June 12, 2016
The Barbican is Europe’s largest multi-arts and conference venue presenting a diverse range of art, music, theatre, dance, film and creative learning events. It is also home to the London Symphony Orchestra.
The Barbican Public Lending Library inside this multiplex center, open since 1982, is one of three public libraries within the square-mile City of London. What is now the Barbican Library resided originally on Canon Street. The current space was initially meant for commercial use. Bodies were buried in the area and still lie underneath. St. Giles Church Cripplegate is within the Barbican complex. John Milton is buried in the church and Shakespeare was said to have worshipped there.
The library at this location is open to people who can offer two forms of identification (whether “moneyed or just regular people” according to Jonathan Gibbs, IT and Operations Librarian) and is growing more and more high-tech. The library offers free wi-fi and its book self-checking equipment is first generation. Books are loaned for three weeks and modified Dewey Decimal System is in use. More and more e-books and e-magazines are being purchased and e-audio is coming into play. The Barbican still has CD’s and DVD’s for which there is a charge, but audio books are free.
The Barbican Library offers outreach in a variety of forms: large-print books to people who can’t come to the library; Skills for Life section for learning English; the Education Department has all of London basically reading the same book in concurrence with special activities. The public can browse in the lower part of the library where there are 60,000 books; there are 200,000 monographs in the library as a whole. Twenty pence are charged for black and white printing and fifty pence for color. There is an active Friends of the Barbican Library and the library receives a percentage of the concessions for the arts programs.
Two assets of the Barbican Library are the music and the children’s libraries. Students of music can listen to themselves play piano without disturbing other patrons and a wide variety of music resources are available. The Music Library was the largest monetary investment in London; it was opened a year after the remainder of the Barbican opened and has the largest collection of CD’s in the country. Patrons may borrow up to twelve CD’s and the display area is used for exhibitions and also for outreach to support artists, such as those of the Bangladesh community. Some of these musicians have been featured on BBC and other music venues.
The Barbican’s children’s librarian holds that title for the City of London. There are 23,000 items in the children’s library and 8,000 more in the basement. Children’s library services cover ages four through fourteen and have been an asset for problems with children; fixed time schedules are a great benefit. Schools and nurseries bring children aged three to five on Mondays and clubs have been formed. A summer reading challenge requiring that six books be read is popular. Volunteers are assigned students who have difficulty with reading.
Although the Barbican Lending Library has money issues like most libraries, London’s public definitely benefits from its resources and outreach.