Thursday, July 29, 2010

Barbican Library

The word "Barbican" is defined as "An outer fortification or defense to a city or castle" by the Oxford English dictionary, and indeed, few better words are more appropriate when confronting this edifice. If essence, the Barbican is a "city within a city," which houses approximately 9,000 full-time residents and provides workspace for approximately 350,000 employees of various businesses each day. The origins of the Barbican Library itself go back to the 15th century, when it was originally intended as a public library to be solely used by the educated. The Barbican Library as it stands today was imagined in the 1950's, planned in the 60's and built during the 70's and 80's, and provides pleasure and professional materials for employees and residents alike. With the advent of digital technology, there is currently a massive effort underway to create a collection of digitized materials for use by patrons, due to increasing interest in digital formats.

When meeting John Lake, one of the senior librarians at the Barbican he told the story of Dick Wittington, and seemed shocked that I, as an American student, was familiar with the tale. Using this revelation as a preface, Mr. Lake explained that Dick Wittington, former mayor of London, had been one of the libraries major contributors back in the days of yore.

Moving into the library proper, we learned that their main reference desk provides a wide variety of information, and not just for library matters. For example, the Barbican Library provides artist galleries at no cost, which can be booked by the month, and in exchange the library takes a percentage of the sales fee, which generates 3,000-5,000 pounds of revenue a year. Furthermore, they also have a "magazine swap" program, which allows patrons to bring, borrow and leave magazines from shared use and circulation. They have also recently added Smart-SM, which is software that analyzes the Barbican Libraries usage statistics and provides advice on how to improve them. There has also been a recent effort to digitize due to patron interest in multiple information formats, accompanying library promotions via display choices and lay out, as well as the recent creation of seven reading groups (Four for adults, Three for children), as well as the addition of graphic novels for young adults. One of the reasons the Barbican offers such services is that there are 34 local authorities who offer services, but there is little intra-organizational collaboration.

The Barbican's Music Library, which opened after the general collection, is primarily used by students. local schools and orchestras, and is organized by the Mcudden and Reed classification system. In addition, they also supply scores musicians and choral groups, and provide listening booths in the Audio/Visual Section. They are also legally required to hold new CDs for three months. This institution and the Westminster Library share the position as the flagship music libraries of the United Kingdom.

St. Paul's Cathedral Library

For such an impressive building, one would never have guessed that the architect of St. Paul's Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren, never had a concrete design when engaging in its construction. Personally speaking, this is the level of "winging it" that we should all aspire to. Moreover, in a manner befitting the nature of its construction, the St. Paul's Cathedral Library is filled with an incredible hodgepodge of exhibits, including stonework from the five previous cathedrals (referred to as a lapidarium) which had stood on this spot , as well as numerous architectural drawings, blueprints and an accurate scale model of of the cathedral itself. While I have seen impressive collections of realia in the past, it is hard to draw a comparison when faced with such a wealth of historical objects. Furthermore, all across the stonework, one can observe symbols of learning and libraries, including books, pens and paper, as well as numerous Latin inscriptions related to the fields of scholarship and libraries. One of my favorites was a quotation from Ecclesiastes 12:12, which when translated reads "Of making many books, there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh."

As for the Library itself, upon our group entering, the curator Mr. Wisdom asked if we could identify the nature of the much loved "old book smell." It was much to the surprise of the group, and certainly myself, to discover that this enticing aroma was actually the result of "off-gassing," which is to say the degradation of paper and leather from these materials reacting to the environment. Continuing on, Mr. Wisdom informed us that the library staff consisted of himself, a collections manager, a senior conservator and an archivist, who help maintain and preserve the collection, which consists of one linear mile of shelving. The main subjects areas of the library are Theology and Politics (no doubt the most important subjects of their day for gaining power and influence) and has items ranging back to the 17th century, and that many members, donators and leaders of the library were from holy orders, and belonged to both major and minor cannons of the church. However, with the advent of modern technology, there has been a recent initiative of technological progress, leading to their beginning work on online catalogs and internet resources.