I wish to raise the issue of funding for public libraries. An article in one of my local newspapers, the Tuam Herald, reported that County Galway only spends 20 cent per person on library books. It spent very little on library books compared to other counties but it has a good track record in providing libraries, with 29 branch libraries in the county alongside a mobile service. Galway is the second largest county in the country and more than 500,000 people visited branch libraries there last year. There is great interest in the library service but in light of these disappointing figures, we should be spending more on books. Last year alone, Tuam library recorded close to 50,000 reader visits and figures obtained by the Tuam Herald indicate that more than 80,000 books were lent by the Tuam branch in 2014. Investment in our library services should be given priority, particularly in light of the importance the Government attaches to literacy and numeracy schemes. Libraries also play a social role in that people can use their computer and Internet facilities. Microfilm is also a popular library resource. I understand that approximately 39,000 members are availing of these services. I should use this opportunity to note that some people forget to return books. I am sure the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coffey, would agree that people who borrow books should return them.
In the Seanad recently, my colleague, Senator MacSharry, raised the issue of funding cuts in Sligo County Council and the news that Ballymote library is due to close because of these cutbacks. I am sure similar issues arise in every county, although the Minister of State will be glad to know that Waterford is doing very well in terms of spending per person. Funding for Waterford is approximately €3.26 per person, compared to 20 cent in Galway. The average figure for the country is €1.48. It appears, therefore, that certain areas are not receiving adequate funding. Galway and Sligo are two such examples. The question arises of which will be the next library to close if the cutbacks continue.
The school library service, which is funded through the Department of Education and Skills, also needs more resources in order to purchase new books. If it cannot replace its stock of books every so often, younger students will not develop a strong interest in reading.
Students, in particular, use libraries, as do retired people and, without wishing to categorise anyone, those who are unemployed and people with disabilities. There are very good facilities in place. I repeat, however, the point about school libraries. It is a different and separately funded service, but it must be promoted in the context of the Government’s proposal, with which we all agree, on literacy and numeracy.
The most famous public library of all is perhaps the National Library of Ireland, which magnificent facility and building successive Governments have failed adequately to fund. The acting director has said there was a cutback in 2014 of 42% on the figure for the previous year, while I note that there has been an increase in visitor numbers of 85% since 2009. The National Library of Ireland is very important in terms of tourism and for Irish residents and if we have continual cutbacks, the results will be very serious. Some of the €2 million provided by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Deputy Heather Humphreys, went to the National Library of Ireland, which was only right.
Let us ensure we do not cut back on libraries. Certainly, we should not cut back on staff numbers. We are a long way behind our neighbours in Scotland and Wales, in particular, on staffing and I would like to see the investment in libraries continue. We should look at counties with huge geographic areas that need mobile libraries and new investment. While there is, rightly, a great deal of funding in Dublin, given its huge population, we sometimes might forget about towns with huge rural hinterlands that do not have the same library facilities.