Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day Trip 1, Part 2: Bath and Bath Public Library

After Stonehenge, we were on to Bath, which is a beautiful town with lots of Georgian architecture. It was surprisingly hilly--I am still in the process of converting my paper-flat mental map of England into a three-dimensional one. Between the the Roman Baths, Bath Abbey, and Jane Austen, it's easy for visitors to forget that modern people still live, work, and want something to read in Bath. The Bath Public Library was a perfect reminder. Some of the information in this post is drawn from my impressions of the library, while more specialized information came from my conversation with the very friendly employee at the information desk.

As it turns out, we won't be visiting many public libraries as as part of our USM coursework, so visiting the Bath Public Library was also a good opportunity to compare what we saw on our visit to the Barbican and also with U.S. public libraries. Most of the basics are similar in all places: self check-out, media, nonfiction, fiction, centrally located information desk.

Several of the details at Bath, however, went beyond the basics and were very impressive. The employee I spoke to explained that there are three library branches. The branch we visited was located in the upper floor of a shopping mall, which makes them visible to an audience that might not visit libraries in a traditional standalone location. They had been in this location for a full 15 years. To enhance the feeling of connection with the larger community, there were two information boards filled with signs and brochures about community services and events: one immediately inside the library door and the other between the computing center and the information desk. Immediately inside the door on the other side of the room was the section pictured above: the "quick select" section. I thought this was an excellent feature that catered to the many patrons who might just want to make a short stop at the library while running other errands.

The library was relatively small, but the floor plan was very open, and high ceilings enhanced the feeling of roominess. The dialog bubble signage painted onto the wall for the Quick Select section was repeated for the each other section (a unique color for each section), making it very easy for users to navigate to the section they wanted to explore.

When talking with the librarian, I was surprised to learn that this library also used RFID technology to check out its books. At the Barbican, our tour guide had noted that this was an expensive endeavor. From my own experience working at a public library, I know how this is true not only in terms of purchasing new technology and supplies, but also in the staff time needed to process materials, switching over old barcodes or labels to new. The employee at Bath noted that most of the tagging of the books had been done by student volunteers--a terrific idea for making a daunting endeavor a little more feasible in terms of expense and staff time.

Overall, the Bath Library took a very modern, effective approach to meeting the information needs of 21st century residents in this very historical city.

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