Libraries Unlimited

A Strategic Direction for Dublin City Libraries 2019-2023

Language Version: English / As Gaeilge

In Focus

Focus Area
The City Library at Parnell Square

In October 2018 a significant milestone was reached in the project with the submission of a planning application to An Bord Pleanála for the development. The achievement of this milestone is the culmination of a period of intensive engagement between the library team and the multidisciplinary design team led by Grafton Architects.

The project will deliver an 11,000 sq metre development of new and existing buildings and public realm on the north side of Parnell Square on the site of the former Colaiste Mhuire. The centre piece of the project will be a NEW CITY LIBRARY for Dublin. There will be a range of cultural facilities, including a music hub, a design space, an intercultural space an education centre, café and exhibition areas all connected by new high quality public plaza.

The project, guided by the themes of LEARN CREATE PARTICIPATE, is about transformation, not only through regeneration of the physical project area, but transformation opportunities for the people who use the library and the other facilities.

These new facilities will provide open public spaces for learning, culture and social communication. The spaces will be designed to inspire, excite, welcome and include. Visitors to the Cultural Quarter will enjoy a menu of opportunities, events and services on offer. There are seven key concepts or themes that describe the nature of the library.

  1. Life-long Learning at the heart of the library.
  2. An inspiring place for children, young adults and families
  3. A civic meeting place and cultural hub
  4. The StoryHouse: A space for contemporary culture and literature
  5. Supporting business and entrepreneurship
  6. Forging relationships, connections and collaboration
  7. A digital library for the 21st century

The PSCQ project links strongly to, and supports civic, national and EU level agendas around lifelong learning, digital literacy, social and cultural inclusion. The European Parliament’s Committee on Culture and Education (CULT) recently issued a briefing paper on the new role of public libraries. They found that:

  • Public libraries are important gateways to knowledge and inclusion. The EU’s 65,000 libraries have 100 million visitors - in many countries they are the most used cultural institution
  • Uniquely among public services, they provide open, non-authoritarian, non-commercial public cultural space.
  • They are increasingly recognised by urban planners as anchors for the high street, contributing to urban redevelopment and bringing life to deserted parts of the city.
  • Libraries have an economic value to their communities that can be measured. Canadian and North American libraries have calculated their Return on Investment (ROI). For every $1 invested in them, libraries generated $5.63 in counter value. They also calculated that library patrons annually received services worth $500. These examples document impressively that public libraries can generate added value to the public funds that are spent on them.

The City Library in Numbers

  • The Library will welcome 3000 visitors a day, 1 million visitors a year
  • It will operate a 7 Day Service
  • An 8,000 sq metre library as part of a 11,500 sq metre development
  • 1000 seats for readers
  • 150,000 items in the collection
  • 200 Seat conference space
  • 2 intimate performance spaces of 45 and 60 for spoken word and music.
  • A range of meeting spaces for small groups of 2, for larger groups of 25 and upwards

Programme for delivery

Planning decision:

May 2019

Completion of tender period:


Completion of Construction:

Early 2023

Fit–Out and opening:

Autumn 2023

Focus Area
Tapping the Power of Residencies

As far back as the 1990s we have explored the possibilities and opportunities offered by library based residencies to engage with library users. Facilitating residencies has allowed us to undertake the vital work of activating our collections, building partnerships, and address the pressing issues of our time in a lively, inventive way. While in the past books were the principal medium by which we helped people to visit other worlds, now we embrace everything from dance, food and play to digital media and cultural programming on the most provocative themes to engage our audiences.

From writers, readers, poets, artists, and more recently, historians and musicians, our active residency programmes have allowed us to work in partnership with ‘unusual friends’ providing an effective way of delivering positive outcomes for all of our users. There are reciprocal benefits in these programmes. Residents are provided with resources including space, time, and financial support to create works, investigate ideas, and experiment, as well as the opportunity to develop their practice by excavating the ideas contained within the library. It also gives them access to new audience while creating new bodies of work. Perhaps their most important contribution is their ability to surprise and delight our users and to encourage the general public to think about libraries as creative spaces.

By providing programming, demonstrations, and training with library users as well as our staff, all parties benefit. Staff members are enthusiastic and willing to promote the programmes, eager to learn new skills and ideas, and excited about working in collaboration with the residents. Our residents have delivered a diverse range of events, including writing workshops, art installations, theatre, dance, presentations and engagements with schools, families and local groups, allowing them to share their methods, their projects, and their inspiration with the community. Through blog posts and diverse public happenings our residents have helped to shine a light on the value, breadth, and accessibility of library collections while bringing them to a much wider audience.

We have measured the success of these programmes against our initial goals, including the high level of interest in the programmes offered and attendance at events, the range of positive comments made by library users, the level and frequency of engagement with communities, and positive stories of increased empowerment to explore and learn from the programmes.


In Spring 2017 we engaged a team of part-time Historians in Residence working with communities across the city under the auspices of the Decade of Commemorations. The historians work in the five administrative areas of Dublin City to make history and historical sources accessible and enjoyable for all. The residents work on all sorts of history events throughout the city including talks, walks, tours, discussions, history book clubs, blogs, exhibitions and more.

The single most important contribution I feel we have made individually and collectively is bringing history into places where it is normally absent. In my case, this has been lectures around Herbert Simms in working class inner-city communities, Gaelic Sunday talks in GAA clubhouses and our prison lecture series.
- Donal Fallon, Historian in Residence
Developing a growing interest in our shared heritage with all ages and backgrounds across South Central, explaining National history through events that happened locally through talks, walks, re-enactments, exhibitions and functions.
- Cathy Scuffil, Historian in Residence South Central Area


The Reader-in-Residence programme is an innovative way of providing opportunities for positive engagement with libraries and reading for the children living in inner-city Dublin. Three experts in children’s literature were employed over the last two years using funding secured from the North East Inner City Initiative. The programme encourages reading for pleasure by introducing children to a wide variety of high-quality, age-appropriate books from a range of authors and genres.

The Readers’ role is to visit groups within their schools and chose exciting books and activities to introduce to the children and young people. Participants take part in library visits, receive a library membership card and participate in skills activities as part of the programme.

Many of the programme’s young readers have also had the opportunity to attend events with award winning authors and illustrators including Jeff Kinney, Dave Rudden, Andy Griffiths, Pamela Butchart, Korky Paul, Caroline Busher and Helena Duggan. In advance of these events the Readers introduce their groups to the author’s work and make the practical arrangements with the schools.

Reader-in-Residence is a very unique and special role, it has allowed me to work with hundreds of children, introducing them to a world of books they never knew existed. Discovering a love of reading is something that can happen at any stage in a person’s life, but discovering it at a young age is a gift you will carry throughout your life. I truly believe that the Reader-in-Residence Programme has helped many young people discover this love of books and reading. Seeing children squeal with joy when you tell them they are going to the library, their delight and pride in getting their own library card and watching their faces light up at a story, are what make my job so rewarding.
- Julianne Mooney Reader-in-Residence (Primary Schools)

North East Inner City Project - THE DIGITAL SKILLS PROJECT

Coding is an increasingly popular activity for children and young people. The Digital Skills Project was set up to provide a high quality coding programme in a library environment. Coder Dojo is a grassroots movement ‘of free, volunteer-led, community-based computer programming clubs for young people.’ A Project Co-ordinator, Joanne Dolan, was employed with funding from the Dublin North East Inner City Initiative to run the programme. On Saturdays, in Charleville Mall library, a Family Dojo provides sessions where children aged 7 to 12 can learn how to code, while family members (parents, siblings, etc.) are encouraged to make use of the library facilities. On Wednesdays, in the Central Library, teenagers, aged 13-17, are welcome to work on computer projects in a casual, social environment.

This programme was chosen to represent Irish libraries at Generation Code: Born at the Library, a Public Libraries 2020 initiative, hosted in the European Parliament which aims to showcase innovative digital projects in European libraries and to raise awareness of library services.

What inspires me, particularly, about the approach, are the social networks forming among teen participants, the educational and professional aspirations developing in younger attendees, and the connectedness participants are beginning to show with the libraries providing the sessions
Joanne Dolan, CoderDojo Coordinator


Declan Burke and Elizabeth Reapy, writers in residence have worked with library-based writing groups around the city, as well as doing public readings and working on their own new writing. Activities include free master classes in dialogue, readings for the public in Irish Writers Centre and sessions for writing groups in exploring approaches to poetry writing.

'There were many enjoyable aspects to the writer-in-residence role, some of them related to unexpected friendships that will survive long after I have left the position, some of them relating to realising exactly how wide and deep is the untapped pool of writing talent that exists within the framework of the Dublin City library writer groups. For my own part, the year spent as writer-in-residence served as a long overdue wake-up call, a reminder of the reason I first picked up a pen and began defacing perfectly good blank pages: the simple and pure joy – that simplest and purest of all joys – of putting words in their best order.
Writer in Residence Declan Burke


Ríona Sally Hartman is Dublin City Council’s first Musician in Residence. She is a vocalist, composer, educator and bandleader who performs and composes in English and Irish. The Musician in Residence programme has the goal of offering a range of music engagement opportunities for members of the public to listen, play, perform and compose music in a structured supportive environment. The programme also offers valuable experiences in piloting music initiatives to inform programming at the City Library and Parnell Square Cultural Quarter. Aimed at all age groups but with a particular focus on engaging with young adults and adults, the programme has offered taster ukulele workshops for all ages, lyric writing workshops aimed at young adults and adults, the formation of an adult choir who performed “ Song for Suffrage” at the Dublin Festival of History, music listening parties aimed at adults who selected music from the Music Library resources to play and discuss and support for a newly formed young adult band.

Whenever people come together with the intention of making music, it will happen regardless of abilities.
Ríona Sally Hartman, Musician in Residence


Digital Champions/Makers in Residence:

The popularity of creation through digital media is a defining characteristic of today’s younger generations. Young people are redefining creative works with the use of digital audio and video, and they are eager to learn and use all of the technological tools they can to exercise their creativity. During the lifetime of ‘Libraries Unlimited’ we will continue to work with residencies and other models to ensure that as many citizens as possible have the opportunity to engage creatively with digital media. We will meet the increasing requirement for provision of digital services by engaging a number of area based Digital Champions. Their role will be to help library users become familiar with the full range of digital technologies and promote their use. Multimedia production tools will be available for use by library staff as well as the public. This use will be supported by a maker in residence who will be tasked with cultivating a “hacker ethic” among library users and staff alike.


We will expand the readers-in-residence project to continue current engagement and extend engagement to more schools, reaching each DCC area

Youth worker/Community out-reach worker in residence:

We will investigate the potential of engaging with youth and community practitioners to expand the reach of our services to those groups who may not see libraries as services for them, exploring areas such as Digital youth work and community outreach to engage with communities in homeless services, family hubs and direct provision

Focus Area
The Dublin Festival of History

In 2013 Dublin City Libraries launched the first Dublin Festival of History. The festival supports our overarching objective to preserve, share and promote the history and heritage of Dublin and Ireland and to encourage and facilitate historical research. The events aim to make history more accessible by offering a wide range of interesting history topics, presented by excellent communicators, giving an insight into a piece of history in an entertaining and informative way.

Since then the initiative has gone from strength to strength and it is now Ireland’s biggest, free history festival. Over the last 6 years speakers have included Jung Chang, Alison Weir, Ian Kershaw, Tom Holland, Simon Schama, Peter Frankopan, Richard Evans, Charles Spencer, Hew Strachan, Peter Snow, Robert Harris, Janina Ramirez, Michael Palin and many more.

The Festival showcases history from many different eras, genres and geographies: from international history to local history, from quizzes and maps, to topics as diverse as shipwrecks, poverty, street play, Georgian era shopping, and even Johnny Cash. It has gained a reputation for attracting best-selling Irish and international historians to Dublin as well as bringing Irish historians and their research to a wider audience, showcasing new writings and scholarship on a variety of history topics.

The Festival also provides a platform for the City Council to highlight its work, with colleagues from archaeology; the Arts Office; Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane; the Mansion House; heritage services; Richmond Barracks; City Hall; 14 Henrietta Street, and the historians in residence all taking part in collaboration with library and archives staff.

Focus Area
Making at the Library

We will work to develop maker spaces in our libraries.

Maker spaces in public libraries offer users an opportunity to create things (either physical or virtual) using resources such as computers, audio and video capture and editing tools, laser and vinyl cutters, soldering guns, coding, robotics, 3-D printers as well as traditional crafts supplies such as sewing machines, Lego and art materials. In a library makerspace, people of varying ages can work together, alone, or with library staff on creative projects. They connect people to tools, technology, and social connections that they might not otherwise have access to. The goal is to allow everyone to learn through direct experimentation and from each other while inspiring an interest in science, technology, design, and lifelong learning.

During the lifetime of the plan we will develop 3 new maker spaces in Coolock Library, Ballyfermot Library and a mobile maker van to allow engagement with schools, clubs and other community groups. The ultimate aim is that the activities in each library will grow and develop, reflecting the unique interests of each of the communities served.

Our Library maker spaces will be supported by digital residencies. (see residencies page) The aim of the programme will be to help library users and staff become familiar with the full range of digital technologies and promote their use.

Focus Area
Our Library Spaces

Refurbishment projects at Ballyfermot and Kevin Street Libraries were completed between 2013 and 2018. The level of investment in these projects represents a stepping up in Dublin City Libraries’ commitment to improving our spaces. Total investment in Ballyfermot came to €2.7m, while Kevin St has just been completed for €4m. What has been delivered with both of these projects are libraries which are equipped to provide the services expected by our users: increased space for public use; flexibility and improved availability of event spaces, whether through the provision of extra rooms at Ballyfermot or the installation of movable furniture at Kevin St; accessibility improvements; bright, modern design incorporating links to local communities; increased public access PC provision and self-service technology; and improved energy efficiency through heating system and glazing upgrades. These projects have also built on our organisational body of knowledge, providing an opportunity to learn from one project to the next, improving as we go.

The lessons learned from the Ballyfermot and Kevin Street Library projects are vital as we move into a period of significant investment both in the improvement of our existing branches through the refurbishment of Coolock, Finglas and Terenure but also the expansion of our branch network into Crumlin-Drimnagh and the North-Central city limits.

The refurbishment of Coolock Library draws specifically on the lessons learned from the Ballyfermot project – making the best use of large, open-plan, late-20th Century buildings, transforming dated, functional buildings into bright, flexible spaces where imagination can flourish. Ballyfermot and Coolock will be home to the first of our maker spaces - a collaborative work space for making, learning, exploring and sharing that uses high tech to no tech tools. These spaces are open to kids, adults, and entrepreneurs and have a variety of maker equipment including 3D printers, laser cutters, soldering irons and even sewing machines.

Our ability to make buildings conceived and built in another era usable today while conserving those historical elements that make those buildings unique has been honed through the refurbishments of Pembroke and Rathmines libraries and most recently with Kevin Street. The flexibility of the fit-out in Kevin Street Library along with the refurbishment work carried out on Drumcondra Library, will inform our work on all of our heritage buildings.

Focus Area
The Library Staff Role 'You Have Permission to Ask Me'

The ability to take library services out into the community will require different competencies from those needed to serve customers at a counter. We expect that new skill areas will arise and that there will be a continuous need for refreshment, which will be vital to support customer access to services and ongoing innovation.

Libraries are a familiar public facility, which have well- established roots in communities. People care about what happens in their library and library staff are proud of what they make happen by their constant engagement with the public on a day-to-day basis.

  • We sustain physical collections in print and digital form for future generations
  • We remove barriers to knowledge and preserve knowledge for future generations
  • We open doors for enquiring minds at the heart of communities
  • We help you develop a love of reading
  • We help you find, understand and use the information that you need in your life
  • We provide a free and welcoming local space that enables you to reflect, explore and have loads of fun as you relax and learn at your own pace and in your own way
  • We encourage self-reliance, and a capacity to collaborate, communicate and solve problems

Focus Area
Services to Children

During the lifetime of our previous development plan, we have programmed 2090 events for children, teenagers and families offering possibilities to 70,000 attendees across a variety of areas of interest while promoting the library space and resources.

The programmes ranged from visiting an exhibition, participating in a workshop, watching a theatrical performance, learning a new skill or hearing an inspirational speaker.

Dublin City Libraries partnered the Arts office, Science Foundation Ireland, Children’s Books Ireland, Dublin Book Festival, to bring subjects alive for children, teenagers and their families.

The reading habit

Reading is a strong strand of library programming from the popular weekly story-time with finger rhymes and picture books to city wide reading campaign. Schools are invited to tours of the library, story times and author visits. City wide reading campaigns and Childrens’ Book Festival are annual calendar events, celebrating the best in Irish writing and connecting authors with readers. This interaction is invaluable in exciting children to read, write and draw more. It’s an important role for libraries also to support Irish local talent so Irish children and their lives are reflected in Irish writing.

During the summer months, Dublin City Libraries are buzzing with children signing up for reading cards for the National Summer Reading Campaign. Keeping children reading over the summer months ensures literacy standards don’t slip and the reading campaign is a cornerstone of the ‘Right to Read’, national library policy. At the end of the summer, children and their families are invited into the library for a ceremony to celebrate their reading achievement.

An Exhibition : Anne Frank

Anne Frank’s Diary of A young girl is probably one of the most well-known memoirs written by a teenager. The Anne Frank Trust developed an engaging multimedia exhibition which told Anne’s Story and updated it to promote messages of tolerance and respect for others. The exhibition ran for two months in Pearse Street Library, and washugely popular with 118 schools from Dublin area visiting Pearse Street Library over the period. Each visit involved a guided tour followed by a viewing of Anne Frank Story. The children found it powerful and emotive and brought the story to life for the children. One pupil from a gaelscoil said – “Is breá liom tú, tá tú mo role-model.”

Culture and Arts for children:

The Children’s Arts in Libraries Programme is a unique partnership between the libraries and arts office in Dublin City Council to bring quality programmes in the arts to children. Libraries are hives of activity for children with workshops on writing stories, making art, creating music and stop animation.. Over the years, children saw high quality theatre performances from Branar Theatre, Púca Puppets, Bombinate Theatre and Theatre Lovett. They created work with musicians, artists, writers and dancers. This wonderful dimension to libraries as spaces where arts are explored will continue with emerging ‘creative hubs’ in particular areas. The first creative hub has begun in Ballyfermot library where 4 schools are involved in learning about dance and working with dance choreographer, Maria Nilson Waller in Winter 2018 / Spring 2019. Other local cultural partners are also involved in the hub such as Kylemore College of Music, Family Base, Ballyfermot /Chapelizod Partnership and Dublin City Arts and Community Office.


Every year we develop a programme of events during Science Week and Engineers Week The aim is to encourage children to develop an interest in the field of science and STEM subjects. Programmes include practical workshops, coding, lego workshops and talks by experts in many fields. Dublin City Libraries was shortlisted for a Chambers award in 2012 for its science programme Science is all around us. In 2014, the Science Foundation of Ireland, brought NASA astronaut Greg ‘Box’ Johnson to Ballyfermot library . Johnson served on two space flights and has been to the International Space Station. Asked did he feel underwhelmed having landed back on earth, he said “Gosh no, I haven’t been to Australia yet and I’d love to play guitar in a rock band, what could be more cool than that”. Listening to Johnson speak was inspirational with a message “you can achieve this just like I did. It just takes hard work.”