Public library services


Public libraries are open to everyone. You do not have to be a member of the library if you just want to read something in the library, ask a question or consult a reference work (for example, a telephone directory or a dictionary or an encyclopaedia).

You will, however, need to join the library if you want to borrow books or other items or, in most cases, if you want to use the internet.

There are differences in the services particular libraries provide, depending on the size and location of the branch and on the policies of the library service.

Lending services

All public libraries provide books which can be borrowed by members of the library. All kinds of books can be borrowed, fiction (such as the latest bestseller or a classic novel) and non-fiction (such as history, biography, science, travel or self-help). In addition to standard books, libraries also have many books in large print format, which are popular with readers with a visual impairment.

Children's lending service

In most libraries there are adult and junior sections. Children up to a certain age use the junior section only which provides books and other materials especially for children. Books for children of all ages, from babies up to teenagers are available in the junior library.

Reserves and requests

If the book you want is already out on loan, you can reserve it. The library will notify you when the book is available for you to borrow.

If the library does not have the book you want, you can request it, again by filling in a form. The library may purchase the book or may look for a copy through the inter-library loan system. This is a system through which libraries in Ireland, the UK, and around the world, loan items to each other for the use of library members.

Other materials

In addition to books, in most libraries you can borrow audio-books, which are recorded readings of books. Books of all kinds are available on recording and they come on both cassettes and CDs. In some libraries you can borrow ebooks.

In many libraries you can borrow compact discs and cassettes of music. These range from popular chart music to traditional and classical music.

Some libraries have selections of prints and paintings which can also be borrowed.

Magazines and newspapers

Public libraries carry a range of journals and periodicals including national and local newspapers and magazines on a variety of topics (for example, business, health and lifestyle, gardening, science, nature, history).

Reference and general information services

All public libraries have reference sections, containing books and other materials which can be consulted in the library. Reference sections typically include resources such as dictionaries, directories, encyclopaedias, government publications, business information, yearbooks and atlases. Some reference material, in particular business-related material, is available on CD or over the internet.

Public libraries can also provide contact details and information on the services provided by the county council or corporation and by government departments, for example, social welfare information.

Most libraries also hold a lot of local information about clubs and societies and events in their locality.

Local studies

All public libraries collect materials about the history of their county or locality. There is a huge range of material available including county and parish histories, maps, photographs, drawings, old records, and newspapers. In some cases the main local history collection will be in the county library so you should check this at your local branch.

Internet services

All public library services now have computers which the public can use to access the internet. In most cases you must be a member of the library to use the computers. Usually you will have to book a session in advance but you should check this in your local branch. Many libraries now offer introductory sessions for new users.

Individual library catalogues can be searched online by author, title or keyword. The system is accessed using library borrower number and a personal identification number (PIN). In addition, it is possible to request a book, renew loans and check borrower information such as loans and reservations online.

Online access to digitised content from public libraries is available through, for example, Ebooks and eaudio books can be borrowed via the BorrowBox service.

Self-directed learning

Many public libraries, particularly the larger ones, provide resources to enable users learn or follow a course of study themselves. These include learning packs, online learning modules, learning booths, training materials and short courses. Ask for details at your local branch.


Anyone can use and/or join their public library.

The number of items you can borrow at any one time and the length of time you may keep them varies. You should ask for details at your local library.

You may need to book some services, such as language learning or the internet in advance.

Children may only borrow items from the junior library. The age at which young people may use the adult library varies so you should check this at your local library.


Although most services in most public libraries are free, there are some charges which you may have to pay. Some libraries have a small membership charge and most levy fines for the late return of books or other borrowed items. There is usually a small charge for reservations or requests. Ask at your local library for details. All public libraries charge for photocopying.

How to apply

Some requirements will vary, depending on the library service, but the following apply to most, if not all, library services:

  • In order to join the library you need to fill out an application form at any branch.
  • You must produce some proof of your identity and of your address.
  • If you are under 18 years of age you will have to have get someone aged over 18 (for example, a parent or guardian) to sign as a guarantor.
  • Each library service issues its own library card. Since the introduction of the Libraries Ireland initiative in 2017, any valid public library card can be used to reserve and borrow items from any public library.

Further information

There is more information on public libraries on the Libraries Ireland website.

Page edited: 12 January 2018