Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Library Visit: Dunfermline Carnegie Library

Back in 1881, in his Scottish hometown of Dunfermline in Fife, Andrew Carnegie gave £8,000 for the building and stocking of the first of what would come to be many Carnegie libraries. The Dunfermline Carnegie Library officially opened in 1883; on its first day of operations, every single item in stock was checked out. Every. Single. Book.

The public library is still very much alive and kicking to this day. In fact, it serves more than perhaps the average public library, and has a number of special divisions to best meet the varied needs of a wide variety of patrons. One particularly noteworthy division is the Family and Local History room, wherein patrons wishing to learn more about Dunfermline-related historical topics can come for expert advice on conducting their research. The librarians in this room have everything, from microfilm of newspapers and copies of local records dating quite far back to binders of indexed images and commonplace books of sorts that act as primers to the subjects within the library. Our tour librarian informed us that many library visitors are actually out-of-country visitors looking to track down their family histories; the library is well equiped to serve them.

The Dunfermline Carnegie Library also boasts a rather impressive Special Collections room, which houses three distinguished collections--including a large Robert Burns collection second only to the one in the poet's home town. All of these items are available for exhibit and for patron perusal, a huge benefit for the library and its users. These Special Collections are housed in a separate room just off the original lending library in the space, which is now used as the reference library. Its walls are covered in open-access books, and tables and PCs fill the floor space. A very good library feeling, indeed.

The general collections of the library were pretty impressive, with the bookshelves in a round orientation circling the enquiries and issues desk. Perhaps most interesting and out of the usual way of things in the general collections room was that the bookshelves are all original to the room. I had never seen such intricately-carved bookshelves before, complete with gargoyles atop some of them.

Children's was impressive, bright, and sunny as well. Usefully for children, the non-fiction children's books were not organised according to Dewey Decimal order but instead according to broad subjects--Earth and Space, Famous People, Foreign Places--that better mimic how children think. I've really been surprised at the number of libraries I've visited this trip that have forgone Dewey for their own schemes; perhaps we're missing some key thought process in the US.

Two of my favourite aspects of the Dunfermline Carnegie Library operation:
1) They have a Book Prescription Service, wherein a person is prescribed a book by a doctor the same way they might be prescribed a medication. These prescribed books run the gamut from books about diseases to more psychosomatic and social topics, like divorce and abuse. The library is getting ready to expand the program to children's.
2) They are currently in the fundraising stages of adding on to the library space. The new space would allow for a museum and art gallery to be connected to the library proper, essentially following the "discovery centre" movement that I'm growing more interested in by the day.
All in all, awesome library. I would be more than happy to work there should any openings appear!

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