Day 27: Barbican Centre Library


Wednesday, July 22, 2015
We visited the Barbican Centre in the City of London borough today where the Barbican public library is located.

The Barbican Centre (via K. Emmons)
The Barbican Centre (via K. Emmons)

The library is open Monday through Saturday and is the leading lending library in the City of London. It opened in 1982, though the space was not designed as a library. It was an art center surrounded by residences in a major financial district. There are many online resources and an online catalog, but you have to be a member to access those. Anybody can join to view the materials in the library, but can’t be a member unless you regularly visit the physical library. This is for financial reasons… you need to pay taxes or supplant the local economy with money. The public library needs to benefit somehow, I guess is what I’m trying to say.

Library is located on the 2nd floor (via K. Emmons)
Library is located on the 2nd floor (via K. Emmons)

The library has done tons of outreach, but still remains hidden to the majority of the public. The vast majority of its patrons are business people, mainly men over college age. The Barbican Centre is almost a city in itself, but not everyone realizes a library lurks on the 2nd floor.

Fiction section (via K. Emmons)
Fiction section (via K. Emmons)

Above you’ll see the fiction section. To the right is the London and classic crime collections. Down to the left of this photo you’d find the children’s library (which is booming, by the way!). They are benefiting from marketing to the local nurseries and babysitting places. Behind us in the above photograph is the art collection and movie area. Behind us and to the left you’d find the music library.

Music Library (via K. Emmons)
Music Library (via K. Emmons)

The music library at the Barbican is the second largest public music repository in London, behind Westminster, I believe. There are hundreds of scores, theory books, magazines, periodicals, reference works, CDs, and DVDs for people to check out. The CD selection is the largest in London at 16,000 materials. Two pianos are available to use for hour-long periods. There’s even an exhibition area out front (currently being used by BBC)!

Music Library Exhibit (via K. Emmons)
Music Library Exhibit (via K. Emmons)

The state of British librarian organizations was touched on too. CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) is the equivalent to the ALA (American Library Association).

The head of the Barbican Library also came to speak with us for a moment. The main takeaway is for libraries to “be relevant.” It’s just that simple. Libraries, especially public institutions, should be something for everybody. She mentioned the Sieghart Report on Public Libraries as an interesting and poignant read.

I very much enjoyed visiting this library and speaking with the librarians. Before travelling to London I had thought that I wanted to work in an academic setting. I was rigid in this thought. It wasn’t that I disliked public libraries, I just valued academic institutions with rare book collections a tidbit more. After visiting the Barbican and Edinburgh though, my view has been swayed a little. These librarians were passionate about their community and engaged with their patrons. They wanted to give their patrons as much as possible. They weren’t blocking the way of access to information, rather they were finding new paths to reach a larger audience.

As I look to applying for jobs this fall I want to keep myself open to academic and public institutions.


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