02 August, 2007

Barbican Library

Today we visited the Barbican Library in London. Although public libraries became established in this area of the city in the mid 19th century, this particular library wasn't opened until 1966. The Barbican Library is open 6 days a week and issues approximately 500,000 items to the public each year. Because of its location, the majority of the library's users are people who work but don't necessarily live in the city.

The Barbican Library has one of the two largest music collections in London. A wide variety of music is represented in their collection of about 17,000 cds. Cds can be borrowed by users at a cost of 30 pence per cd per week. I didn't realize before I began visiting libraries in the United Kingdom that it is standard practice to charge patrons to borrow audio visual materials such as cds, VHS tapes, and DVDs. The DVDs cost 2.75 pounds per DVD for a one week loan. That is more than it costs to rent a new release at Blockbuster in the U.S. Free access to ALL materials is something that I think a lot of Americans take for granted. The music library offers listening booths for patrons to listen to music cds in free of charge. They do not have to check out a music cd before listening to it there. This comes in handy for music students who want to compare musical recordings before they take them home. My absolute favorite feature of the library is their electronic piano. Patrons can sign up for an hour's worth of play time up to 24 hours in advance. The electric piano comes equipped with headphones so that patrons can try out a piece of music or cram in their weekly piano practice without disturbing other patrons. This has been a huge success for the Barbican, and other libraries have purchased pianos to enhance their services as well.

One technology feature that I really liked was their self scan library checkout and return system. The self scan checkouts at the local branches of my public library system only allow patrons to place one item on the scanner at a time. This system reads the barcodes of a stack of books all at the same time. I also liked the electronic return system outside that people can access until 11:00pm. The patrons check the books back in themselves using a scanner device and the flap opens for the book drop only after the barcodes have been read. I really enjoyed having the opportunity to see how public lending libraries in London compare to those back home in the U.S.