Of the three lending libraries in the city of London, the Barbican Library is the largest. The Library opened in 1982 and, although not originally designed as a library, is now a major lending library nestled within the Barbican Centre—“Europe’s largest multi-arts and conference venue presenting a diverse range of art, music, theatre, dance, film and creative learning events” (Barbican).
Geraldine Pote, one of the adult lending librarians, gave us a tour of the libraries within the Barbican, including the award winning Music Library, the largest in the country. The librarians work hard to keep a balance between general and academic materials in the Music Library to meet the needs of the diverse population of users. Other highlights of the Music Library include more than 16,000 CDs, the Barbican Song Index, over 9,000 circulating books, scores, DVDs and music periodicals. In addition, the Music Library offers listening booths and two practice pianos to book for up to an hour each day.
Geraldine Pote demonstrating the book return system :
After the tour, the librarians offered punch, cookies and an informal discussion on the programs and other details of the Library. I found this particularly helpful since we covered more than the general information available online or in brochures. Natalie, the youth librarian, briefed us on the Children’s Library, explaining there are 23,000 circulating items including board books, picture books, nonfiction, fiction, graphic novels, and ebooks. The staff at the Children’s Library visit local schools, host “Rhymetime” and storytime three times a week and also organize reading groups for ages 7-9, 10-12, and teens. In addition, the Library offers a Read to Succeed program: adults in the community volunteer to support school aged children by reading together for a half an hour every week.
The Children’s Library provides board books like the ones pictured below for children born in the UK.
The director of the Library also sat down with the British Studies class and shared about her vision for the Barbican Library. An issue of concern is what the library will become for future users and what the changes in user interfaces and technology will do to libraries. The directer stated that libraries must be relevant, they must continue to be something for everyone from cradle to grave. She references the Siegart Report, which states:
The library does more than simply loan books. It underpins every community. It is not just a place for self-improvement, but the supplier of an infrastructure for life and learning, from babies to old age, offering support, help, education, and encouraging a love of reading. Whether you wish to apply for a job, or seek housing benefit, or understand your pension rights or the health solutions available to you, or learn to read, the library can assist.
The report goes on to appeal to the central government to create a library taskforce to work toward the investment and survival of libraries throughout the UK. After visiting the Barbican Library, it was clear to me that The US and UK public lending libraries are not so different. While the Barbican may circulate a special collection about London with books dating back to 1739—a publishing date older than the United States itself, much less any book in its local library—both countries have a distinctive history and familiarity with the library despite the fact that public libraries in both countries struggle for founding, resources, and space. Nevertheless, it seems public libraries, regardless of their country of origin, are determined and resolute to stay relevant, to keep their doors open and their computers on, and to serve and better their community.
The Barbican. (2015). Retrieved from http://www.barbican.org.uk/
Siegart Report. (2014). Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/388989/Independent_Library_Report-_18_December.pdf