My summer of libraries, archives, and museums in Britain
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
The Barbican Library is located inside the Barbican Centre, a post WWII concrete building.From the outside the Centre didn’t look all that impressive but it was very nice on the inside.The Centre has a café, theatre, restaurant, and library.The Centre was a gift from the City of London, the chief burghers and guilds.The first library was for reference use only.Under the 1964 Public Library Act it started full lending services, and the Barbican is one of only three public lending libraries in the City.
It is funded by the local authority, is part of the Corporation of London Libraries and exists primarily to serve the local population.The Barbican region is composed of ~11,000 people, but is open and available to all of London.The Library is a tenant to the Centre, they don’t own the floor space which they use.As such, they are often affected by events in the Centre.As the librarian Jonathan said, bagpipes and drums are not fun in a library, but if the Centre rents out the space the Library can’t refuse.
The majority of their patrons are 25-35 year old working folk, more men than women.They do serve some children and elderly people, but the area is primarily young/middle age working class in areas such as management, accounting, and law.The library does serve some students, especially from the nearby universities.Every two years the library does a survey to keep up to date with their patron base and to know how best to serve the community.
The Library is located on parts of the second and third floors of the Centre.The Centre would not allow the Library to have a letterbox outside its door for returning items, so the Library has installed a return and catalog search station outside, so patrons can return items after hours.The Barbican utilizes RFID technology (radio frequency identification scheme).It’s the same chip technology as in Oyster cards and newer passports.They have chips in every book, DVD, CD, and other items in the collection; utilized for both security and identification.Member cards do not have chips, just barcodes.
The Barbican decided to use a hybrid system for all their services, some electronic and do-it-yourself and some physical services with librarians at the desk.They want people to have the option to use either method.The librarians know many younger folk are fine with self-checkout machines, but that many elderly folk completely avoid them.Some patrons simply enjoy interacting with a person at a library.
The Barbican has strong collections in arts, young adult, children’s, dvds and videos and reference.They have a computer section, called ‘the people’s network’ where patrons can use internet for 2 up to 2 hours.One of their most interesting collections is the London collection, which is composed of 8-9,000 items relating to London.The oldest items date to 1742, and everything item is able to be checked out.The most popular 1,000 or so titles are on the shelves, the rest are in closed stacks.Though not in an area with many children, they have a large and well furbished children’s library.They make a strong effort to reach out to mums and tots.Their summer reading program last year reached around 350 kids.
The Barbican also has an independent Music Library, one of only 2 in the City.Westminster has a larger paper collection, but the 2 libraries compliment each other quite well, and often refer patrons to use both collections.It opened in 1983, and our tour there was led by the Assistant Librarian Richard.All the members of staff in the music library are experienced musicians, dedicated to assisting anyone interested in music.One really cool aspect was the ability for patrons to practice music before checking items out.They have two electronic keyboards with headsets which people can book for one hour blocks of time.Most days both keyboards are completely booked out.
The collection has around 9,000 books mostly in jazz, classical, and biographies.They have around 15-16,000 CDs, probably the largest collection in the country.They have 5 listening booths where patrons can preview items before checking them out, and they also have 5 laptop internet accessible booths. All in all two very impressive collections housed in an unexpected place.