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A Day in the Life: Austin Vaughan

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STAYING RELEVANT County Librarian Austin Vaughan is happy to report there was 408,000 library visits across the county last year. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Factfile

Name: Austin Vaughan
From: Castlebar via Clare and Navan
Occupation: County Librarian

French writer Émile Zola once penned ‘If you asked me why I came to Earth, I came to live out loud’.
The phrase ‘living out loud’ is probably an unusual one for a librarian to have on my desk, but I like it. I try to enjoy life and get the most out of every day, so Zola’s words are apt, I think.
Of course, every day is different, but usually I’m out of bed by 8am in the morning and in the office about ten to nine, just before the traffic gets bad! I live five minutes away from the library (in Castlebar), so there’s no big commute.
Before leaving home I’ll always have cereal. My wife, Martina, is a vegan so there’s always home-made muesli in the house and it’s a great way to kick off the day.
Usually, mornings mean I’m at my desk in the office doing everything from Zoom meetings and answering emails to arranging building maintenance and staffing issues. We have 14 buildings throughout Mayo and there might be plumbers or electricians needed somewhere and then there might be staff off sick or on holidays and we’d have to redeploy someone to cover for them.
On other occasions, I’m on the road visiting branches and seeing the great work going on throughout the county. We always have something new going on and at the moment we’re getting ready to implement an initiative called ‘Open Libraries’ in Swinford, Ballina and possibly Belmullet. The project will allow people swipe their card and go in to the library out-of-hours. Of course, there will be CCTV in place to keep it safe for everyone.
This will be especially handy for students who make great use of use of our libraries especially before exams. Usually, the library here in Castlebar is packed to capacity coming up to exam times, but that was different this year.
At the moment, we don’t know what next year will bring, but with some Third Level courses going online, we may be even busier in the future, who knows?
We’re always looking to give people what they want and the shelves of libraries are often a reflection of societal changes. Five years ago there might be two books on vegetarianism here in the library – now there are shelves with every type of diet imaginable – keto diet, paleo diet, which is some pre-historic style of eating, plant-based diets and all that area.
There is a huge emphasis on wellness at the moment and that’s reflected in the library. Coincidentally, the Psychology section is next to the Religion section, and the Psychology one is huge while religion has gone the other way. Maybe positivity and wellness is the new religion and people are finding their happiness there!

Sense of identity
We’re also very aware of the sense of identity here and we try and buy everything to do with Mayo whether it’s a poetry book or a poster or a medal. We constantly check the auction catalogues to watch out for items to add to our collection.
We’re always on the lookout for rare pieces to do with Mayo – for example if anyone ever comes across Knight’s History of Erris from the 19th century I’d advise them to buy it, because they’re as rare as hen’s teeth.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed almost every aspect of life and the library service is no different. The staff throughout our 14 locations have been wonderful and rose to every challenge put in front of them.
We put a huge emphasis online and the response has been spectacular with a 200 percent increase in audio books or books one can read on your tablet or phone.
Online courses from pottery to presentations and writing to the latest version of Windows, also went up massively. We put up a large amount of local history too and the reaction to that was wonderful. One of the staff here, Kayleigh, started an online Story-Hour for the kids and they loved it. She became an expert at it and that’s an example of the work our staff have been doing in recent times.
Now, our goal is to get people back into their local library and everyone can rest assured we’re taking the proper precautions. All the books returned are quarantined for 72 hours and we’re working hard to keep libraries safe for all.
We know how important reading is for everyone, particularly our young people, even in these days of technological wizardry. In school, the reading is for a purpose ‘Sean is in the tree and Mary is looking at him,’ but here in the library we emphasise reading-for-pleasure and we’d have books like ‘Grandad is Mad’ and all the irreverent stuff, which they love.
David Walliams and Roald Dahl are hugely popular and of course JK Rowling got a generation reading 700-page books, which is just amazing. I never thought I would ever see anything like that in my lifetime.
I’m in Mayo 25 years now and there have been times when I have been pessimistic about the future of books when the Kindle came out and things like that, but books survived. People like the smell, the feel and the look of books and our statistics show that.
Last year in our Mayo branches, we had 408,000 visits; over 600,000 books borrowed by 23,000 members and we hosted 350 events.
We loaned a huge number of musical instruments too – a service that surprises people. You can come into Ballina, Belmullet or Castlebar and ask for a cello or an accordion or whatever and keep them for six months and it has proved to be very popular.
Thanks to Minister Michael Ring, we now have funding to provide sensory rooms in Ballina and Castlebar for people with autism and other sensory impairments, which will be another great string to our bow.
Therefore, my days are certainly filled with a myriad of projects and tasks.
To unwind, I enjoy my evenings. I’d be late enough going to bed at night. I suppose I’m more of an owl than a lark. I read at night, love music, and have a great interest in football. I’m also in a hillwalking group and we’ve seen some amazing parts of Mayo from a different angle. This truly is a special county and we’re very lucky to live here.

In conversation with Michael Gallagher

Quickfire questions

If money was no object, what would you do every day?   
That’s a tough one – much the same as I do today, I think

Most unusual thing you have eaten?
Snake in Thailand. It tasted like chicken, but then again, almost everything is supposed to taste like chicken!

Favourite place you have visited?
Barcelona – It’s so vibrant. It has two of the best football teams in the world and is full of vibrant, colourful Catalans

What makes you nervous?
Budget-time in Mayo County Council

Best advice you ever got?
Man’s greatest responsibility in life is to be happy – Robert Lewis Stevenson

Three things always in your fridge?
Milk, yoghurt and fruit, although people say you shouldn’t keep fruit in the fridge

Name three celebrities you would invite to your Zoom party?
Bruce Springsteen, Jurgen Klopp and Bob Dylan

Most prized possession?
A nice bottle of Redbreast Whiskey

First hero?
Mick O’Connell was the first sporting hero I had

Sum up the coronavirus in three words?
Frustrating – Contemplative - Opportunity

Last book you read?
‘The Tender Bar’ by JR Moehringer. A local bar in Long Island frequented by everyone from the Vietnam veteran to the unemployed guy to the businessman. It’s really good