I have very great pleasure in bringing before the Seanad this Bill, which received very high recommendation and practically unanimous praise in the Dáil. It is very rarely that a measure comes before members of the Seanad which has received practically no criticism and particularly when it is a Bill involving a certain number of novelties. The Bill has its origin in two sources—first, the pressing need to improve the library services in the country which vary both in quality and degree throughout the country and, secondly, the necessity to make some permanent arrangement for the future administration of the Central Library for Students.
I might give a short history of library legislation in this country in order to enable the House to understand the nature of this measure. The Public Libraries Act, 1855, enabled urban authorities to levy 1d. in the £ for library services. The 1920 Public Libraries Act raised the maximum rate to 3d. The 1925 Act transferred the rural district councils administration of library services to the county councils and enabled county councils, where desirable, to absorb the library administration being carried out by an urban or borough council. At the present time, there are library administrations for all county councils—in some cases, a joint library administration for two county councils. There are also libraries attached to the boroughs and Dún Laoghaire, Bray and Clonmel administrations have their own library services.
For some considerable time, the principal difficulty attaching to an improvement of the library services has been the rate limitation, but, in the Local Government Act, 1946, all rate limitation was removed and local authorities or library authorities may now spend all the money they desire upon the library service. As a result of this, it has been possible, I am glad to say, to increase the salaries of librarians very considerably—in some cases, by as much as 100 per cent. It has also been possible to devise new scales of salaries attaching to the position of librarian and these have been adopted, I think, in practically all counties. Concomitantly with this step, it will be possible in the future to make the qualifications somewhat more advanced for persons seeking positions as librarians in order that they will be better able to carry out this very arduous task, a task which requires a considerable amount of knowledge, not to speak of personality.
To give members of the House some idea of the progress of the library service, I should like to give some figures showing what has been accomplished in an area where the librarian has been particularly successful and where he has had the co-operation of the local authority and where no difficulties have beset him. In one particular local authority area, 75,000 books were issued in the year. Of these, 15,000 were non-fiction—roughly 20 per cent. —and of these 15,000 non-fiction books 10,000 related to travel, biography or history, showing the great interest of the public in these subjects. These 10,000 books also included books relating to social and economic problems. Of the 5,700 books given out to children, a little less than 10 per cent. were non-fiction, mostly books of general knowledge interesting to children.
The variation as between fiction and non-fiction in this area was somewhat extraordinary. It was from 10 per cent. to 38 per cent., according to the locality. In quite a number of counties, we find the best reading done in remote country districts, amongst small farmers, and the lightest reading done in the towns. That may be of interest to members of the Seanad. In general throughout the country the proportion of non-fiction to fiction varies from 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. Although fiction has itself no value from the standpoint of adult education, I do not think that percentage is in any way too low. I think it shows that the libraries are serving a useful purpose. The number of active borrowers per cent. of the population, taking it large and wide over the country, varies from 7 per cent. to 15 per cent., and that, obviously, is capable of expansion.
In Dublin, the percentage of non-fiction is the highest. It is one-third of the books issued by the Dublin libraries, and, what is still more interesting, one-fifth of all the books issued to children in Dublin are non-fiction, showing that children take great advantage of the juvenile service provided by the Dublin libraries to acquire general knowledge in a form suitable for them.
There are about 2,600 book centres in the country. The rates vary from 1d. to 3d. in the £ and the total cost of the library services in a recent year is estimated at £90,000. About half of that amount goes to salaries and it is always the object of every library authority to increase the percentage of the cost of books as a percentage of the total cost, and one could almost judge the activity of a library authority by the high percentage of the cost represented by books and issues of books.
Many advances have been made by librarians during the past 15 years. Librarians very specially qualified for their work, with zest and enthusiasm; have carried out a great deal of what is known as library extension work and I should like to give a few examples of the kind of work done by pioneers who have received co-operation from their local authorities, who have had the money and also the personality to carry out what I would describe as work of special importance and value. A number of authorities have travelling vans, a service which is of very great importance in remote rural areas.
A number of librarians have collected books on the history of the locality where they work; have arranged for lectures to be given on important monuments and places of interest and the local history of the environs. Some librarians have actually founded societies for studying antiquities in the area. Other librarians have collected volumes of photographs of all the notable places in the district for use at exhibitions of various kinds. Some librarians have started lending gramophone records as well as books and have met with some success in spite of what one could imagine would be the high rate of breakages. In fact, the records have been looked after very well and that feature of library work has proved successful. Some librarians have acquired pictures and have assisted in the promotion of an art museum attached to the library or to the local town hall. A good number of librarians have maintained very close contact with the local dramatic societies and have helped local dramatic societies to choose plays and have got them copies of the plays from which to work. Other librarians have maintained very close touch with all agricultural associations and I regard that as perhaps one of the most important activities of any librarian. Where young farmers' clubs have been formed, librarians have often given lectures on books interesting for farmers to read, books written not only by theorists but by practical farmers on modern methods of farming. The same thing applies to the Irish Country-women's Association, where contact is being maintained by the librarian.
Some librarians have prepared lists of books designed to interest fiction readers in non-fiction and have succeeded in increasing the percentage of non-fiction readers by preparing a list of books interesting to those who up to a certain time had been interested only in novels. Other librarians have request lists much like a private library service in which people send in their requests and the books are reserved for them in rotation.
I mention those things to show the progress that has been made. At the same time we are acutely aware of the need for the extension of the library service. In many areas the books are badly housed, in utterly inadequate buildings. In a number of areas no juvenile reading service exists and we regard that as very important indeed. Not to have books freely available for children living in remote areas, in long winter evenings, would seem to leave a great gap in our juvenile educational service. The school teacher in many areas is only too willing to distribute the children's books and to regard the school as a library centre or is very willing to give out these books in rotation if they are brought to him. At the same time we feel that it is necessary to improve the library service because it forms what might be described as the only universal adult education available in this country.
The world is becoming so complex, as all members of the House know, that it is impossible for anyone to complete his education even up to the time he leaves the university at the age of 25. He is only just becoming sufficiently experienced in life to take an interest in the world around him. Life has become so complex and our existence so intimately associated with that of other countries that we can no longer afford to adopt an isolationist attitude towards general education. Whatever happens to a Chinese small farmer in the remote mountains of China may sooner or later affect the history of this country and its destiny. At the same time members of the House, I feel quite sure, will agree with me that the development of national culture depends here, as it depends in other countries, on the absorption of good culture from other countries and its re-expression in Irish form. That has always been the case with all cultures that have developed and the more librarians can assist by having the maximum amount of books likely to interest people in these subjects, the better.
I am not saying this to decry in any way the value of fiction. Fiction has a great educational value of its own but nevertheless novels and books on general subjects go hand in hand together. Librarians have faced great difficulties, difficulties in acquiring books during the war, difficulties of binding books that become damaged— and the damage done to library books, I am sorry to say, is terrific throughout the country. Local authorities themselves have had many more pressing problems to consider and, if the library service has been considered by many people the Cinderella of all local services, it is perhaps rather natural because the development of a library service depends on training of a very particular kind and local authorities have been fully occupied in dealing with housing, sewage, water, road and other problems. So it is quite natural that we should have adjourned until now the proper consideration of this problem. In general, the degree of reading has greatly increased in the country. I think about 50 per cent. more books are issued now from local libraries than were issued, say, some ten or 15 years ago, but there can be still more improvement.
Some time about 1944 the Library Association of Ireland, which includes representatives of local authority libraries as well as other institutions, prepared a memorandum for the Minister for Local Government. Many of the proposals in this Bill are based on that memorandum.
I should now like to refer to the position of the Central Library for Students. The Central Library for Students was started in 1923 with funds from the Carnegie Trust. The Carnegie Trust has since then been contributing the entire expense of that body, which is about £3,000 a year. The Carnegie Trust principle is to start something new, to inaugurate some new institution for cultural advancement and to hand it over when the work has been begun well and when it is possible for some authority to take over the financial responsibility for whatever institution they start. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Carnegie Trust for the interest they have taken in local authority libraries, most of which, as members know, have passed over to the administration of local authorities. The Central Library lends books of specialist character, lends expensive books, acts as a reserve bank in respect of local authority libraries and for this purpose it can borrow books from the National Library, from two libraries in England and Scotland and from university libraries. The lending goes two ways. The Central Library lends books to students in the universities, lends books to the National Library, if desired, and so you have a two-way movement of books, of great advantage to students and of great advantage to people in remote country areas who seek special books. In fact, it is possible for a student of botany living in the extreme western part of the country, miles from anywhere, to borrow a most complicated technical book on botany, of which there may be only one copy in the whole country, through the Central Library for Students.
The Carnegie Trust have recently expressed the desire to hand over the Central Library to a suitable body and to make a gift of the equipment, the books and the stock to some new body, and they propose decreasing gradually their contributions over a period of five years until at the end of five years their contribution would be completely ended. This Bill, therefore, proposes to establish a permanent body which will act as a central co-ordinating and advisory body for local library services and which will also manage the Central Library for Students.
It will be seen from Section 5 of the Bill that the constitution of the proposed council is based both on what may be described as the academic element and the local element. We wish this new council to represent fully the interests of local authorities and, therefore, there are representatives of the General Council of County Councils, representatives of the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland, and a representative of the Library Association who must, however, be an officer or a member of a local authority. He must either be a county councillor or an urban councillor or a librarian or assistant librarian of a local authority. On the other hand, there are representatives from the universities and from the National Library of Ireland. They will be asked to nominate persons who will be appointed by the Minister and we hope they will nominate people who will have a good practical interest in books and who know what young people like to read and, particularly, how to encourage the youth of the country to read books of every kind.
The Government thought well to establish this body on a statutory basis and not to administer the Central Library or to engage in any functions devolving upon it through a Government Department, and to give the maximum freedom possible, under the circumstances, to this new council. I am very glad to say that the universities, the National Library and the other bodies have expressed their willingness to co-operate. It will be noted that the approved association mentioned in Section 5 will in fact be the Library Association of Ireland.
The financing of this council is dealt with in Sections 16 and 17 of the Bill. The council will incur two kinds of expenditure. The first kind will relate to the normal running of the council and the payment of the staff and the management of the Central Library for Students. It is contemplated that in future this expenditure will be about £5,000 a year. The Minister for Finance has agreed to provide £2,500, or half the cost of the administration, whichever is the less. It is proposed that that moiety of the cost would be made by assessments on local authorities, assessments which for the first five years will be negligible and which at any time will not be very great, and they will be levied in proportion to the valuation of the area concerned. There is a precedent for this in the establishment of the Local Appointments Commission and combined purchasing section of the Department of Local Government, whose expenditure is defrayed in the same way, by an assessment upon the local authorities. As I have indicated, the Carnegie Trust will make interim grants towards the cost of running the council in its initial stages and their contributions will diminish.
One of the most important functions of the Act will be to make a survey of the existing library services. We anticipate that the library council will appoint a number of surveyors—one, two or three, according to their wish and desire in the matter—and these surveyors will, we hope, go abroad first of all to countries where there are conditions similar to ours and get acquainted with all the new ideas they can about the running of a library service. Then they will come back and go through the country inspecting the library services and will make, as it were, a "blue-print for progress" for each local authority. They will report to the library council, which will report to the Minister stating the position of the library service and the way in which it might be improved.
It is not mandatory in any way on the local authority to adopt their report. The report will be purely of a stimulative kind, designed to interest the local authority in the question of libraries and general education in their area. If the local authority desires to adopt the report or any part of it, they can do so and it will be open to them, if they desire, to make a contribution towards the cost. It is possible already for local authorities to borrow money for the improvement of buildings. It will be equally possible for them in the future to receive grants from the Minister for Finance towards the cost of improving this service. I want particularly to mention the fact that it is not mandatory upon them, because the whole point about this Bill is that it should stimulate library activity and that the work of the council is advisory in character as far as local services are concerned and nobody is obliged to adopt any particular report.
One of the difficulties we have experienced in all improvements to local administration is that practically everything costs a great deal of money. Luckily, however, in this Bill there cannot be very much question of the cost to the ratepayers, since a very great improvement could be effected in the next ten years by a very small increase in rate contributions.
I want now to deal with particular sections of the Bill. Section 2 establishes the council, the functions of which are to run the Central Library. Section 3 sets out the functions of the Central Library. I have already dealt with Section 4, which is linked to Section 16 and enables the council to receive grants for the improvement of the local library service. Sub-section (3) of Section 4 is intended to enable the council to continue its fruitful co-operation with the Hospitals' Trust library. It is not intended that it should absorb the Hospitals' Trust library, but there has been a good deal of useful exchange of ideas between the two bodies.
I have already mentioned Section 5. It will be noticed that if a person ceases to be a member of a local authority he will cease to be a member of this council and a new person must be nominated from the body concerned. We provide for a representative from the corporation of a county borough, because there are few urban authorities which have a library service, and it was thought important to have the borough interests represented. The purpose of Section 8 is to deem the council to be a local authority for the purposes set out in the Schedule, namely, the payment of remuneration, removal of officers and servants, their superannuation, travelling and subsistence, the auditing of accounts, local inquiries, removal of members and insurance. The enactments set out in the Schedule are the various legal provisions relating to these matters so far as they would be applicable to a body of this sort. The effect of this is to put the council on all fours with the local authority. It makes it very easy for the Minister for Local Government of the day to deal with all matters of staff, appointments and conditions that are likely to arise.
Section 9 enables the council to make by-laws for the conduct of the Central Library. Section 10 transfers the staff now employed by the Carnegie Trust in the Central Library to the central authority and safeguards the rights of two pensionable officers. It will be noted from sub-section (3) that the Carnegie Trust have agreed to contribute portion of the pensionable officers' pensions, just as if the Trust had been the local authority. I have no comment to make on Sections 11 to 15, except to point out that Section 12, relating to insurance, does not conflict with No. 7 of the Schedule, which also relates to insurance. I have already referred to Sections 16 and 17. Of the remaining sections, only Section 19 calls for comment. This repeals Section 89 of the Local Government Act, 1941, which enabled local authorities to contribute to the funds of the Central Library for Students. In fact, no local authority did contribute, and now that the Central Library is being transferred to this new body, this provision becomes obsolete.
In the course of the discussion in the Dáil, a number of points of interest were raised. I should say here that we anticipate that the Central Library Council will have a moral obligation to assist the language movement as much as possible. It will be possible for the members of the Central Library Council to consult societies interested in the Irish language, particularly those concerned in interesting young children in the language and everything possible will be done in that way, I am sure, by the Central Library Council.
I wish to indicate once more that the powers of the Central Library Council are purely advisory. I hope the Bill will receive favourable consideration from members of this House in the same way as it did in the Dáil and I hope Senators will agree with me that it provides, perhaps an inadequate but nevertheless a satisfactory, way of expanding opportunities for adult education in this country, an aspect of education which up to now has received too little consideration from us all.