Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Barbican Centre Library

I wasn't certain what to expect of the Barbican Centre Library. Located in the Barbican Centre Theatre complex the library is not, as one might expect, a subject specific art and music library but rather an impressive public library serving the City of London and the men and women who commute to work there.

We were greeted by Head Librarian John Lake who gave an overview of the library: the collections, patrons, and space. He was incredibly informative and enthusiastic about his library's role in the community and the services they provide. They serve 9,000 City of London residents and 330,000 commuters. Mr. Lake pointed out that they have an unusual demographic: 60% of members are male v. 40% male for most other London libraries. Further information can be located either the City of London/Barbican Library website or through the Barbican Centre's webpage. The library is the largest lending library in the City of London's library system.

The library's connection to the Barbican Center led to a specialization in art and music with a truly impressive collection of sheet music:

sheet music collection

In the fall semester I wrote a paper, with my management class, about the bookstore model in libraries in the U.S.--the layout of the Barbican library seemed to fit with this profile--though the model was never referred to explicitly. The library has shorter bookcases, clear signage, divisions between different sections of the library, best seller and recommended displays, and a selection of CDs to rent almost identical to what might be found in a Borders.

As I think about the visit I realize that it was the whole picture the Barbican library presented rather than one element or one collection that impressed me. They incorporated, pretty seamlessly, what could be very disparate elements: a music library with pianos, listening stations and over 16,000 CDs, a fine arts library, a children's library and an adult library that catered, to a degree, a commuter population. They have created space for the London Collection--1000 volumes on open shelves related to life and history in London.

The library presents an interesting mix of new technology--RFID and self-checkout, both of which are less prevalent in the US--and old standards--they have been able to increase circulation without the introduction of e-books. Their adult lending collection consists of paperback books, magazines (and a magazine exchange), newspapers, and graphic novels. Mr. Lake indicated that they resisted e-books not because of any objection to the medium but rather because they had yet to find a vendor who would meet their needs: a single vendor for all media types that would provide multi-point/user access.

I was left with an overwhelmingly positive impression of the Barbican and the staff there--and of course an abundance of information about events in London--both at the Barbican and London in general. Anyone for Klezmer music? There's a festival in early August...

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