The Barbican is an arts and residential complex located in the City of London. It was built on a site that was bombed during WW2. To paraphrase our tour guide, the Barbican was "thought of in the 50's, planned in the 60's, designed and build in the 70's, and opened in the 80's. For a more compete history of the Barbican, please see the Barbican's History Page.
The complex itself is slightly surreal. It is right in the heart of the City of London, yet it is strangely quiet and peaceful. The complex is a little difficult to get into from the outside world. The best way to find the library is to arrive at the Barbican Underground station and follow the line of yellow bricks that winds its way through the complex. It leads directly to the main arts complex that also houses the library.
The Barbican Library is the main lending library for the City of London. Other libraries are located at Guildhall, Shoe Lane, and Camomile Street.
We were given a tour of the beautiful library by one of the librarians, John Lake. The facility is attractive and neat. In general, it appears to function very much like the public libraries I am used to in the States.
The lobby outside the library features a self check-in kiosk, access to the library catalog, and a computer with Internet access. This area is available to patrons whenever the Barbican center building is open, even if the library is closed. The self check-in kiosk (shown above) asks the user to swipe their library card and then scan items that they are returning. After the patron successfully completes these tasks, the book drop door will unlock and allow them to insert the books. The patron receives a receipt confirming that the books have been returned.
The information desk is located at the front of the library and answers inquiries about the city, the Barbican center, and cultural events, in addition to more traditional reference requests.
The collection is organized much like a typical American public library. Non-fiction is organized by Dewey classification. Each major subject is indicated by clear signage. Books are arranged on attractive wooden shelving that gives the library a cozy feel.
The space is organized to avoid long lines of shelves. Each row contains 2 or 3 sections of shelving. Shelves are arranged in such a way to create study areas and to take advantage of natural light coming in through the copious windows.
Interestingly, libraries in the UK are required to restrict access to age-restricted titles. They do actively check identification and signs such as the one above are posted throughout the library. There is also a charge for checking out DVDs.
The fiction shelves are arranged in "propeller" shapes. The are intended to "move people from place to place" in the library. The layout seems a little like a bookstore and it seems like it would be comfortable to meander through and browse. Comfortable seating areas are available throughout the fiction area.
Displays like the one shown above appear throughout the fiction area. Some are thematic and some relate to specific events or programs. One featured free copies of an an anthology that patrons were encouraged to take.
Catalog computers are in a separate area from Internet computers. The catalog is also available online for patrons to use outside the library.
The Barbican Library includes a large music library. In addition to audio recordings, it features sheet music, scores, music theory, and other non-fiction works related to music. There are listening stations where patrons can preview items.
Interestingly, the music library has created its own Song Index to help users find specific songs in the large collection of sheet music anthologies.
By law, libraries in the UK may not lend out new audio recordings until they have been publicly released for three months. The music library makes these titles available at an in-house listening station until they are able to be checked out.
Audio recordings are organized in a unique way that goes beyond broad genre categories. For example, patrons can browse by the gender of the artist. They can also browse by by very specific categories and sub-genres.
The City of London Libraries does a summer reading club. The theme this year is "Space Hop."
They are also affiliated with Bookstart, a program that aims to provide packets of books to every baby born in the UK.
The Barbican Library is required to do a user survey every two years. In between these major surveys, they seek feedback from the friends group and through formal comment forms. They have also had great success with a process called "informal comments recording" which provides a way for staff to record informal comments and/or complaints that they hear/overhear from patrons.