(This image used courtesy of the Cork City Libraries website and can be found here.)
The Cork City Library in Ireland is the place to go if you need information, a cool music library, parenting information, or just something to do with the kids. It has internet access, reading areas, a great mix of old and new in the building, and just a general feeling of being welcome.
It is no surprise that everyone feels welcome, when I was speaking to the circulation librarian about membership, I was in for a big surprise. There are two forms of membership at the library. For the first one, you only need to have a name. No proof of address, no two forms of identification, no promise to donate your firstborn child to the library. Just a name that you tell them. It's on the honor system! You are allowed to take books out. The next level up is the traditional membership we are used to in the United States and it gives you access to the library's entire collection.
When I spoke about the basic membership to people back home, their first response always related to accountability for the books. How would they know where to charge them if they were lost or stolen? I think this speaks to the truths about public librarianship. While there will always be people who are late or often lose their books, the majority of library users are honest, rule-following patrons.
There is something else that should be noted for Americans in this policy. At least in Rhode Island, you do not need to be an American citizen in order to have a library card. I did not learn this until after months of working in a public library, so I think this policy is one that should be made much clearer to the general public. After all, what better way do we have to teach people the English language and to get them acclimated to a new culture than to welcome them as regular library patrons?
With the debate raging over illegal immigration in the United States these days, far fewer immigrants are making use of the public library for fear of deportation. Why can't we make libraries safe havens? I know this is a particularly tough thing to do since most public libraries are government organizations, but the benefits of doing so could outweigh the mixed messages. After all, if we have a way to make our public libraries work to help improve the system, shouldn't we at least give it a try? Cork's library patrons have taught us that it isn't always bad to put our trust in the public's hands.
For more information about Cork Public Libraries, click here.