I move that the Bill be now read a Second Time. The Public Libraries Bill has its origin in two sources—first of all, the pressing need to improve the library services in certain areas and, secondly, the necessity to make permanent arrangements for the carrying on of the Irish Central Library for Students and for the administration of that body. Perhaps the House would like to hear a few brief words on the history of library legislation leading up to the present Bill.
The Public Libraries Act of 1855 enabled urban authorities to strike a penny in the pound rate for library services. The 1902 Act extended that power to rural district councils. The 1920 Public Libraries Act raised the maximum rate to be struck for library services to threepence, and in the case of county boroughs to sixpence. The Local Government Act, 1925, transferred the powers from rural district councils to county councils and enabled county councils to absorb or administer urban council library services.
At the present time, there are library administrations for county boroughs and for all county councils— in one case, there being a joint library council. The Dún Laoghaire Corporation has its own library service and there are services for the Clonmel and Bray municipal bodies. Until recently, the limitation upon the expenditure of the library service has constituted a hampering factor. Under the Local Government Act, 1946, the limitation was removed. Library authorities are now enabled to spend such sums as they consider advisable for the service. As a result of the removal of these impedimenta to the extension of the library service, the salaries of librarians have been very largely increased—in some cases by nearly 100 per cent.—and new improved scales of salaries for librarians have been adopted in every county. Arising from that, it will be possible to stipulate higher education standards and greater training in library service when new appointments are being made.
I have referred up to now to what might be described as the negative impedimenta to the improvement of the library service. I should like to give the House a few facts about the present state of the service. Taking a typical county where the service is fairly well organised, there were 75,000 books issued in one year, of which 15,000 were non-fiction, i.e., 20 per cent, which is not an unsatisfactory proportion, having regard to the general habits of the reading public. It will be interesting to note that of the 15,000 non-fiction issued, 10,000 related to travel, biography, history and social science, showing there is a very keen interest in those subjects among the reading public. Again, 5,700 books were issued to young people, juveniles, of which about 8 per cent. were non-fiction. The variation in the reading of the non-fiction class in this particular county varied from 10 to 38 per cent, showing a very great difference in the habits of the reading public in different areas.
The general proportion of non-fiction books read is interesting, when one considers the desirability of improving the general education. It varies from 12 to 20 per cent. and the number of active borrowers per 100 of the population in a county area varies from 7 to 15, a few counties having still higher figures. It is quite obvious that there is great room for improvement in the library service when that percentage is borne in mind. In Dublin, the figures for the issue of non-fiction books are very satisfactory, being one-third the total issue. Another remarkable fact is that the high percentage of non-fiction issues to juveniles, in the case of Dublin, is one-fifth of the total number of juvenile books issued.
In the country at large, there are about 2,600 book centres and the rate struck varies — with a few exceptions— from 1d. to 3d. in the £. The total expenditure in a recent year for the library services for the whole country was some £90,000, of which approximately half was devoted to the salaries of the officers and about one-third was expended on books. It is the object of any local authority to increase the percentage of expenditure on books and one can judge in some ways the efficiency and the activity of a library service by the proportion of money spent on the purchase of books, compared with the total expenditure on service.
I should like next to deal with some of the advances that have been made in recent years by librarians, in the way of making improvements in the library service and in the ancillary activities that go with it. In a few areas, librarians who, by reason of their particular qualifications and their personalities, and by reason of the co-operation they received from the local body, have been able to go ahead and make progress with their work. In some counties they have instituted travelling vans to bring books to people in remote areas. In certain counties the librarian has been able to found a society for studying the history of the locality or has been able to make a collection of the books relating to the history of a town or city. He is encouraged to give lectures in his local area. In some cases, the librarian has actually written, for public perusal, the history of famous personages born in the area over which he exercises control. In certain areas the librarian has made a collection of photographs of famous historical monuments, churches and places of interest. One librarian, and I think there may be more than one, has a stock of gramophone records which are given out on loan to individuals or societies.
There has been a development in the way of providing pictures as the nucleus for an art collection and art exhibitions. Art exhibitions have been held in many places, and in these the librarian has played a notable part as organiser. Lectures on the subject of education, and of general cultural, local and national importance have been given in one or two areas, sometimes with indifferent success. In one county during last winter, despite poor climatic conditions, 40 lectures were given, and the attendance of 3,040 persons indicates the desirability of providing further facilities for an extension of that particular activity. Of very great importance has been the work of a number of librarians in preparing lists of books for farmers, books on the theoretical side of farming as well as books by practical farmers dealing with new processes and new methods. Some librarians have cooperated very closely with the Young Farmers' Club movement by providing lectures for members and suggesting books that are suitable for farmers, as well as making lists of books available for such bodies as Muintir na Tíre. Active librarians have also prepared special book lists to encourage readers, who read only fiction, to extend their reading to non-fiction.
A further activity has been the close co-operation that exists between the librarian and the local dramatic societies. Everybody knows that the Little Theatre movement is spreading very rapidly throughout the country. The librarian can be a very great help to dramatic societies by suggesting plays, by providing copies of plays and in other ways. I mention all that in order to demonstrate that a librarian can be endowed with many qualifications, and that he can act as a very important educational influence in his area.
The need for an extension of the library service will be apparent to everyone. First of all, there is very great need to provide books for children, books which they can bring home and read during the long winter nights. That will tend to increase the sphere of what may be described as general education for children. Secondly, everyone will agree that anything that can be done to teach people, living in a local community, the history of their particular area can be of great advantage to the country. Thirdly, I need hardly advert to the growing importance of what may be described as adult education—the capacity of people to understand the complexity of the world in which we live, to understand sociological problems, foreign affairs and the history of countries when they reach adult age. In many cases they only begin to do that when they reach the age of 25 or 30. Until such time as we can all have facilities for adult education the present library service will provide an alternative. One may say that at present the history of Ireland and of Europe is rooted in the past. We can no longer be isolationists, since what goes on in China is indirectly of importance to this country, so that the more one learns about foreign countries and their customs and ways the better. It will be better for us all, better from the standpoint of our facing future problems. It is, therefore, desirable that, as far as possible, the library service should be a vital centre of self-education.
In saying that I am not decrying the value of fiction. Fiction has an educational value, and, therefore, what we need in many areas are more books and a greater number of book centres with better buildings, better facilities for juveniles, improved catalogues and improved methods of advertising so as to bring good reading to the people. We need to bring books to the people on a far more extensive basis than before. I should say that admirable work is being done in many areas.
There have been difficulties, which were hard to overcome, such as shortages of books, and with regard to the binding of books damaged by borrowers, while in many cases the buildings are inadequate. It is nobody's fault that that is so. The local authorities have pressing problems to deal with, such as housing, sewerage, health and water services, and they have found it difficult to devote attention to a sphere of activity such as this, having regard to its special character, and the fact that very few people in this country have the training or qualifications to administer a library service. There has been a great extension in reading. I suppose 50 per cent. more books are being borrowed from the local authority public libraries to-day than there were 15 years ago, but there can be still greater advantages.
At some recent date the Library Association of Ireland presented a memorandum to the Minister for Local Government making suggestions for an improvement in the library service. Many of the proposals made by the association have been adopted and are now in the Bill before the House. I must now say a few words about the Central Library. It was established in 1923 at 53 Upper Mount Street, Dublin, by the Carnegie Trust. Its purpose was to strengthen the resources of the local libraries by providing them with a reserve of special and expensive books, not read very often except by students. That saves a great deal of unnecessary expenditure by the local libraries, since the Central Library acts as a reserve bank for other libraries throughout the country. The Central Library can borrow a book for a student in the most remote part in Clare from another library. It can borrow books from the National Library, from the universities, from the Royal Irish Academy, from the Royal Dublin Society, and from two English libraries and can loan that book to a student who otherwise would be unable to procure it or pay for it. In return for that, the Central Library loans books to those institutions, so that there is a backward and a forward movement of books dealing with special subjects. The library has been in operation for 24 years and at the present time costs about £3,000 annually.
As many Deputies know the Carnegie Trust encourages the establishment of bodies and institutions for widening and broadening culture and other sociological purposes. Primarily, its function is to establish new institutions and help some new services, and then hand over the enterprise at a later date when it has been placed on a sound footing. It is high time that the Central Library was taken over by the country, bearing in mind the general tradition of the Carnegie Trust in such matters. I should add that we owe a debt of gratitude to the Carnegie Trust for the interest they have taken in the library service in general in past years. We have been assured that when this Bill is passed and they cease finally to contribute to the Central Library, that will not mean a diminution in the income to this country from that source. In actual fact, they have already been in contact with young farmers' clubs and visited this country recently with a view to seeing to the expenditure of additional moneys.
The Carnegie Trust desire to hand over the Central Library as a gift; to hand over the books, equipment and capital assets. They have agreed to contribute to the expenditure incurred in the administration of the library on a diminishing basis. In the first year they will contribute an amount equal to that which the Central Library cost in the current year. In the second year, they will contribute 20 per cent. less and so forth until finally they will cease to contribute any funds whatever.
The Bill proposes to establish a permanent body who will co-ordinate and assist the library service of this country and who will manage the Central Library. The members of the House will notice that, in providing a council for the new body, a fair balance has been struck between the "academic" and the "local" elements. As well as representatives of local authorities, it will also comprise persons nominated by the universities and by the National Library who are specially fitted to assist in the improvement of the library service. We felt that it was eminently desirable to have a statutory authority other than a Government Department to administer the service and to help its improvement. We hope that the members who will be appointed will be specially qualified to deal with the various problems which may arise.
The universities, the County Councils' General Council, the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland and the Library Association have expressed their willingness to co-operate in the work of the council.
Sections 16 and 17 deal with the financing of this council. There will be two kinds of expenditure. There will be the expenditure involved in the normal running of the Central Library, which is estimated at £5,000 a year. The Minister for Finance has agreed to contribute £2,500 or half the cost, whichever is the less. The moiety will be assessed on the county councils and the county boroughs in proportion to their valuations, following the precedent of the Local Appointments Commissioners and the combined purchasing section of the Department of Local Government.
The Carnegie Trust will contribute in a diminishing degree for a number of years. One of the first functions of the Central Library will be to appoint surveyors. We hope that they will travel to one or two countries where conditions are similar to those obtaining here, particularly to countries which have a largely agricultural population, in order to acquaint themselves with the way in which library services are organised outside this country. They will also survey the existing library service. They can make general proposals to the Library Council, who can then make them to the Minister. They will give advice to existing local authorities and try to raise the standard of the service, in order to get the most perfect service possible. The local authorities will be perfectly free to accept or reject their advice. It is hoped that in areas where the service is inadequate there will be a gradual improvement as the years go by. The Minister for Finance, under this Bill, can contribute to the local authorities such sums as are considered desirable for the improvement of the service.
Most of the sections of the Bill are self-explanatory but I should like to run through some of them. Section 1 is the usual definition section.
Section 2 establishes a body to be called "An Comhairle Leabharlanna", the functions of which will be to run the Central Library for Students and to assist the local authorities to improve the services.
Section 3 sets out the functions of the Central Library, that is, the kind of library that will be run directly by the council. It is the type specially directed to students and its issue of books will continue as heretofore. It is not confined to local libraries but will be prepared to assist other libraries and individuals directly.
I have already referred to Section 4, sub-section (2), which is linked to Section 16 and which empowers the council to receive a grant.
Sub-section (3) of Section 4 is intended to enable the council to continue the fruitful co-operation with the Hospitals Library Council. It is not, of course, contemplated that the council will take over the functions of the Hospitals Library Council. The purpose of sub-section (3) is simply to enable the two bodies to co-operate if they think it desirable.
No further comment is necessary on Section 5 except to say that each person nominated by the County Councils' General Council and the Association of Municipal Authorities must be a member of a local authority and he must cease to be a member of the council if he ceases to be a local representative. In addition one of the representatives of the Association of Municipal Authorities must be a member of the corporation of a county borough. Apart from the four county boroughs, very few urban authorities have library services independent of the county council. It is also provided that the representative of the "approved association" shall be a member or officer of a local authority and the library association will be asked to nominate a member under this provision. The membership of the Library Association of Ireland is not confined to local authorities and in view of the fact that there will be six representatives from the two universities and from the National Library, it is thought well to ensure that there will also be six representatives of local authorities.
Sections 6 and 7 call for no comment.
The purpose of Section 8 is to deem the council to be a local authority for the purposes set out in the Schedule, that is, the appointment, remuneration and removal of officers and servants, their superannuation, travelling and subsistence allowances, auditing of accounts, the removal of members and the various legal provisions relating to those matters, so far as they would be applicable to a body of this sort. The effect is to put the council on all fours with the local authority.
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 to the Council of the Central Library and safeguards the pension right of two existing pensionable officers. The Carnegie Trust has agreed to contribute a portion of the pensions just as if the trust had been a local authority.
No comment is required on Sections 11 to 15 except to say that Section 12 relating to insurance does not conflict with No. 7 of the Schedule which also deals with insurance. The provision in the Schedule is to enable the council to take part in mutual assurance.
I have already referred to Sections 16 and 17 of the Bill. Of the remaining sections only Section 19 calls for comment. This section 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 so contribute and now that the Central Library is being transferred to the council the provision is obsolete.
I hope that the House will agree with the provisions of this Bill. The library service has frequently been called "the Cinderella of local services". It started from small beginnings, it progressed very slowly and needs improvement to a very great degree in some areas.
This Bill will enable experts to assist every local authority. The action of such local authorities is purely voluntary and for the first time the Minister for Finance has declared his willingness to assist local authorities in regard to improvements. I cannot help feeling that this is one contribution to various measures taken by the Government to encourage people to remain in the rural areas. In a country with our climate and with the long winter evenings, nothing is more necessary than to make available to people books of every kind. It is not an expensive service. Any Deputy who is a member of a local authority will know immediately that a total expenditure of £90,000 in the year is very small compared with the total expenditure of all local authorities on all services. An immense amount of good can be done everywhere—in the remotest hamlet and up in the hills—by improvement of the services at what, inevitably, would be a very reasonable cost, coupled with such capital expenditure as may be necessary for the improvement of buildings. In that connection these moneys could, under suitable conditions, be borrowed.