Monday, July 19, 2010

Edinburgh Central Library

That same afternoon (Monday, July 19) our group had a tour of the Edinburgh Central Library. This is Edinburgh's main public library serving the local community and linked to an additional 25 public library branches all within eight miles of the city center. The Central Library system has over one million volumes for general lending as well as special collections. One of the over 2000 libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie, the Edinburgh library is housed in a building designed by George Washington Browne with impressive central staircases and homage to the site's first function as home to Charles I's advocate, Sir Thomas Hope.

We were greeted by Fiona Myles, Library Development Officer, as well as some of her colleagues in the digital library, reader development, and conservation departments. We were treated to a short presentation followed by a tour of the library's various divisions. Edinburgh's Central Library includes a reference service, Children's Library, Adult Lending Library, Music Library, Fine Arts library, as well as the newly opened Scottish library and the "Edinburgh Room," which holds the most comprehensive collection of works published in and about Edinburgh.

Like many public libraries, the Edinburgh Central Library works constantly to improve awareness and cement its' place within the community. Through such programs as Space Hop (summer reading for children) and Great Scottish Reads (summer reading for adults) as well as free wi-fi, local history events, art exhibits and concerts, the library has worked extensively to place reading at the core of what the public library does while, at the same time, improving the library environment and its' appeal to the Edinburgh public. The Digital Library Development Officer has created a community information website, Your Edinburgh as well as a blog Tales of One City that receives 5500 visits each month. The library also uses Flickr and Twitter as well as providing e-books and maintaining Capital Collections, an online resource selected from the library's over 100,000 images (1600 to present) displaying all aspects of life in Edinburgh.

The reference reading room (pictured below) is an open and welcoming space.

While seats are limited, only 24, I could certainly see myself being very productive here. The bookshelves were specially made for the space--with spiral staircases hidden behind the walls to preserve the correct aesthetic. Once again, the fondness for see-through floors is evidence (and I start to wonder if this is because they realized that solid metal floors were too expensive or too heavy)--the floors of the reference room balcony are honeycomb shaped--one can see through to the floor below, though they are much more stable than those at the London Library).

Due to shelving limitations and the restraints put on Carnegie buildings regarding renovations, the reading room's stacks house only a small fraction of the library's reference materials. As one of UNESCO's city's of literature, the ECPL hopes to increase the scope of their reference and lending library's literature collections.

Historic notes: There was originally a small separate room in the reference library for women who wanted to use the library. The Edinburgh public library was the first building the city to be equipped with electric lights and one of the first to employ women.

The library's architectural structure and organization leaves one with the impression of disconnected spaces: each division has it's own rooms--and the rules set forth by Carnegie--that his libraries could not be modified--mean that to expand the library (as will be seen at Dunfermline in the next post)--one must add to the building. In this case that meant that to reach the Music Library and Children's Library one exited the main building, walked next door and down a flight of stairs. Then up the stairs and turn left for the children's room. While both spaces matched the general tone of the rest of the library, it must be difficult for these spaces to remain on most library visitor's radar: in fact the music librarian mentioned that he often plays music to encourage library users to head down the stairs to see their collections. The Fine Arts Library, located on the second floor of the Central Library, covers not only art history and the fine arts but also graphic design, Scottish artists, and city planning. The art library is used by full time students, architects, theatre and art and design companies. They work to keep the collection as international as possible though they do acquire works related to Scottish artists who are doing well.

Due to the changing demographics of Edinburgh they now have a large foreign language collection including Arabic, Polish and Urdu as well as Scots Gaelic. One needs to know English to search the online catalogue but the self-service machines are available in multiple languages. What I found most interesting (and a bit perplexing) was the variety of cataloguing methods used within the Edinburgh Central Library. While our tour guide mentioned that most public libraries in Scotland use the Dewey Decimal System, the Central Library's Adult Lending Library uses the Library of Congress Classification system. The fine arts library uses Library of Congress but the Music Library has adapted LCSH to their own needs: reference books are alphabetical by composer's last name and other works are catalogued as fits them. The local history rooms have multiple catalogues to access the records: Edinburgh Room has four (4): one each for the image collection, map collection, parish registers/census records and a general one for indexes and catalogues. The catalogues refer to shelfmarks that relate that are exclusive to the Edinburgh Central Library. None of the special collection material seems to have been organized to a cataloguing standard--and most of it is not available online. The ECPL, was, therefore, an interesting mix of state of the art and traditional library practices. It is clearly a significant resource for the city of Edinburgh and the staff does a great job with ever shrinking resources to address the needs of their community and the profession.

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