Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Barbican Centre Library

I had never really heard about the Barbican Centre before, but once we got there I must say I was charmed by it. Tall towers of serene apartment buildings with literary names like Shakespeare Tower with a mini river flowing inbetween full of lilypads, ducks and waterfalls. It was so perfect-looking it reminded me of all the places in the movies that are supposedly utopian but then have some dark and horrible secret underneath the quiet zen (did I mention I can have a dark sense of humor?), but thankfully what we saw instead was a quietly bustling public library.
Image courtesy of Microsoft Clipart, not specifically of the Barbican Centre
Apparently, the Barbican Centre was an idea long in the making. It was thought of in the 1950s, planned in the 60s, built in the 70s, and opened in the 1980s (the lending library in 1982, and the music library in 1983). The Barbican Centre Library has three parts: a lending library, a music library, and a childrens library. The lending library's main demographic are the workforce of the city, not only those who both live and work in the city but also those who come in to work in the city and then go home at night. The music library's patrons include many students of nearby schools of the humanities, and the children's library interacts not only with the children who come in but also with the schools in the area and local nursuries. The lending library's challenge is bringing in the new electronic and digital materials, the music library works with the intricacies of a delicate cataloging and classification system (as well as the passerby who want to look up a song by humming), and the children's library is campaigning for literacy programs.
There were several things that caught my eye about the Barbican Centre Library. First was the "Art Space" in the front of the library, a mini-gallery of sorts that is rented out monthly and is currently sold out until the end of 2011. Another was the idea, foreign to us Americans, that checking out DVDs, blurays and CDs at most libraries in the UK is simliar to checking something out at the local Blockbuster or Family Video, in that there is a small fee involved. Another difference between the US and the UK's mode of operations is that the UK library will card you if you don't look old enough to check out a video of a certain rating. A young individual is not allowed to check out an item rated for someone older than they are without a parent or other responsible adult with them.
Another thing that caught my eye was the arrangement of the bookcases in one of the main areas. There were small bookcases, called "propellers," scattered around the pedestrian flow that were filled with materials relevant to a topic of general interest, like large print books in various genres or a gathering of materials about dancing for an upcoming dance festival. Arranged in an almost spiral or circular manner were medium-sized bookshelves that were Fiction arranged alphabetically by author. Further back and along the walls were topical collections, such as recently acquired materials, World History, Novelists, Travel, Horror, Nonfiction and Brit Travel. On the way to a computer study area was another set of medium-sized bookcases that comprised a "Skills for Life" area for all ages, with subtopics ranging from dyslexia, baby care, starting your own business, people of various ages dealing with depression, kids learning to be little helpers and swimming a length, etc.
While some increase in library use could "absolutely, definitely" be attributed to the global recession, an increase in reading interest has been occuring in the UK for about the past decade, since a Year of Reading in 1998 and then a follow-up year in 2008. At the same time, there has been an overall drop in the literacy of the UK.
The childrens library was swinging into gear for the beginning of the summer reading challenge, Space Hop. On top of the usual summer reading challenge program, the Barbican Centre's childrens library and a few other local libraries are hoping to draw in older childrem with a "Top Trumps" card game, sort of like a Pokemon game in that each card has a creature with a name and strengths that compete against one another. Unlike the average Pokemon card, the alien characters on the Top Trumps card game also list their birthplace (the one I looked at was born in East London), a favorite book, and a personal motto.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the Barbican Centre Library, which had a nice variety of materials in its lending library, an impressive selection in its music library, and a great set-up for kids in its childrens library.
Image is not specifically of the Barbican Centre Library, and is from ClipArt

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