Monday, July 19, 2010

Library Visit: Central Library Edinburgh

Central Library Edinburgh is the main hub of the 26-branch Edinburgh City Libraries system. As the centre of all things libraries in the area, Central Library runs several of the main initiatives associated with pretty much any major public library these days, and some initiatives that are more cutting-edge.

One such necessary iniative is what is professionall called "Web 2.0"--that is, using the internet as another space for interaction between, in this case, library and patrons. Central Library's goal in their particular implementation of of Web 2.0 is twofold: to give greater access to library patrons on a 24/7, off-site basis, and to increase the public image of the library. They are accomplishing these goals by offering a variety of online resources going above and beyond the average library's online databases. They also offer one of the largest collections of e-books, and they have a digital image collection numbering in the thousands that pertains primarily to Edinburgh. They're also blogging, tweeting, and using other social networks to get people involved in their library.

Another major initiative has to do with conservation and special collections. While the general mission of Central Library is the same as most public libraries--to give patrons access to the kinds of information they need and want--Central Library has one added dimension: they are a definitive resource of information about Edinburgh, and on a slightly smaller scale on Scotland as a whole and Scots in general. As such, they have a variety of resources on these topics spanning from the 15th century to the present, including some unique collections. These types of materials require special care and, even though they are non-circulating items, they are items available to any library user. These items do get used, and so the library must and does devote resources to maintaining the physical integrity of the items.

Two librarians chatted with our library group about one initiative--and in their case, department--that I found extremely refreshing and extremely necessary for public libraries: reader development. One of the librarians summed up reader development with the neat phrase "the right book for the right person at the right time"; reader development is all about making sure patrons are able to access the resources they want, not just the ones someone else thinks they should read. One practical implementation of this policy is that Central Library maintains book club sets of books, multiple volumes of one title that local book clubs can check out to use in their clubs. Hand in hand with these physical resources is an initiative to have book groups and discussions meeting in the library itself.

The other reader development librarian cleverly quoted his author friend in saying that reader development is also about promoting leisure reading: "we've made books like spinach, when we need to make them like cake." In other words, instead of telling patrons--teens in particular--that they should read because it's good for them, we should be showing them that reading is a fun treat. Central Library and some of their outreach partners have had some success in spreading this mentality among Edinburgh teens by having author events aimed directly at teens; these events show teens that the process of writing a book was enjoyable for the author, so the process of reading it will probably be enjoyable as well. What a great philosophy for getting more people to read!

Our visit to Central Library ended with a quick but thorough tour of the library proper. They boast a beautiful and impressive top-floor, rotunda-ceilinged reference section, complete with quiet, wi-fi, and plenty of tables. They also have an extremely well-stocked fine arts library; a photography-prone friend was particularly in awe of their extensive photography book holdings. Central Library also has separate Edinburgh and Scotland rooms, wherein patrons can access the wealths of information that the library maintains on both subjects. Mind, all of these four collections I've just mentioned are non-circulating.

There is a lending section available as soon as one walks into the library. While the lending library shelves are entirely full, the holdings seem perhaps less impressive compared to other public libraries. This sparsely-resourced look is an illusion, however, because at any given time the majority of the library's circulating titles are checked out; patrons can access the full holdings online and place holds from there. Also circulating are the small children's library and a good-sized music library, both of which have a particularly Scottish bent. I really liked that in addition to supplying general interest items that seem to be in every public library, Central Library has a variety of resources that show Scottish pride. This quality also makes the library a good research point for visitors.

Two closing facts about Central Library Edinburgh: 1) They have over 1 million items, 60,000 of which are on open shelves for patron perusal; everything else is visible on the catalogue but needs to be fetched by a staff member. 2) They use the Library of Congress classification scheme, perhaps something of an anomaly both for public libraries and for UK libraries, but a choice that reflects the breadth of the collections.

*photo courtesy of Edinburgh Scotland

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