The importance of spending time outside

by Aoife Lawton, National Health Service Librarian at Health Service Executive
@aalawton on Twitter

"We spend more minutes in our virtual worlds than outside" - Dublin streetscape

“We spend more minutes in our virtual worlds than outside” – Dublin streetscape

This is a photo I took in the summer of 2016 on a sunny day in Dublin, Ireland. I regularly commute using a Luas[1] tram that brings me from the centre of Dublin city to my office in the health service, which is located opposite Dublin’s main train station, Heuston. This photo struck me for three reasons. Firstly, 2016 was a year when we celebrated (if that is the right word) 100 years of a historical event called the Easter rising. The Easter rising was the beginning of Irish independence from British rule and led to Ireland becoming a republic. The question posed by Dublin City Council on this sign asks its citizen, ‘How will you remember?’ referring to the 1916 centenary. Librarians have played their part by capturing the digital record of Ireland in 2016 through the leadership of the National Library of Ireland. Contributing to a nation’s cultural heritage and overseeing its preservation is a pivotal role for our profession.

Secondly, underneath this call to action lies a mural which captures a 21st century phenomenon. It states that we are all spending more time in virtual worlds than we do outside. This makes me wonder, following on from the previous question, how will we remember life one hundred years from now? Will our descendants look back and wonder what we were all doing spending the majority of our lives in virtual worlds rather than the real world?

Do we need to go outside? Is fresh air important? If you experience writer’s block or your research needs a fresh approach, moving outside might just do the trick. For example, I got off the Luas to take this photo, which led to me writing this blog piece. Taking in the outside environment, and maybe even looking at your place of work with a fresh lens, will lend itself to new ideas. The benefits of fresh air are well documented and contact with nature in urban areas can promote health[2].

Finally, the background of the photo shows a derelict building built in the 1970s, a time of mass construction in Ireland. Unfortunately, many of the buildings constructed during this time were lacking imagination, long-term thinking, and planning. This building used to house the Motor Taxation office, which was one of several such offices. In 2013, a new office opened and all other branches closed. The new office is for the whole of Dublin processing 620,469 registrations in 2015[3]. This function has moved online, with the majority of Dublin motorists (75%) buying or renewing their tax online[4]. A new office exists in a nearby street which caters to people who prefer to do their business in person and those who do not have the means, or perhaps digital literacy, to access this service online.

It is a sign of the times, everything is moving online – including people. Buildings are changing their function and their purpose. Relocation, reinvention, and repurposing are on the agenda. This resonates with libraries and librarians. Our buildings are being repurposed[5] and many of our access points have already moved online. Some library branches are closing with centralisation of functions[6] replacing them. We are moving with the times and changing our buildings and our functions.

I took three messages from this photo which I took while outside. For writers and researchers practicing evidence based librarianship, I would encourage you to gain insights from the outdoors and to take photos. They inspire.

[1] The word Luas is an Irish word which translates as ‘Speed’ in English.

[2] Van den Berg, Agnes E., Terry Hartig, and Henk Staats. “Preference for nature in urbanized societies: Stress, restoration, and the pursuit of sustainability.” Journal of social issues 63.1 (2007): 79-96.

[3] Based on statistics available from Central Statistics Office See
[4] See

[5] See Somerville, Mary M., and Margaret Brown-Sica. “Library space planning: a participatory action research approach.” The Electronic Library 29.5 (2011): 669-681; Ross, Lyman, and Pongracz Sennyey. “The library is dead, long live the library! The practice of academic librarianship and the digital revolution.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 34.2 (2008): 145-152; Brown-Sica, Margaret. “Using academic courses to generate data for use in evidence based library planning.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship 39.3 (2013): 275-287.

[6] See Chitty, Teresa, and Jenny Ellis. “But where is the library…?: Reframing the library at the University of Melbourne in a shared services environment.” (2016); Owen, Gareth Wyn, and Gareth Wyn Owen. “Delivering a shared library management system for Wales.” Library Management 37.6/7 (2016): 385-395.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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