Armagh Robinson Library is an independent reference library and, with its second building at nearby No. 5 Vicars’ Hill, is an accredited museum. It is the oldest publicly accessible Library in Northern Ireland, older by seventeen years than the Linen Hall Library in Belfast. Founded by Archbishop Richard Robinson in 1771, and incorporated by an Act of Parliament of 1773, it still contains its original collections, in the Grade A listed building purpose-built to house them.
Based in an eighteenth-century building, with manuscripts dating back to the twelfth century and books to the 1480s, there is a perception that the Library is only for ‘serious scholars’. This paper will demonstrate how the Library has been challenging this assumption as staff combine the continuing care of collections with the engagement of a diverse audience, including very young children. In particular, it will focus on the Library’s dementia friendly initiatives and participation in the Northern Ireland Museums Council’s Playful Museums Initiative.
During recent years the latter has involved the Library welcoming parents and their under five-year-old children. They have also worked with young adults with autism. Staff have tried out different events, experimented with new activities, and worked in partnership with organisations for the first time, including local Early Bird and Sure Start Groups, the Southern Health Trust of Northern Ireland, the Alzheimer’s Society and Armagh Memories Café and Carers’ Group. This paper will provide a synopsis of staff learning, obtained through undertaking activities to enrich access for everyone to enjoy the Library and its collections.