Friday, July 13, 2012

Barbican Library

In the heart of the Barbican complex, the Barbican Library serves Londoners and suburban commuters alike, with the city's largest public lending library. Membership requires only a name and address, as well as a reasonable expectation of use.

One of their core values is to support the business community, especially small and medium-sized businesses, with materials on business, finance, and online resources. The library serves mostly men, unlike most public libraries, between the ages of 18 and 40, as they commute to and from work. This means that reading materials should be very accessible and ease of checkout is paramount, so that time is not wasted.

Short business hours are a problem for the library, as more staff is not an option. However, one computer (filtered) is available in the hall outside the library, as well as a book return, and the busiest time for the library is between noon and two. The library tries to employ 5 library school interns, with pay, who can offer different expertise to their operation. Another branch is planned for the east of the city.

The library has income targets that include late fees and fees for DVD and CD rentals. Mostly supported by the city, these charges are necessary to make up for the cost of buying the materials. Music albums are only available three weeks after the release date.

RFID Book Return Machine outside
Barbican Library.
 RFID technology is key to library operations. The tag is used to check books in and out, both with scanners, and with special machines that can read the tags in proximity. Patrons have only to rest their pile of books on the machine, and the screen registers all the books. Sometimes the technology does not work perfectly, but saves much time when it does.

The Score Section of the Music Library
at the Barbican Library.
The Barbican is a shining example of a public library, offering tons of programing and community engagement, from children's programs to reading circles. The genealogy section is very popular and the music database is one of the best. It also deals with the same problems as many public libraries--leaky roofs, noise from events on the first floor, occasional theft, and patrons who need home delivery. It deals with these problems by being well organized and maintaining a dedicated staff who obviously value their place in the community and uphold the libraries core values.

This was one of the most inspiring libraries we visited because, like in the US, libraries, especially public libraries are being hit hard by the economy. Short staffs and closing branches are hard on moral for any library, but Jonathan Gibbs, Geraldine Pote, Richard Jones, and Natalie Laccohee, who spoke with our group, demonstrated a devotion to needs of the community as well as a problem solving attitude toward challenges that is truly admirable.

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