Saturday, July 24, 2010

Edinburgh's Central Library (Monday, July 19)

After our jaunt described in the last post, me and a few others made our way to the Elephant House, a nearby cafe that looked attractive to all in the group, although for different reasons. My friends wanted to see "The Birthplace Of Harry Potter," and I just wanted to see how elephant-y it was. It had elephants everywhere, great hot chocolate and a view of the castle to boot.
 While we were sipping our various beverages, someone nearby mentioned that the graveyard that was also visible from the window was the site where the author of Harry Potter had found many names she used in her books. So of course we all had to troop down and see if we could find those names. It was Greyfriars cemetery, well-known to many for the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the dog so faithful to his master that he stayed by the man's grave until his own death many years later. I looked at the Greyfriars Bobby memorial and grave, then meandered my way through the rest of the peaceful churchyard. My friends didn't find the main name they were looking for, but they apparently did find at least a name that was used in the Harry Potter series.
After this we made our way back up the hill, and the group split up into those who were interested in shopping and those who were ready to eat lunch before our next tour. I was of the latter group. A sudden drenching downpour didn't dampen our spirits, although it did dampen our shoes, and we eventually found a place that had some available tables inside and had a pleasant lunch. Then it was time to head over to Edinburgh's Central Library.
At the Central Library we received our warmest welcome yet. We were escorted down to a conference room area that had a screen and powerpoint ready to go, with a number of staff ready to brief us on various aspects of the library and a fleet of tea cups ready to be filled with either tea or coffee. We were shown the library's work in expanding into a virtual library online (they even have their own blog!), the development of many readers programs, and the library's continuing efforts in their conservation of their special collections. The Central Library is always at work in growing into the 21st century and its online and virtual world, with a portal to online services, a blog (which is linked in earlier), databases of local information, and Capital Collections, an online compendium of over 3,500 images. We learned about the benefits of being a library on Twitter, such as being able to respond to tweeted feedback from patrons, and the benefits of being able to post a "mystery picture" online that no one knows about and have locals identify where the picture was taken and other unknown details. When it comes to reaching out to their readers, the Central Library is tireless. They recently upped their crime fiction collection because "We asked our readers what they wanted, and they said 'More Crime!'" They've also begun circulating staff through more training programs to optimize their efforts with readers, such as Opening the Book, promoting a reader-centered approach for libraries. Other efforts involve working with younger readers to help them understand that reading can be fun--fixing what was dubbed the "spinach or cake" dilemma of the tendency to emphasize that reading is "good for you" (spinach) and missing the pleasure that can be derived from it (cake). The Central Library is devoted to its Special Collections too, with books from the 15th century to the present. They never throw books out. We learned that when it comes to working on preservation on a tight budget, there's one word that is an excellent guide: Justify (why?). We were let in on the secrets of red printing (which shows that the book was of a very good quality) and the fact that you can tell about the book's history just by looking at its binding.
Then it was time for our tour of the Central Library. It was opened in 1890, and is the only public library with an area devoted to Scotland that is actually in Scotland. There has been an added interest in genealogy and family history since the premiere of the TV show Who Do you Think you Are?, which the librarians often enjoy as much as the readers do. The Central Library has a good DVD collection, but in the age of Blockbuster and Netflix they try to maintain a collection of the classics ("more Casablanca than Casino Royale") and leave the newer items to the rest of the world. While some would think that patrons might get annoyed about this, in reality they really enjoy getting to borrow the classics, which would usually be harder to find. Another intriguing quirk of the Central Library in the harder-to-find category is their amazing collections of materials in other languages, to include Gaelic. We walked by an area highlighting a book with a familiar-looking redhead that was titled "Dalek of Green Gables."
More posts on the way, Monday at the latest! Thanks for reading :)
Image used in this post is ClipArt.

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