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Dublin: 10 °C Sunday 21 September, 2014

This could be Ireland’s library of the future – but why the controversy?

The Lexicon is costing €36.6m to build.

DLRCOCO

IS THE TRADITIONAL library dead and gone?

A visit to the new Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown library suggests that it may well be. The impressive building and grounds cost €36.6m to construct, but they have come in for some criticism.

TheJournal.ie visited the site this week to see more, and to speak to the librarian about the dissenting voices.

In an interesting move, the 6,520m2 building – which will be the central library for the county of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown – will be called the Dlr Lexicon, which reflects the fact that it offers more than a library.

It’s also intended to be a cultural centre, with a café (the tenant is yet to be decided on), a gallery, a small auditorium space, crafts spaces, a local history library, 100 parking spaces and a children’s library.

It’s hoped that this mix of facilities will attract more than 50,000 people to Dun Laoghaire every year.

Rather than being detached from the rest of the town, it is supposed to draw people into the centre of Dun Laoghaire, offering them a space to explore and enjoy before making their way into the town.

What’s inside

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When you step in the front door, you’ll find a ‘taster’ collection of what’s on offer at the library, placed on solid oak shelves. To the right are the automatic book depository machines, which will be open 24/7.

Around the corner is a crafts room, which will offer 3D printing, and a newspaper section, while upstairs is the dedicated children’s library (a first in the county) and the main library room.

The ‘taster’ area is designed to be unobtrusive and relaxed. The librarians picture people sitting around reading newspapers, flicking through a recommended paperback, or popping in for 10 minutes respite on a busy day.

The idea is inspired by’ open libraries’: self-service libraries that can be found in parts of Scandinavia. They give a sense of privacy and enable the borrower to spend time choosing a book.

Another first for Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown is the Lexicon’s downstairs gallery, next to which is a room for workshops related to the different shows.

Cost and criticism

June 2014 Central Library and Cultural Centre - Brid 011

The library is being constructed at a cost of over €36m, and during the recent local elections it received criticism from some quarters.

There were suggestions that the library would cost €60m to construct, and such misleading information was difficult to countenance.

There were also questions about whether the money could have been used by council to cut commercial rates. The council said that the money used for the construction has come from the Council’s Capital Budget and cannot be used to reduce charges such as rates.

The plans for the Lexicon were put on public display in 209, and 33 submissions were received and considered.

“It is kind of disheartening when you know in your heart and soul that the vision for this is spectacular, there’s huge opportunities,” said librarian Mairéad Owens.

The library staff are hugely apprehensive anyway because this is a new model of what a public library service can be so to deal with so much criticism on a daily basis is difficult – especially with shrinking resources, staffing levels, big pay cuts, and yet people working more and more.

But she believes that when it opens – it’s scheduled for an official opening next spring, with a soft opening towards the end of this year – “there is a sense that the building will speak for itself”.

If it does speak, it’s in a strong, firm voice. The building is huge, the design Scandinavian in feel, with oak contrasted with exposed concrete walls. Even the bathrooms have a slightly industrial look. There are large windows all around, giving incredible views of the seafront.

Even the meeting rooms have glass walls and doors, a physical example of the openness and transparency that the building is supposed to have. Locals and visitors will be able to see the staff holding meetings, or writer-in-residence Colm Keegan (who hails from Ballymun and is a celebrated poet) at work in his office.

Owens sums up the staff members’ role when she says: “We are public servants, we are here to serve the public, we are more than happy to engage with and respond to people.”

They are depending on local feedback to get things just how the locals want them.

“I don’t think we’ll get everything right,” acknowledged Owens. “I think there will be parts of the building, part of the programme that we’ll tweak as it evolves, but the flexibility is there to do that.”

She is keen to emphasise that this is a public building, a public facility, and the public and county have a role in helping the Lexicon be the best it can be.

“We’d love the public to come in and say ‘we’d love you to try this’ or ‘can we do that’ and we’ll react accordingly,” said Owens, adding that they have already had meetings with groups such as IADT, UCD, local mariners, and harbour staff.

Having so many voices means that many sectors of the community will be represented at the Lexicon. Then there are events such as the Mountains to Sea literary festival, which it will have a big role in.

This library, says the council, was “not done in isolation”. The Arts office, for example, is working with local schools, while local retired people will be showcasing some of their crafts when the doors open.

“Everyone is welcome into the space,” said Owens. She described the site the library is on as formerly being “full of anti social behaviour”, with a dangerous reservoir.

All of  a sudden now we’re making it an open, safe, accessible, civic space that everyone can come and use.

It is envisaged that the Lexicon will open six days a week with four late evenings, with Sunday openings in due course.

Read: Rare treasures displayed for first time at Dublin’s Chester Beatty Library>

Read: Literacy to be targeted with the ‘priority it deserves’ at local level>

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