Public libraries in Ireland support informal learning and digital skills by providing programmes and access to information and ICT. The local library also makes significant contributions to lifelong learning in local communities through the provision of both formal and informal learning courses.
In Ireland, the national strategy for public libraries identifies the library as a facilitator of digital skills development. Library investment over recent years in ICT, equipment and software has been particularly important to support the current digital needs of Irish society.
Irish public libraries provide users across all library branches with a wide range of free online services including eBooks, eAudiobooks, eMagazines, online courses and online newspapers. Currently, over 60,000 eBooks and 54,000 eAudiobooks are freely available to library users in Ireland through the Borrowbox app, while more than 7,000 online newspaper and magazine titles are available from over 120 countries on Press Reader and approximately 4,300 magazine titles on Libby. Irish library users also have free access to over 600 online courses across a vast range of skills’ areas through Universal Class. In addition, online language courses are available to library users through the Transparent Languages app which provides courses in 110 languages for speakers of 30+ languages.
Many library services in Ireland also provide access to new technologies in their branches to support innovation and creativity, such as 3D printing and virtual reality. Free local access to new technologies and learning opportunities inspire users to experiment and create.
The My Open Library service, available in a growing number of Irish libraries, also facilities greater access to library services and technologies by providing extended opening hours to members from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., 365 days of the year.
During My Open Library hours, the service is operated on a self-service basis to library members aged 16 and over for borrowing and returning items, using the internet via library PCs or via Wi-Fi using their own devices, browsing, printing, photocopying, individual study or community activities and meetings. The service has been found to be a particular asset to people engaging in both formal and informal learning activities.
The opportunities provided by extended access and the digital services available to users has brought increased interest to library services in Ireland from a broader range of customers who are engaged in lifelong learning. Indeed, as the age profile of countries is changing across the EU and as people live longer, public libraries support personal development and lifelong learning for people at all stages of life through the technologies, resources and learning opportunities they offer.