Aoife Moore, librarian, walks with a spring in her step as she shows me around the stunning new Portlaoise Library. The brightness and vast space are the first things that catch your eye. The high walls and open plan of the building create an atmosphere ideal for calm and concentration. The front lobby offers a comfortable space to unwind while reading the papers, and enjoying views of the main street through its large, warmly illuminated windows.
The Children’s area is the most popular
With a miniature castle and a tower with a slide, the children’s section is proving to be extremely popular and well utilised. The spot has attracted children’s attention and has seen the most traffic since it opened to the public. In fact, 20,000 people have visited the library since it’s opening. Teddy bears, interactive novels, and a wonderful circular seat can be found there. The colours are striking with a mixture of yellows and soft greys. Along with the funky furniture, the colourful shelving highlights the reading material. It is so easy to want to sit down and enjoy the tranquil space. Aoife explains, “it is important for us that the colorful playful area takes up the centre of the library and is so near the reception desk.” Nearby, there are bright study spaces, along the side window, encouraging both light and privacy.
Plenty of space to read and relax
There are little cubby holes peppered throughout the first floor where you can sit with your book or laptop; according to Aoife, “you often see people curled up in there.” There are automated printing and photocopying services available. Remote printing allows you to print from home; “you are emailed the code, and then you can come in here and print it.” Even in the digital age, there is still a great demand for printing and scanning. Through the back door Aoife shows me a vast garden space, which can be used for events or just as a place to sit and enjoy. It is a little piece of heaven with the opportunity for activity. For the first time there will be an ‘out of hours’ service, where the public can sign up for a special membership giving them access to the library after business hours. This brings great potential to people who don’t have the time or space at home.
Great space for teenagers
With longer opening hours for the new library, there are four extra staff with eight full time staff and three part time. The new opening hours are 10am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday, (Saturday closing is 4pm) with late opening on Wednesday and Thursday evenings until 7.30pm. Aoife believes the “teenage section on the second floor has the best view in the library.” Beside the reference section, there is a large study area which fits up to 48 people. With furniture on wheels, tables are easily moved with access to plug points and USB ports. Also on the 2nd floor, there is spacious Community Room. A knitting group were congregating when I arrived in the large meeting room space which has access to a mini canteen. This will serve as an excellent meeting space for groups to utilise and it is free of charge.
Laois Local Studies
The Local Studies section has found it’s righful place in the new Library. According to Senior Library Assistant, Sinead Holland, “we can now open up the space to the public. For 3rd Level students or people who just want to sit and look at it, we now have a space without an appointment for those people.“ On display at the moment is ‘The Terry Redmond Collection’ which is a brilliant black and white display from the photographer who worked in Laois from the 1950s to the 1970s. A till and a hat stretcher from Shaws is on temporary loan and are on display. They have the Laois Nationalist and Leinster Express archive going back to the 1830s right up to today. For Sinead it is a dream job, and “I love helping people find that piece of information they’ve always wanted to find. There is great satisfaction in that.”
The Cost of Portlaoise Library
“The need for a new library in Portlaoise was identified approximately 15 years ago”. According to County Librarian Bernie Foran, there was a great need for more space, especially for events, activities, a childrens space and an ever growing population. When the old library was constructed in 1994, the population of Portlaoise was 4000. Now at approx. 25,000, she says “it has increased six times, we just outgrew the space.” For inspiration for the new build, Bernie visited many libraries. The Lexicon in Dun Laoghaire was favoured along with the way Mountmellick Library made use of space and light.
When asked about the €7 million price tag attached to the new library, Bernie admits a lot of it was down to the cost of construction and site preparation, “the bulk of the capital funding went into the bricks and mortar, under the ground, site and archaeological testing, fees to get rid of all the damaged soil underneath the library, plus the two lockdowns were expensive. To construct a building of this size at the centre of a main town there was always going to be a major capital investment and it a hugely important investment into the community and an integral part of the main street and the cultural quarter.” Since the Portlaoise Library opened they have had over 20,000 visitors, issuing over 15,000 books, along with 2000 new members, she says “we are delighted with the interest.” At three times the size of the original library in Lyster Square it brings a new positive energy and an area to engage at the centre of Portlaoise.
Portlaoise Library, a place of sanctuary
There is great potential for community involvement in the Cultural Quarter of Portlaoise as it is situated beside the new area for social housing, and next door to the Laois School of music. The open spaces inside and out, allow for more talks with writers, exhibitions and even concerts. Portlaoise library is the only public library affiliated with Places of Sanctuary Ireland, and working with Laois Integration Network, and as such, it is a welcoming space for people new to the community. For those more familiar with their surroundings, it is a new space worth exploring.