Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dunfermline (Carnegie) Library

After spending a wonderful night at Brothaigh House --a fabulous B&B I stayed at in 2000 on my last trip to Edinburgh--and fortified with a perfectly prepared breakfast of toast, egg whites and coffee (despite the B&B owner's amusement at my request for an omelette with no yolks) Gillian, Andrew and I piled in his car and drove to Dunfermline's Carnegie Library. I must admit my navigation skills were not their best and we arrived in Dunfermline but had no idea where to find the library.

After a few minutes Andrew stopped to ask a local:
I rolled down the window and asked, "Do you know where the Carnegie Library is?" since we had been told that this library's fame drew from it's place as the first library built with money from Andrew Carnegie.
The gentleman replied, "Do you mean Dunfermline's public library," in a very pointed voice.
And then gave perfect directions.

Dunfermline Carnegie Library. Image courtesy of http://bookcalendar.blogspot.com/2009_08_01_archive.html

To me this exchange signified two things: first, that the library has been fully integrated into the community as belonging to the people of Dunfermline rather than to Carnegie, and second, that it's identity as Carnegie's first library (est. 1883) may not be of as great importance as previously believed. In truth, the library seemed to be constrained by the Carnegie grant--though incredibly appreciative of the funds given as start-up: 8000 pounds sterling for the building and first acquisitions, the library gained most of it's budget through other means and is now supported by the Fife Council and Scottish Parliament. On it's opening day in 1883 the library ran out of books to lend. The first librarian, Alexander Peebles, an Edinburgh bookbinder, lived at the library (just as I imagined as a kid) with a salary of £70 per year, including free gas and coals.

The library completed a massive renovation in 1992. To accomplish this--and expand their space, they were required to take over an adjacent building--the Carnegie Trust's limitations and the building's status as an A-listed historical building meant that no architectural element--including shelving--could be altered. Once again, a UK library feels like a labyrinth designed by Lewis Carroll or M.C. Esher--the need to keep existing spaces intact requires creativity and compromise when it comes to design. And it must require patience from staff and patrons as they walk up and down stair cases, venture outside to go inside, and remember which rooms are in which building.

The library is one of fourteen libraries in the West Fife library network and serves as SPICe: Scottish Parliament Information Centre. As a public library, their strength is in general collections, fiction and non-fiction.

Our tour of the Dunfermline Carnegie Library included three main areas: the Main Lending Library, the Local History room, and the Special Collection room which houses the Murison-Burns collections.

The Main lending library and children's library catalogues are online. The library has a self-service machine, a free newspaper area (to read in the library) and 22 computer terminals. Both the lending library and children's library have a browse-based organization system--alphabetical "Story Dip" for children and division between fiction and non-fiction for the adults. The library has strengths in foreign language books, in biography and history of Carnegie, and, of course, Dunfermline.

Main Lending Library

The Local History room houses materials related to Dunfermline: the current county as well as historic boundaries including parts of three other current counties. The local history collection has the first climate-controlled space we visited on our library tour. While I am certain that the British Library has such spaces, visitors are not allowed behind the scenes.) We all wondered, most with awe and admiration, why of all the sites we visited Dunfermline was the only one to invest in a climate controlled space for their rare books. Plus it was just refreshing to step into a space with air conditioning after the heat and humidity we experienced in London. The local history room has all the equipment--very noisy microfilm machines, a complete duplicate set of all the photographs in the collection, census records, and a knowledgeable staff--to help visitors research their family history, house history, and information about Dunfermline. To get a sense for the scope of their collection, look at this simplified version of their catalogue.

It should be noted that most of Dunfermline's special collections are not available on the world wide web--the Local History collection catalogue is accessible only at 2 computer terminals within the library. They want to place the catalogue online but are only part way through a multi-year project. In order to do so they cannot simply transfer the records since the existing catalogue system is unique to Dunfermline. Their system, DUlCImeR (Dunfermline Carnegie inspired register) is divided by geography and then by topic and subject. Their arrangement would have to be entirely redone in order to match with existing cataloguing standards.

For example:
F = Fife so categories include Findustry (Fife industry) and Fvillages (villages in Fife). Within the geographical designation the categories are subdivided A-Z. For Dunfermline the categories begin with D and include Dgeneral and Dindustry. In addition, there are shelfmarks related to size and location.

Therefore, as the Local History librarian mentioned, the catalogue cannot be transferred, in order to make an online catalogue for this collection they need to take each item off the shelf, catalogue it individually using a new standard, and enter it into the computer. They have uncovered dozens of works that were overlooked during previous cataloguing efforts.

The Murison-Burns collection is the library's second special collection. Housed in the older part of the building relies on an updated card catalogue and there are no immediate plans to digitize the catalogue.

While I loved the idea of a "living" card catalogue--one that is still in use as the primary means of accessing the collection, the fact that the organization system is so complicated that only the reference librarian can use it is unusual. So much of modern library science is about making records accessible to potential users. This collection, books, manuscripts, images, and artifacts numbering over over 1500 items donated in 1921. The collection is not the property of the Dunfermline Carnegie library: it is held in trust for the people of Dunfermline so must be protected carefully. The special collections librarian, Sharron McColle exhibited incredibly detailed knowledge about her collection and about Robert Burns. We had a very informative conversation about the role of archival standards and cataloguing for a collection like the Murison-Burns that will become part of my research paper. I am grateful to her for her time and expertise and look forward to doing further research.

Note: I could not find information about the size of the Dunfermline library's adult lending library collection.

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