Thursday, August 4, 2011

Scotland II: Edinburgh Central Library

We had a lunch break after the National Records, then headed over to the Edinburgh Central Library. We learned that it opened in 1890.  It is a Carnegie Library, located in the centre of the city.  It serves the whole city, and has an impressive range of services and programs aimed at every reading level and age group.  During our visit to the Central Library we received a tour and a brief introduction to three of the library departments.  We heard from Alyson who is on the Digital Information Team, Annie from Reader Development, and Wendy from Learning in Libraries.  Each of these ladies outlined what services their departments provide, and what steps they are taking to enact further improvements.

Alyson gave her presentation first; her team is in charge of the Edinburgh wide online library systems.  The website includes an online catalog, but they also operate social media platforms.  The library has a blog, and a mobile app was just launched.  The yourlibrary section is a collection of many online resources available to members.  The Central Library was an early adopter of social media, and they have remained on the cutting edge.  They have a special “tales of the city” program for Edinburgh local authors and artists to have a voice.  The library is on twitter, flickr, and youtube.  Their blog gets more than 5,000 hits a month.  Alyson and her team believe that the strong social media components have helped increase physical use of the library and general attendance to events since it is easy to spread the word using electronic means.  A digital newsletter is sent out each month to several thousand users who chose to subscribe.

The physical Central library has three plasma screens throughout the building which advertise upcoming events and other promotions.  They also have a large touch screen in the main lobby, which is an interactive map of the building.  It’s a relatively new platform and has been well received.  The Digital Information Team is hoping to add online exhibitions to the touch screen in the near future, with a local Edinburgh focus.  The library has taken big strides towards digitizing certain parts of its collections, such as Scottish heritage and culture.  The team has a full plate and a busy schedule.  Everyone is doing their best to maintain their current services and add new ideas when possible.

Annie from Reader Development spoke second.  She is part of a two person team in charge of planning author events and library promotions.  She and Collin work with the Scottish Book Trust to plan book club ideas and author visits.  They also participate in UK wide networks to attract a wider range of authors.  They run many different venues for many age groups and covering a variety of interests.  Recently they did a promotion with Tesco for a recyclable bag which featured the book covers of bestsellers.  The department tries to help readers expand beyond their traditional genres and encourage folks to try new things.  They operate both online and in house staff training sessions to improve staff-patron interactions.  14 employees are currently working their way through the program. 

46 book talks occur throughout Edinburgh; Annie’s department oversees them all.  The library provides lists of over 80 titles and the different groups chose their own titles.  The book talks have taken off so well in the past few years that the Library has extended their services to private groups as well.  Staff member in the department spend a lot of time organizing and packaging up the books for each group. 
They also operate “read-alouds” for elderly folks and those in care homes (nursing homes).  The Library partners with the Scottish Poetry Library in this program.  Volunteers read books, share stories and simply sit and chat with those residents who are willing to participate.  Approximately 40-50 currently volunteer with the program and everyone seems to really enjoy the sessions. 

Wendy closed out the introductions by sharing about her department, Literacy and Learning.  Her department focuses on computer education, literacy and numeracy.  They mostly serve an older patron base, those who are 50 or older, but a few younger people take advantage of the services as well.  They operate Learning IT courses, for both beginner and intermediate computer literacy.  The programs typically are held for 2 hours a week, for six weeks.  The library provides an informal, warm place for people to learn and ask questions.  The department also runs IT Buddies, which is a one on one training session.  This program has 30 volunteers, and typically runs for four to six weeks, on an overlapping, rotating schedule.  Last year they logged 1,200 volunteer hours on this one program alone.  The library is looking into the possibility of adding a family history computer course in the near future, as well as social networking and career assistance. 

The other main focus of this department is on adult literacy.  It’s aimed at native Scots and those to whom English is a second language.  They have a new six book challenge to encourage reluctant readers to start somewhere and have a goal.  The pilot run went well and they expect positive results.  The coordinators don’t care what books people read as long as they fit their reading level and interests them. 

A couple of websites
Central Library website:
Yourlibrary online:
Edinburgh Library Blog (124 posts on Central Library):
I really enjoyed the presentation and tour that we received at the Edinburgh Central Library.  All the ladies were enthusiastic about their departments, and they were all involved in so many things.  Their passion and love of their profession really shone through in their introductions.  The Library has a very active presence in the city, and the staff members whom we met were all dedicated and seemed really positive about what they were doing.  I’m sure there are struggles, but they seemed confident of their place in the city, they know that they are a valuable asset to the people and they hold the people’s trust.  They are embracing digitization projects, getting involved with social media, have book talks for a huge variety of readers, and are doing everything possible to get more people to come through the doors.  Author visits, computer courses, local history, online accessibility, and book talks are a few of their key services.  The Central Library felt like a very cutting edge place to work.  They were willing to try experiments and new approaches to reach under-reached readers.  I was impressed by everything that they were doing, and the fact that they are constantly working to improve by gathering feedback.  It’s an amazing library which has opened its doors to everyone.

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