Saturday, August 15, 2015

Barbican Library

Barbican Centre, London
Situated inside the square mile of City of London, the Barbican Library is the largest of three lending libraries in London.

Built in 1982, the Barbican Centre is the largest venue of its kind in Europe. The Barbican Library takes up a small portion, neighboring a large hall, a cinema, a gallery, two theaters, two exhibition halls, three restaurants, and seven conference halls (and a bit of informal performance space). Needless to say, it is a busy venue, and was not at all built with a library in mind. Nevertheless, the Barbican Library has adapted to be quite at home in the bustling Centre.

The most ancient quarter of London, City of London has a fluctuating population, with 10,000 residents and 360,000 commuters. The Barbican Library is open to both parties, and anyone else who can visit regularly.

Dames Don't Care, Peter Cheyney
Barbican Library, London
One of the unique aspects of the Barbican collections is that all books are available for lending, including those which may be considered too fragile or too old in other institutions. The oldest item is dated 1739, and with the proper library card, one can borrow and read it at home. Other aged collections include pulp crime novels from the 1920s and 30s. The Librarians at the Barbican believe a book's value is in its ability to be used and read. I think all information professionals would agree with that sentiment.

The Music Library is another strong point in the collections at the Barbican. With 9,000 books in all areas of music, 16,000 CDs, bound periodicals and music, the Barbican tries to reflect the rich cultural life of City of London, and the Barbican Centre's own ties to music in it's collections.

There are two pianos in the library, equipped with headphones for private playing and practicing. These are frequented by students from the nearby Guildhall School of Music and Drama, as well as community outreach. In the People's Piano Project, retired library patrons are paired up with music students for free lessons, which encourage social and educational opportunities.

Barbican Library
Barbican Centre, London
Other programs at the Barbican are aimed at children. Reading programs and after school clubs reward children for reading and using the library. One of the more intriguing outreach programs we discovered here was Book Start. Book Trust provides libraries all over the UK with packets of books for children, and all children are entitled to a packet when they are born, and another when they turn 3 years-old. The packets include activities which encourage parent to read to and interact with their children. There is definitely a place for a program like this in the States to be incorporated at a national level in order to encourage reading and library use in children.

The Barbican was one of my favorite visits. Unlike most libraries (on either side of the Atlantic), the Barbican is bright and noisy and welcoming. Maybe that's due to its location in the bustling and artistic Barbican Centre, but the library has embraced its surroundings, and it was a truly refreshing glimpse into London libraries.

Check out Barbican Library online. 

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