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IRISH PUBLIC LIBRARIES AND THE PENNY

RATE.

MUCH

UCH has been written on the inadequacy of the product

of the ld. in the £1 Rate, for the support of public libraries in Great Britain : but, as far as I know, very little with regard thereto in Ireland. With a view, therefore, of bringing to the notice of those interested in the success of the public library movement in this island, and especially to the Irish Members of Parliament--who will shortly be called upon to consider Mr. Dillon's admirable amendment to the Public Libraries (Ireland) Acts—I propose to make a few remarks shewing the inadequacy of the products of, and some of the difficulties to be met with, in the establishing and maintaining of Irish public liberaries on a Penny Rate limit.

The principal obstacle to the establishment of public libraries in Ireland, is most accurately stated by Mr. Greenwood in his “Public Libraries," when he says

The great drawback is that so many towns and districts in Ireland have a rateable value insufficient, with a penny rate, to stock and maintain a public library.

The above statement, written many years ago, holds good to-day, as the very small annual sum yielded by a ld. in the £1 rate in Ireland practically precludes the local authorities in many towns and districts from adopting and putting into force the Public Libraries (Ireland) Acts; while the disproportion of the product of the Penny Rate in the districts where the Acts have been adopted, as compared with the product of a similar rate in British towns of about the same population, is such as to place our public libraries on a very unequal footing with those of the United Kingdom, as the following table of comparison amply illustrates :Irish Towns.

British Towns.
Population

Population

1 Product of ld. in

1 Product

1901.

1901.

of ld. in the £l rate:

the £1 rate.

Dublin 289,108

£3,500 Bradford 279.809 £4,300 Belfast 348,965

£4,100 Sheffield 380,717 £5,151 Cork

75,975
£650 Hanley

61,544 £753 Limerick 38,085

£275 Longton 35,825 £440 Waterford 26,743

£190 Wednesbury 26,544 £342 Excepting Dublin and Cork, the returns in these columns are taken from Greenwood s “British Library Year Book, 1900-1."

1

An enthusiastic supporter of the Ewarts' Act of 1850, said : “ What was the use of education for the people unless they were enabled to consult valuable works which they could not purchase for themselves?" an admirable remark, truly, but after the lapse of half a century one is inclined to ask, what is the use of establishing public libraries for the purpose of providing valuable works for the use of the people, when the wherewithal to do so is, in so many instances, so limited, as to prohibit the purchase of valuable works, and barely sufficient to provide for the upkeep of a newsroom?

The latter is, in fact, the principal feature of many of the so-called public libraries in Ireland; and, I am afraid will continue to remain so, as long as the Penny Rate limit is permitted to exist.

Another drawback obtains from the fact that the provisions of the Public Libraries (Ireland) Acts can be applied to the support of Schools of Science, Art, and Music.

It is only in Ireland that Schools of Music can be supported under the Libraries Acts !

The effect of such a provision being part of the said Acts, has seriously interfered with the working of at least one public library in Ireland, inasmuch as the Corporation of Cork has, in order to support its local school of music, levied one-fourth of the Penny Rate for that purpose, the remaining three-fourths being allocated to the public library. The product of the Penny Rate in this instance amounts to about £650 per

a sum insufficient to maintain the library in accordance with its needs—nevertheless, the Committee are expected to provide books, &c.,

To teach high thought and amiable airs,

And courtliness, and a desire for fame,

And love of truth, and all that makes a man.” on an income of £5202 per annum (one-fourth of which is directly spent on books), or three halfpence per head per annum, on the total population (75,000) of the city.

annum

2 Since writing the above, Mr. Carnegie has most generously presented the sum of £10,000 to the Cork Public Library for the purpose of providing a more suitable building, conditional on the whole of the product of the Penny Rate being devoted to the upkeep of the library, and the Corporation providing a site free. As the Corporation have decided to accept the gift, the library will soon receive the full product from the Rate.

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and ask yourselves, how long is the injustice of supporting Museums, Schools of Science, Art, or Music, in addition to a library, from the limited product of a Penny Rate to continue, in view of the fact that it is now possible to maintain the former under the Technical Instruction Act, 1889 ? If it is not too late, I would respectfully suggest to Mr. Dillon the desirability of inserting a clause in his amending Bill, repealing the povers of the existing Acts in that respect; thereby enabling library authorities to levy the rate for the one purpose, viz. :-Public Libraries.

The power to allocate the proceeds of the Library Rate in support of Schools of Science and Art (not. Music) obtains in Britain, but, I believe, the interests of the public library have in no instance been permitted to suffer in consequence of the Acts being availed of for that purpose, as special rating powers have been obtained under special local Acts to meet the necessary expenditure, or an equivalent grant paid to the library out of the Technical Instruction Fund; as for instance, Ashton-under-Lyne, Maidstone, Oldham, Preston, St. Helen's, Salford, Southport, and Warrington, the grants varying from 1 d. to 31d. in the £1.

Irish Public Libraries are still further handicapped, as it is not possible for them to augment their annual income by the means of special annual grants for the purchase of technical books.

In many British towns, grants varying from £50 to £1,000 per annum are made to the local public library for that purpose, and where such grants are made, a considerable portion of the income from the Penny Rate is in consequence, available for other purposes.

In October, 1900, I wrote to the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction for Ireland, and informed him of the above-named fact, giving a list of several public libraries so endowed, and at the same time suggested that local authorities administering the newly

created Technical Instruction Fund for Ireland, should be permitted to allocate similar grants out of the said fund to their local public library, on condition that technical books only be purchased with the money. The fact that I only received a formal acknowledgment of the receipt of my letter, leads me to assume that the matter has been shelved by the Department. I am, however, informed that the Department has recently

displayed its interest in the library movement by presenting books, out of a carefully selected list, to the value of £3, to a duly constituted library.” A truly marvellous offer! As neither list or books have been offered to the library with which I am connected, the interest displayed by the Department is, apparently, of a very lukewarm nature, and it has yet to learn the value of a public library in its relation to education,

The question of annual grants for the purchase of technical books ought to be strongly pressed upon the Department by managers of Irish Public Libraries; and, if necessary, combined action should be taken with a view to bringing the matter to a successful issue. The idea, however, of accepting a solatium of books to the value of £3, in lieu of an annual or more reasonable grant, should not be considered for one moment, even on the ground that "half a loaf is better than none," as such an offer is “reductio ad absurdum," as far as public libraries are concerned. I shall be pleased to receive the opinions of library managers on this subject.

The principal feature of Mr. Dillon's amendment to the Public Libraries (Ireland) Acts, recently introduced in the House of Commons, is contained in paragraph 4, and reads

The amount of the rate to be levied in any district for which the principal Act is adopted, shall not exceed the sum of twopence in the £1, and section 8 of the principal Act shall be amended accordingly.

I trust that every Irish Member of Parliament will support Mr. Dillon in this particular, for apart from the fact that the yield from a Penny Rate in Ireland is so much less in proportion than a similar rate in Great Britain, the recently proffered gifts to Limerick and Waterford of £7,000 and £5,000, respectively, for the purposes of providing suitable building for their libraries, on condition that their annual income for the upkeep of the same, be increased by a few pounds sterling per annum, brings home to us the injudiciousness of limiting local authorities to a Penny Rate; for, had the acceptance of these proffered gifts depended upon the product of a Penny Rate, Limerick and Waterford would have had to decline Mr. Carnegie's generous offer; thanks, however, to the public spirit of the citizens of those cities, a capital sum has in each instance been raised, sufficient to provide the increased annual income demanded; consequently enabling the respective Library Committees to accept the gift offered to them.

If, therefore, it is desirable that public libraries should become more general in this country, it is essential that local authorities be provided with the power of allocating funds in accordance with the needs of their districts; as it is obvious from the facts already adduced, that it is impossible out of the product of a Penny Rate, to provide libraries for the people efficiently equipped and properly housed.

That there is need for more public libraries in Ireland is well known, but the following statistics from Greenwood's Year Book, 1900-1, giving the number of libraries per population throughout Great Britain and Ireland, most strongly emphasises that want. England has provided one library for every 88,943 inhabitants. Wales one to every 60,761. Scotland one to every 93,619, and Ireland one to every 204,554. Comment is needless.

JAMES WILKINSON,

Public Librarian, Cork.

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