9th January 2018 – Quiet Please: Inside Dublin Libraries

by  Oona Roycroft
(Skerries Historical Society Meeting – January 2018)

Quiet Please! Inside Dublin Libraries
The January presentation to Skerries Historical Society, ‘Quiet Please! Inside Dublin libraries’ by Oona Roycroft, was based on the recollections of two local ladies who between them spent seventy five years working in libraries.

Pauline Hanlon started work in the Dublin City Library Service in the 1940s when she was nineteen years old, qualified as a librarian in the 1950s and continued working in the library service all around the Dublin area until her retirement in 1990.

For Anna MacMahon running a library was her second career – she had already raised a family when she started work in Skerries library. She remained the lady behind the desk for thirty one years.

Pauline began at a time when the Dublin public library service was expanding rapidly. Yet her anecdotes have a very personal feel to them. Imagine walking around Capel Street library, fifteen books balanced on one arm (librarians have no need of gym membership!) as you look for the right shelf for each of them. You turn a corner and there is Brendan Behan: a voracious reader as often to be found in public libraries as public houses.

Pauline had to deal with all kinds of characters during her long career in the library service. What kind of reader would have put a slice of streaky bacon between the pages of a book? Perhaps an absent-minded one who had accidentally eaten his bookmark for breakfast!

Then there was the small boy with filthy hands who wanted to browse the children’s section. Pauline sent him home to wash his hands first but regretted it when he returned with hands as black as before but with his furious mother in tow demanding to know why her son was being denied his right to read in the public library. Another time, Pauline thought to herself, I’ll take the boy into the staff toilets and wash his hands myself!

There was also a wealth of anecdotes about Anna MacMahon’s time in Skerries library. Anna is Skerries born and bred and running the library for over three decades ensured her place in Skerries’ ‘hall of fame’. Nor did she just stick to running the library. The Carnegie building is so eye catching that visitors often mistook it for the Town Hall. Many’s the time that Anna acted as a tourist guide and direct confused trippers to the many points of interest in the town.

What about the room upstairs? It wasn’t just used for books – the Marian Society put on shows up there and it was the place to hold a family celebration. The annual Easter Saturday sleepover to raise funds for the Vincent de Paul Society was held there and clothes for the Love for China drive to help orphaned and abandoned babies were stored in the library until they were ready to be dispatched. The library is due for a facelift and the hope is that the room upstairs will be able to be used once more.

Report by Oona Roycroft