At the helm of every library are the wonderful librarians who ensure that each building is a welcoming place with opportunities for learning, wonderment and joy. A happy side-effect of a librarian’s job is that they have an incredible depth of knowledge of books and of all the great things happening in their community. We wanted to hear more about what they do…
Librarian and Administrator for the DUBLIN Literary Award
“We connect and collaborate with librarians worldwide, enabling every librarian to be involved in a united process to select their chosen novel.”
Úna Smyth, Librarian and Administrator for the DUBLIN Literary Award
Tell us a little about your role with Dublin City Libraries and the kind of things that you do
I am Librarian and Administrator for the DUBLIN Literary Award – a book prize presented annually for a novel written or translated into English. The award is one of the most respected and distinctive literary prizes around as books are nominated by public libraries in cities around the world. There is no commercial input from publishers, booksellers, or literary agents and no library is excluded from nominating. A truly inclusive process, we connect and collaborate with librarians worldwide, enabling every librarian to be involved in a united process to select their chosen novel. At €100,000, the award is one of the most valuable book prizes in the world.
The award is just one of the many literary programmes managed by the Dublin UNESCO City of Literature team at Dublin City Libraries. Alison Lyons, the Director, leads a team of five and myself and Laura Tighe work exclusively on the Award however there is always a huge amount of support from the rest of the team. Our roles involve the planning, organising and implementation of each award event – the longlist, the shortlist and winner announcement. We are also responsible for managing the library nominations process from beginning to end, co-ordinating all promotional activities, including social media, liaising and negotiating with print and web designers, PR agencies and event management companies and handling budgeting and invoicing. The role also provides support to an international panel of Judges which includes selecting the Judges each year, coordinating the delivery of books to the Judges, booking flights and accommodation for their visits to Dublin (if and when that resumes), and scheduling all their meetings.
The Award office is a very exciting and busy place to work, and no day is the same. The job is full of variety which I enjoy and I get to work with so many different groups of people. For five months of the year, the Award team organise two separate award years at the same time, but at different stages of the process, so time management is key.
Tell us about the library where you work? What are you most proud of?
I am based at Dublin City Library and Archive on Pearse Street in the heart of Dublin City. It is the administrative HQ of Dublin City Libraries. I work alongside a great bunch of people who manage the essential services required to run a modern and dynamic library service for the city of Dublin: the UNESCO City of Literature, Finance and Facilities, Staff Support, Children Services, Festival of History, Digital Marketing & Communications, IT support, the Reading Room and archives, and the Management team.
Following an extraordinary year, the DUBLIN Literary Award team adapted exceptionally well to all the challenges presented by COVID-19. Overnight, the 2020 shortlist and winner announcement events were postponed and an unprecedented decision was made to move from live produced events to a selection of virtual offerings. Taking events to the virtual realm removed barriers, resulting in attendance and viewing rates been multiples higher than their live counterparts.
In midst of reimagining the 2020 Award, I’m proud of how Laura Tighe and I found the time to work with various groups in the community to ensure they had the opportunity to engage with the various novels nominated for the Award, particularly when Libraries were closed. We worked with and donated books to the prison service for their reading groups, we prepared gift box of books for Cocooners, we ran a number of book giveaways on social media, and we worked with Finglas Library to donate multiple copies of Milkman, the 2020 winner of the Award, to a local transition year class.
The winner of the 2021 Award will be announced on the 20th May, just seven months after announcing the 2020 Winner. In previous years, there was always twelve months between the winner announcements, so this turnaround is quite extraordinary so I’m most proud of the team’s achievement to make this happen.
Who was one of the most inspirational or interesting people you have met in your work with Dublin City Libraries?
We have the privilege of having Prof. Chris Morash, a Seamus Heaney Professor of Irish Writing at Trinity College Dublin, as the non-voting chair of the Judging Panel. Chris is a joy to work with and his enthusiasm and loyalty for the award and to DCL is outstanding. He is exceptionally generous with his time and he is always available to do interviews with RTÉ television and radio. Whenever I’m having a bad ‘Award’ day, a mail from Chris generally snaps me out of it as Chris’s professionalism and commitment to his role is inspirational and infectious.
The Award is now entirely a Dublin City initiative, sponsored by Dublin City Council since 2015. The original private sector sponsoring partner was the company, IMPAC, hence why it’s still called the IMPAC award. Dublin City Council’s role as sponsor is a huge statement of encouragement and support for writers nationally and internationally. DCC’s commitment allows the citizens of Dublin and the world to engage with the best contemporary, and ensures that books have a prominent place in our culture.
What was your favourite book as a child?
It would have to be the Kevin and Sadie series, written by Joan Lingard. The books are set in Norther Ireland and England,against the backdrop of the Northern Ireland conflict and deal with a young couple; Sadie who is from the Protestant community, and Kevin, who is from the Irish Catholic community. The young couple fall in love, despite the various physical and psychological barriers in their society. There are five books in the series, and it’s great that the books have never been out of print in the 50 years since the first one was published.
What are you reading right now?
I am reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Vietnamese-American author Ocean Vuong. It is the book that has received the most nominations for 2021 and I’m really enjoying it.
The DUBLIN Literary Award produces a great list of recommended reading and the strength of the prize is that it can champion novels that have been unfairly overlooked so you will always find something unique and special. Check outhttps://dublinliteraryaward.ie to find those hidden gems!
Which of your books is battered from using again and again?
My copy of Nevin Maguire’s Complete Family Cookbook is my most battered book. From a very young age, I have always enjoyed cooking. I find the whole cooking experience to be very soothing, especially after a busy day, and with a glass of wine by my side! Myself and my husband work full time and with three active children, dinner time is an important part of our day as it allows us to catch up with each other and chat over some good food. My three children also enjoy cooking and I’m regularly treated to breakfast in bed by my daughter Sarah, who makes very yummy crepes! Thank heaven for Neven, and for daughters!
Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.
There are so many! One, which might surprise people is, I came to work in public libraries late in my career, having worked for the most part in the private sector i.e. Aer Lingus, Accenture. After having my first son, I was keen to work in a family friendly organisation, so in 2007, I joined Fingal Libraries as a Library Assistant. In 2015 I was given a bursary from Fingal Libraries to study Librarianship full time and in 2016 I completed a Master of Science in Library and Information Management with DBS. I loved working in Fingal Libraries however after 12 years I was curious about working in a different library authority so I joined Dublin City Libraries as Librarian in July 2019, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Back in August, we formed a partnership with the International Literature Festival Dublin (ILFDublin). The partnership has been a really positive experience for the Award team and our future together is looking very bright. With shared ambitions to celebrate and promote international literature, our partnership has gone from strength to strength and we are thrilled to work with them again this year.
As I mentioned earlier, the 2021 longlist of library nominations was announced on the 4th February. So mark your diaries as the shortlist will be announced on 25th March 2021 and the winner announcement will take place on 20th May 2021, as part of the opening day programme of International Literature Festival Dublin.
We want to hear about the books that matter to you. Tell us about your most cherished books, what you’re reading right now, your favourite book from your childhood, and the books that make up the story of your life. Share your recommended reads and take part here