats when they go into buildings.  Now he noticed that newspaper rooms were a more considerable feature of library in Britain than elsewhere, and that more money was spent on them.  He also observed that the newspaper reader is often a professional loafer.  And the poor newspaper readers had more to endure from the manual writers Brown, who we’ve met before said that the news room 'attracted loafers, sporting lads and all kind of hopeless individuals to whom the comparative comfort of the news room is a kind of a snare, an attraction.'  He went on to say, 'the habitual newspaper reader is a man who rarely reads anything else'.  He also thought that the news room should be curtailed or abolished altogether, as British journalism was degenerating to the low American standards.  So you find references to the newspaper rooms frequently enough and one complaint was made to the Cork City Librarian as late as 1930, that the newspapers were being monopolised by the betting fraternity.  So they’d come in to see the odds on the horses and the racing news and so on.  And I remember one library, I think used to black out the racing results.  But librarians don’t like any kind of censorship at all, so I don’t think that really lasted. 

So just a few little plans should give you an idea of how these libraries were used.  This is the Carnegie library in Dun Laoghaire, come in there, cycle store, urinals for men, ladies reading room, separate lavatory and WC.  A lending library, the books kept securely behind a counter, and then this great big room there, the reading and newspaper room.  Bangor - ladies reading room, and there were classrooms above and below.  So the ladies reading room is the thing I want to show you there.  Unfortunately demolished, but Downpatrick Library, ladies room, separate lavatory, reading room, where the newspapers were and the lending department where the books securely protected by the counter there and the librarian.  Blackrock had a ladies reading room as well and general reading room, which I think was the…probably where there were newspapers.  And a special men’s lavatory attached to that, so I doubt if women went in to read newspapers very much there.  In Cahirciveen, we have a ladies room and the books behind a counter again, and general reading room.  And did I see a juvenile room there?  I think that was a juvenile room.  Dancing above; this is called a lecture room, but more for dancing than anything else very often.  I’ll say something about that in a minute.  And the Fall’s Road had a ladies room as well, and a big news room, and big lending department there behind the counter.  Much the same in Old Park Road: ladies room, magazine room and a news room.  Larne had its ladies room there.  A little WC, they could stay in there all day, chatting away and looking at fashion plates, that was the attitude they had to women in those days.  And Limerick had the same.  Lurgan had a big room called a boy’s room, which is interesting.  In the smaller libraries, this is one of my favourites, the one in Ballyboden, where they had sliding partitions.  So you could make the library into whatever you wanted, it could be divided up into three, or made into one big space.  So everything was together there, and a wonderful design too. 

Now I’m fairly certain, in fact I’m certain, that Rathmines Library was always well run and used as a library.  But some of the libraries were used as dance halls, meeting rooms and schools for example.  And maybe you can’t blame people for that.  Because they really, especially in the country, they needed their lives to be brightened with entertainment and socialising.  Now, dancing was going strongly in the Swords library in the 1920s  and it was one of the duties of the librarian, to make sure that the floors were washed after the dance and concert.  So the poor librarian!  And I just found this interesting, on the 10March 1923, the committee carried a motion that in future, promiscuous dancing in the Swords library is prohibited.  But Irish dancing can carry on as usual.  So there’s Swords.  And the dancing took place upstairs.  Now, as in Skerries, the Sinn Féin club used a room in Swords library and the committee decided to withdraw permission as they were covering the walls with political inscriptions.  But the district council took the side of Sinn Féin, however and wrote to the committee with reference to the committee’s order withdrawing permission for use of the room in the library by the local Sinn Féin club, the council decided that the order should not operate.  Now, lip service was often given to the idea that the library should not be used for political or religious purposes and sometimes landlords tried to insist on this ideal.  The draft lease for the site of Skerries Library contained a clause saying that if the library was used for a lecture, or any other purpose than a library, then the lease would be invalid.  But they didn’t get away with that lease, but it sounded very draconian indeed.  The library committee had no objection to the clause against political or religious meetings, but they did hold that educational classes shall be permitted.  And indeed there was all sorts of classes and things going on in that library right up to the present almost.  And we very nearly got a library in Skerries, I think it was all planned and ready to go, and John Boland who was Minister for the Environment was the minister responsible.  Then there was a change of government and it was all scrapped, so we didn’t get our library in Skerries. 

Now the Duke of Devonshire was in no doubt that the library in Lismore, which you can see here, would be used for political and other purposes, which his grace would disapprove.  And he wanted Carnegie to make it a condition of his gift that the building be restricted to the purpose of a library, and excluding its use from political and religious objects.  See many of the children there well some of the children have bare feet.  The Greystones Library Committee, chaired by the Right Honourable Lord Justice Cherry decided that no meeting of a religious or a political character should ever be permitted in a public and non sectarian library. 

Clondalkin Library, designed my TJ Byrne, also had what was called a general reading room on the upper floor.  James Bertram realised that the local committee were trying to deceive him, and he let them know what he thought.  He wrote, 'frankly, we do not see the need for a second storey on this building, except for something else beside the accommodation for the housing of books, or their being read'.  The committee got their way however, and the building opened in 1910.  James Bertram was of course right about there being no need for a second storey, at least there was no need for it for library purposes.  And even if the committee wanted to use the upper floor for library purpose, they were unlikely to have much control over the local community.  The Clondalkin Public Library Committee records at their meeting on the 22 December 1911, 'the building has grown to assume the appearance of a card house, or social club, rather than that of a place intended for library purposes.  Card players and their spectators were at all times in excess of those resorting to the building for reading'.  And the same meeting was told, “the secretary’s endeavours to prevent gambling were defied and consequently he had closed the recreation room pending the consideration of the matter by the committee.  A debate took place at this meeting about the use of the room, and a resolution that cards be permitted but money stakes forbidden, was passed.  A reading of the minute book makes it clear that the room, sometimes called recreation room, and at other times, smoking and recreation room, was not a small room building, but was the whole of the upper floor.  A sub-committee of the library committee was formed on the 3 May 1912 to manage the affairs of the activities taking place in the upper floor.  They were called the amusement section committee.  They were very Reverend Canon Baxter chaired the meeting of this sub-committee on the 30 August 1912, and at that meeting he told the committee that Carnegie had granted the funds on the understanding that the library was to be used for reading books.  But that he, Canon Baxter, had all along been in favour of it being used to some extent for amusements.  Now, he was chairman of the library committee and he had applied to Carnegie for funds and accepted funds, so I don’t think he was acting in good faith in having anything to do with an amusement sub-committee.  And he tried to clear his conscience by suggesting that a subscription should be collected from those using the room, so that the cost of heating and lighting would not come out of public funds.  But it proved impossible to control the use of this room, and the room was closed then after a row broke out, when they refused to leave the room to make way for a dance.  So you can just imagine card players there, betting away and there are spectators looking, offering advice, then the next crowd comes in for a dance, the card players refused to move and then a row breaks out.  Clondalkin was very much out in the country in those days, probably no electric light or nothing.

Kenmare, there was a large room built as part of the Kenmare Library.  And you can see it here, this big room and up steps up to a stage and all.  And the library committee seemed to have spent a good deal of their time discussing bookings for this hall.  It was used extensively for dancing and the committee drafted a set of rules for dance committees to observe, which included the requirement that at least fifty per cent of the dances were to be Irish dances and that no jazz or one step or foxtrot were to be allowed.  So I can just imagine the parish priest’s assistant standing there counting the dancers as they went by and sending in his report.  What would happen if fifty-five per cent were dances other than Irish dances?  Now the large room in Kenmare Library was used for all the usual social activities, dances, whist drives, concerts, etcetera.  And dancing seems to have been the main social activity in the library.  And dances were organised by many different clubs and local committees.  The fly leaf of the minute book has a list of charges for the use of the library.  For example local groups were to be charged 10 shillings for using the library in the evening.  And if the same group held a dance that night, the charge was to be £1 all in.  Outsiders had to pay more. They were to pay £2 per night.  But they were allowed pay £1 a night if they were going to use it for more than one night, for a dance.  Plus 5 shillings for light and insurance.  Dancing was held from 8pm to 1pm in the winter, and from 11pm to 5 in the morning in the summer.  So they had a good time down in Kenmare.  I was down there a couple of years ago and I popped in to have a look at the library and I took that new photograph there.  The photograph in my book shows my dog Megan in front of the library for scale.  Now she’s dead and my new dog Angels there, with my wife in the front.  So it was nice to revisit the library. 

Now, the clerk of Rathkeale rural district council dropped his guard and asked James Bertram for extra money, when he wrote that they wanted a 'suitable and permanently fixed stage in the hall'.  And the reply was pretty predictable.  And it put an end to any further request for money.  He said, 'we find that more than one half of the building and the principle part to the ground floor, was taken up with a hall and stage and that not much more than one third of the building is used for reading rooms.'  And the library being really housed in attics, the top part was for the books that were down on the good floors were all the dancing and stage plays took place.

Some committees were scrupulous.  The Bangor Committee carefully considered a request to allow board games in the library, Bangor.  The committee and the chairman visited the Belfast libraries to find out if they allowed games.  As a result of his enquiries, they formed the opinion that it would be legal to permit board games in the library, the committee endorsed that view.  We should not judge the management and users of the Carnegie libraries from this period harshly.  In almost all cases, not enough money was provided to run the libraries properly.  And outside the towns and indeed in most towns, the places were not too many where people could go for amusement or enlightenment.  The libraries were intended for books and reading.  But most people wanted community halls.  After the Carnegie UK Trust had been formed, the trustees commissioned Lennox Robinson to report on the provision of libraries in Ireland.  In his report, he divided the libraries into four classes.  In class A he had six libraries.  And in this class, these were libraries that were well run libraries with trained librarians.  Do you want to know where the six libraries were?  Cork Library, three libraries in Belfast, Brunswick Street - Pearse Street and Rathmines.  So we are fortunate today to have a good library and a good library system and libraries are so important and such a benefit to society.  And I think it’s improving and I hope we keep up the good work, keep using them.  And all this is due to the dedicated efforts of a small number of enlightened people, many of whom are librarians.  So that’s the end of my talk, let’s see if I have any more slides, just before I finish, yeah that’s it.  So I want to thank Rathmines Library and Helen O’Donnell who’s here and her staff for inviting me and facilitating me, and all of you to come and I hope you enjoyed it. Thank-you.


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