“Books are great medicine – for the mind, heart and soul”

During the pandemic, our reading habits have changed. We sort of know this instinctively, but librarian Mary Carleton Reynolds puts the meat on the notion. At the heart of behavior and tastes, she observed: “People have become a little more thoughtful. We all did, I guess. You discovered that people were reading, maybe things they hadn’t read before. Inspirational biographies. Poetry became very popular – and people were writing their own poetry.

“There was more demand for books on art and gardening, DIY, all that. And because we had to stay home, people sometimes wanted to get away, with books set up somewhere else. Reading about being somewhere else is a great way to access other worlds and other experiences. And our Irish writers are still very, very popular. There has also been a huge increase in online library services, including e-books and journals.

Carleton Reynolds, County Longford Librarian, who has seen it all and is about to retire after 30 years, is an inspiration for the pleasures of reading as Ireland Reads approaches. In the campaign to engage Ireland in what is being described as a National Reading Day, this Friday February 25, Irish libraries have joined forces with publishers, booksellers and authors, as part of the government’s Healthy Ireland, to celebrate the benefits of reading for well-being. and pleasure.

She has seen a lot of changes, but says “we are still a nation that loves our books. We really appreciate the value of reading for pleasure. It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give your child: reading for fun – as well as for school. And sometimes the two have intermingled in the past. If you say you want to build reading habits, you need to give kids choice and a space where they can browse and choose whatever they want, whether it’s sports or fantasy or whatever. You don’t prescribe it.

“Community Lounge”

She’s evangelical about libraries — well, she could be. “We’ve struggled over the years with this cliché of ‘Shhh’ and the librarian being a very stern person.” Today they are bright, modern spaces, with free access for all, what she calls “a community living room”.

They just opened a new library in Edgeworthstown, for example. “It’s a small town in rural Ireland. Our vision is to be this community living room for the city, a meeting place, where a lot of things happen. Society has changed. In a town like Edgeworthstown, we have 26 or 28 nationalities. The library had to respond to that. So you have books in different languages, storytellers.

She talks about the buzz there on Saturday mornings.

“If you live in rural Ireland, there’s no bookshop nearby, but there is a library. We have, I believe, 230 secondary libraries across the country. So every city and town has a library, this space and this access.

Over the past few years, “we have invested in our spaces” so that libraries are welcoming and respond quickly to change with “not just a huge range of books” in modern, bright buildings, but also events, readings, galleries, computer installations, workshops and sensory walls. “They can have a writer, you can join the book club, do a coding class or an art class, a poetry workshop. There’s always something going on. Or you can sit quietly.

County Longford Librarian Mary Carleton Reynolds: “What I’ve always loved about a library is. . . it is a very democratic space. Photography: Shelley Corcoran

What she describes are non-commercial safe spaces for citizens. “You can stay there all day if you want. And people do. People come here for so many different reasons. What I’ve always liked about a bookcase is that it doesn’t have any tags attached. It is a very democratic space. No one asked to move on.

Fines waived

These days there are no membership fees and you don’t need to produce ID – “those barriers that would have existed in the past”. Removing fines for late book returns was a game-changer, she says — and the books are coming back. “People expected the books not to be returned, but it’s actually the opposite. Because sometimes it’s a day or two late, and I don’t have the money today but “I’ll have it next week. And the next thing it goes under the bed or on the shelf and it’s forgotten. Now there’s no reason not to bring it back.”

Moreover, “if I am a member of a library, I have access to the stock of all the public libraries in the country. Millions of pounds. Inventory that was on a county’s shelves is moving across the country. A book can arrive in Lanesboro from West Cork in a matter of days. It also made a huge difference in terms of value for money: you get more for your money. »

Irelandreads.ie asks everyone to ‘hurry in for a read’ on Friday, with support from book ‘ambassadors’, reading reminders, events and book suggestions based on interest and reading level. There’s also an odd quantification of all this reading, inviting promises of reading time on February 25; the total was 142,075 minutes when last checked.

Pandemic and reading

As Reynolds observes, “There’s very little you can do that doesn’t require someone else to do it. You can read a book anywhere. I like to go to bed and read. Unsurprisingly, her best advice for learning more is “Go to your local library. Just because, let’s say, I had never read fiction, but maybe you are very interested in history or sports. Or maybe you love antiques. One size doesn’t fit all, and one thing you have in a library is choice. And we are all curious to know what other people are reading.

“I think a lot of people have realized during the pandemic how much pleasure a book can give you. And when you travel, you may get tired of listening to music or sometimes the radio may stress you out. But it’s nice to get into an audiobook. It swallows up the miles. It’s another world. That’s what he does. There is nothing more relaxing, enjoyable, inspiring than sitting at what you love. Books are great medicine, for the mind, heart and soul. And the people you meet at the library. We have a banner: readers become leaders. We learn so much about ourselves and about others. Who doesn’t love a good story?


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