Thursday, 2 August 2007

Entry #15 The Barbican Library

The Barbican Library is one of three lending libraries in the City of London. Housed in the Barbican Arts Centre, the library has five separate divisions for Art, Music, Children, Young Adults and Adults. The beginning of the library stems from the 1964 Public Libraries and Museums Act which called for a lending library to be available to the community. There are currently over 45,000 members, 50% of whom are full-time workers, who collectively check out around 500,000 materials a year. With so many areas and aspects to cover, I will narrow this down to my thoughts on the Music and Children’s Libraries and the use of RFID technology.

One of the first things that jumped out at me in the Music Library was the huge collection of CDs. They have over 17,000 discs set out in a large area and have 10 listening booths where people can exchange a form of ID for headphones and listen to whatever they choose. It’s 30p for a one week hire and 90p for three weeks – not bad considering the price of music over here. Besides CDs and printing from the computer the only other library service that requires payment is the DVDs, £2.75 a week. Our guide explained that the Public Library Act specified that books and certain other materials be free to the public but did not mention tapes/DVDs and CDs. The fees don’t go straight to the Music department but rather to the general fund. Two other things that stood out to me in that library were the piano and large section of musical scores. People can book the piano for up to a day in advance and just put on headphones and go to town. As a pianist and strong music advocate, I think it’s great that people have a place to practice. For the aforementioned reasons I was also salivating at the shelves bulging with music books. With the piano so handy it would be awesome to try out some of the music to make sure you’re comfortable with the level and sound before buying it in a store.

The Barbican Children’s Library is the largest children’s library in London. There are 10 members on staff and over 25,000 loanable items. I was impressed with the set-up of the area. A colorful bulletin board greets patrons and parents at the front with advertisements for upcoming programs and reading-related opportunities for kids. Once inside, there are wooden boxes full of picture books covering a large area. This makes it easy for children to sit down and flip through several options and see all the cover illustrations. The boxes have wheels on the bottom so they’re easy to roll away when it’s time to have some sort of children’s programming. Their programming includes several arts and craft events, three times a week there is story telling (different age group for each day), and a Tuesday afternoon reading group for older children. It’s a comfy area to gather in and I think it would make children more comfortable with the library if they are used to having fun time in the actual room where the books are. There’s so much to say about this area but not enough space.

Finally, I wanted to comment on the RFID technology. I did a paper on this subject last fall but have never seen it used in a library before. While it’s not being used on DVDs and CDs yet, the library has been integrating the technology into books and other materials since 2004. So far it has been a success and the IT director assured us that the hassle was worth the outcome. It was cool watching how it works at the self service desk. There is a computer where you can choose to check out a book, renew a book, or look at your account. To check something out you push the appropriate button, scan your library card, and then set the books down on a platform the same size as a mouse pad. Because of RFID, the computer immediately reads the titles on the platform and shows them on the screen. You push a finish button a and a receipt pops out with the names of the books, the due dates, and any fines you have. Checking the books back in is down the same way at a machine outside of the library with a drop-off box attached. The drop-off door opens once you’ve scanned your card and placed your books on it, and the information is transferred to the library computers inside. It’s a great time-saving technique and is a tremendous help for inventory purposes.