Blocking access to library books, to prevent the public from using them, is not a conservation plan!
Today, while in the County Library, Model Farm Road, Cork, I asked to see old postal directories for Munster. At first I was told that the public are not allowed to look at these books any longer and that the staff would do the lookups. Things have changed in this library, some of it for the worse.
After an argument with the librarian, he reluctantly brought out two books and photocopies of some other lists, relating to my query. I asked how they (the librarians) could do lookups for a large number of people. I was told that the books were 150 years old and that they had to be preserved. Preserved for whom, I asked? The library? Or the public? And I am one of the public! To prove his point, I was shown a different book which was obviously very fragile. He said I could look at the photocopies but not the books, he had initially fetched from the shelves, in relation to my query. He then said that some directories are online. I pointed to one of the two directories still being held firmly by the librarian and I said “I bet they’re not online”. I suggested that they digitize the books so that they could be made available to the public. The librarian mumbled something about the government would need to provide money for that. I offered to wear gloves (as used in archives) and I was told that “there is an argument against that”. So where does that leave the public? So, is the librarian going to handle a particular book everytime a member of the public request something from it? Will that be better than letting the public use them? If they were to supervise people closely while they use the books themselves, that would be standard practice in most archives and libraries. The County Library website states “All items are available for viewing by the public.” Hmm!
There should be a conservation plan in place to conserve books that need conserving. Saying “no-one” can use the books except the librarians is not a solution. I have seen ordinary books in the library which need to be rebound and “ancient” photocopies (faded) which have seen better days but there is no effort by staff to deal with this.
The Cork County Library is one of the main repositories in County Cork for the many visitors from other countries, who are researching their roots. It would be very easy to put these people off with some officious words, when they arrive at the library. These people will not get the best value from their trip to the library if they have to wait in a queue for a librarian to do their lookups for them. I am local and feel insulted that I am expected to use a proxy to do my research, using the books held by the library. It creates another barrier to doing your own research. I do not want to ask this librarian to do my research for me. I am quite capable of doing it myself. And is it the best use of librarian’s time (tax payer’s money) to take on everybodys lookups? It is yet another backwards step for availablility of records in Cork.