Sunday, August 7, 2011

Scotland III: Dunfermline Carnegie Library

From Edinburgh we took the train to Dunfermline, the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie.  The Dunfermline Public Library is the first library that Carnegie donated the funds to have built.  He donated a total of 8,000 pounds; the amount covered much of the costs, but not all.  Construction began in 1881 and the library was opened in August of 1883.  It was originally run by the local council, but was taken over by the Carnegie Trust in 1902 due to financial difficulties.  It became financially stable again in 1922 and was reclaimed by the Fife Council.  It is a part of SPICe, Scottish Parliament Information Centre.  On its opening day the shelves were completely cleared out as over 2,000 items were checked out by new patrons.

Our tour was led by Ross Manning, the Customer Service Librarian.  He explained that the building has gone through several extensions and expansions since the 1880’s.  The first was in 1922, then again in 1992.  As part of the 1992 expansion a whole new children’s library and several meeting rooms were added.  The Abby Room is used as an exhibition space; they had an exhibit on the Pharaoh’s of Fife, a local company which makes Egyptian replicas.  When no exhibits are on display the rooms is used as extra patron/staff space.  The library is a lending library and its collections hold around 59,000 items. 

There is a reference library in its own room, which houses the library’s special collections.  The reference room is used for quiet study, with reader spaces and computers available.  The special collections are in a locked room and feature the Murison Burns Collection, which focuses on the works of Robert Burns.  Several first and rare edition copies are part of the collection.  The George Reid Collection features many rare and valuable items including a 15th C copy of Summa Theologica, a Shakespeare Second Folio, a 15th C Book of Hours, and works of Chaucer and Shakespeare. 
The library also has a strong local history collection.  The most frequently used items are kept on a reference shelf for easy patron access.  Several large photograph collections are housed in local history.  They hold the local parish records, and other family history information.  The librarians are currently working on digitizing the local history catalog.

In the future the library is considering adding a museum and gallery in the building next door to the library.  All three spaces would be integrated together and considered as one entity.  The local council has approved the idea and committed some funds to the project.  The library hopes the new space will be opened by 2015, as a way for people to access history, art, and culture all in one place. 

When we were ready to leave the Dunfermline Library we were each given a bag containing brochures, pamphlets, and two books.  I always like getting free books.  The one book was called Blood and Ice and as I read it I discovered it was a vampire book.  It was an old advance reader’s proof copy, I figure the library had too many copies, or had used it for a book club and had leftovers.  It gave me something to read on the train ride back to London.  The other book was Cardboard Wedding Cakes, a short book about local Fife history during WWII. 

The Dunfermline Library was interesting to visit in part because it was the first Carnegie Library.  The staff members we met were very nice.  I enjoyed seeing the special collections; old rare items always interest me.  I also appreciated that we were shown the “work room,” a small area which is part storage part staff room for projects.  We got a glimpse of the actuality of working in a small space and how disorganized collections can become when staff members have limited time to spend in one space.  We were told that some of the boxes and crates had not been opened in years, and that the staff just didn’t have the time to go through everything.  I appreciated the honest assessment that we received and the insight into challenges and rewards of running a public library.

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