Thursday, 2 August 2007

Barbican Library

Today, we were able to get a tour of a public library. I am very happy that this was in the schedule because I wanted to learn more about the public libraries in Britain than I could pick up by visiting them myself.

The Barbican Library is the 3rd busiest library in the City of London. Primarily, their busiest hours are around lunchtimes. Because it is located in the City of London and not many people live in the square mile, many of the users are people who work near there. The library is located in the Barbican Centre, a centre for the performing and visual arts. The library's collection reflects the strong art influence.

The Music Library in the Barbican is one of the largest music collections in London. One can find sound recordings, chart music or scores, music periodicals, a piano and much more. The library is used by everyone who is interested in music like students studying music, local choir members, professionals dropping by to get the newest chart release, and professional and amateur musicians. The collection has to be, therefore, diverse enough to satisfy everyone's needs.

The CD collection is extensive, some 17,000 items. I found it interesting to learn that the English public libraries charge to rent CDs and DVDs. A CD can be rented for 30p a week while a DVD is £2.75 per week. We asked the music librarian why the library charged for these materials. She said that the public library act specified that some items should be available free of charge. Some of these items were books and periodicals. CDs and DVDs, however, were not specified and it is a way for the library to make a little bit of money. It was also interesting to learn that the library does not make a CD available to the public until 3 months after its release date. The reason for this is that the record companies believed having a CD available immediately would be detrimental to sales.

I think the thing I liked the most about the music library was the patron piano. What a great idea! The users of the library have definitely embraced the idea of it. The librarian told us that one woman taught herself how to play the piano one hour at a time.

The coolest part of the library (for me the technology geek) was their self-checkout and return slot. You just put the books on the special pad and it can tell what books are there without scanning the barcodes! If I lived there, I know I would play with that so much. The return slot, due to security concerns, couldn't be open which presents problems for patrons trying to return items. So they came up with the solution of having a self-checkin which, once everything is returned, causes the slot to pop open. I'm amazed that they haven't had more problems with patrons saying that they've returned things when they really didn't.

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