In honor of St. Patrick’s Day and Irish-American Heritage Month, I visited the United Irish Cultural Center’s Patrick J. Dowling Library for the next part of my Special Libraries Project. The library opened in 1975 and was the first all-Irish library in the US. It is open in the afternoon three days each week, dependent upon volunteer availability.
The library is run by a solo librarian with the support of a cadre of volunteers. It’s housed in a small room connected to the main center. There is no OPAC and the collection is accessed through a card catalog, although some serials, new titles, VHS tapes, microfilm/microfiche, and genealogy records have been indexed and are available as a listing on the library’s website. They are in the process of digitizing the catalog, which uses the Dewey Decimal system.
The mission of the library is to “promote Irish/Irish American literature, history and culture by preserving and modernizing the collection of books, periodicals, and multimedia at the Patrick J. Dowling Library and by providing public access to the collection”.
There is no collecting policy and no acquisition budget. Rather, the library relies on donated items, which are processed by volunteers and the librarian. Books are also purchased with revenue from used book sales. Due to its small size, the library has a backlog of donated items to process. Unfortunately, there is also a severe lack of storage space, forcing the library to keep overflow boxes spread throughout the room.
Special collections include rare books, a fun collection on Irish language titles, genealogy titles, sheet music, and Ireland maps. There are also Irish music cassette tapes, records, and VHS tapes. The library also has an archive on the history of its parent organization, the United Irish Cultural Center.
A display case holds rare books and ephemera. According to the website, the oldest book in the library is from 1763, Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem by James MacPherson.
The day I visited, a fellow library student was helping to inventory a large donation of old Sinn Fein publications.
The volunteers were all very friendly. If you want help researching your Irish roots and need information on Irish-related topics, check them out.
• Number of staff – 1 very part-time librarian and many volunteers
• Number of visitors last year – Couldn’t obtain this, but their website says 1,000 visitors in 2009
• Number of books – Between 3,000 and 5,000
• Number of periodicals – Couldn’t get this info
• Number of databases – 0
• Number of computers for patron use – 0 (one for staff/volunteers)
• Reference methods – In person, by phone, and email
• Number of reference questions last year – Wasn’t able to get this info
• Target users – Wasn’t able to get this info
• Circulation – Non-circulating
• Special collections – Irish language titles, genealogy titles, sheet music, and maps
• Notable items – A signed copy of Borstal Boy, by Brendan Behan; My Kilkenny I.RA. Days 1916-1922 by James J. Comerford, one of only three US library copies; and Sinn Fein Rebellion Handbook Easter, 1916. Also, a Garda Siochana uniform, pictured above.
• Public Wi-Fi – None
• Other services – None