Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Barbican Library Visit
Image: London Collection at Barbican Library. Libraries often have low light and are hard to photograph without a tripod!
Although I aspire to work in an academic or special library setting, my reality is public library work (circulation, ready reference, and shelf maintenance), and these experiences framed my experience of today's visit to the Barbican Library
As we learned on the tour, the Library is divided into three components: a General Library, a Music Library, and a Children's Library.
The General Library tour was led by librarian John Lake. He began by briefing our group on the Barbican Centre's history, the Library's history, and its user profile. I was not familiar with the history of the Barbican and was fascinated to learn that it was built over an area that had been bombed out during the second world war. The process from planning to completion was a long one, and the complex did not open until 1982. The library opened at the same time, and serves the 9,000 residents and 350,000 employees of the center. These are largely educated white British professionals, but the also provides services for migrant and immigrant patrons.
Like the library where I work, the Barbican Library's collection development and services are strongly geared towards meeting user needs. Lake explained that user needs are established by staff documenting informal feedback, as well as by surveys the British government requires all libraries to conduct every two years.
Touring the Music Library with assistant librarian Richard Jones was incredibly impressive, not only because the Barbican Music Library has such an enormous collection of musical scores, books about music, and music CDs and DVDs, but also because of the challenges unique to this sort of collection. For instance, every score the Library purchases must be bound to prevent it from becoming too damaged, and we were shown an example of a case that needed to be constructed to keep the two bound scores in a piece for two pianos together. The extent of this collection goes far beyond my own library's CD collection, and I envy not just the researchers and music students who make up the bulk of the Barbican Music Library users, but also the general public that has access to this amazing resource!
By the time we got to the Barbican Children's Library, I don't think anyone would have said no to a nap and we readily piled into the curved storytime seats. The Children's librarian discussed their collection and services, many of which are part of national services designed to get children started reading. One of these programs is the Summer Reading Challenge, designed for grade-school age children, and the other is Book Start, for children ages birth to three. The Children's Library's fiction books are divided into categories that mirror the age divisions used in Book Start to support the program.
Overall, the Barbican Library was an impressive example of what a library can achieve with what was clearly a dedicated body of staff and, importantly, government support in achieving its goals and creating programming.