The Barbican Library is located in the Barbican Centre in central London.
The Barbican is at once a general collection, music, and children's library; each division of the library's services has its own little home, fit neatly within the unique architecture of their space in the Barbican Centre. The Barbican is meant to serve the people who live (900,000) and work (350,000) in the city square mile, the heart of London. That patron base can be further qualified as students associated with the nearby arts schools, students at day schools and nurseries in the area, and a variety of professionals.
For having such a large patron base, the Barbican Library's lack of any group meeting places presents a not insignificant problem. The library staff has resultantly tried to repurpose the traditional library spaces, but even these post somewhat of a limitation. The library was designed when solo studying was the norm; none of the study areas in the library is really set up for today's collaborative study (that's the direction most libraries are going in the US, especially academic libraries).
However, the Barbican and its staff are certainly doing what they can to modernize and better serve their patron base. They've installed several very cool self-issue machines (translation=self-checkout) that utilize RFID technology, and they've begun to focus a lot of their efforts into online resources. The Barbican still has a top-notch reference section--as per my guide Geraldine, its reference collection is second only to Guildhall Library, which is non-circulating reference only--but they're moving toward encouraging and educating patrons to use the plethora of online reference tools made available to them.
I was also very impressed with the Barbican's "quick-pick" displays:
I know at the library where I volunteer, displaying books can sometimes be a bit of a challenge: there aren't necessarily many centrally-located places for themed displays, displayed books are checked out so frequently and so displays look barren without near-constant replenishment, &c. The Barbican uses their displays to conincide with monthly themes, usually pertaining to some specific needs, interests, or events in their community.
The Barbican also boasts an enviable music library with substantial collections of CDs, musical scores, and musical reference books. The music library was helpful and knowledgeable, and it was obvious that the patrons using this section during my visit were well-supplied and in good hands. But, who are we kidding; my focus on this visit was the Children's Library.
The Barbican Children's Library is meant to serve children from birth to age 14. As such, their collection is spread amongst board books, picture books, early readers, and books aimed at ages 5-10, 10+, and young teenagers. I was also happy to see a shelf of parent resources housed in the Children's Library room; from my public library experience, it is much better if parents can find the resources they need while their children browse and play, as opposed to schlepping them elsewhere in the library.
The Children's Library's 23,000+ collection largely serves class visits from local schools, nurseries, and play schools, primarily because there are relatively few children living within the library district. According to the Children's Librarian and based on statistics from the UK's Book Start program (amazing!), only about 60-70 babies are born in the area each year. True, 14 years' worth of 60-70 children adds up, but it still doesn't translate to a huge part of the children's patron base.
The librarian talked about the four main programs that the Children's Library puts on. First and foremost is Rhyme Time, a story time aimed at under 5s. The library hosts three of these story times every week. Additionally, three reading groups, ages 7-9 and 10-12, meet once a month to discuss books and socialize. A newer program is a gaming club for a war-game called Warhammer, and this program in particular draws a lot of boys into the Library (no small feat!). Finally, in true public library fashion, the Barbican Children's Library participates in the UK's summer reading iniative. The program allows children to get six prizes for reading books throughout their summer holidays; seems thoughts on motivating young readers are pretty consistent across international waters, as the program sounds a lot like those in US public libraries.
Perhaps one of the other things I really enjoyed about the Children's Library in particular was the posting of current bestsellers lists on bookshelves. I would imagine that posting current popular titles might cut down on reference questions consisting of "what's that title I read about again?" But, then, it wouldn't be a public library without a bit of that.