This was one of my favorite days—for two reasons. This was our first official visit to a public library in the UK. It was also the last class before my birthday…which led to one of the most, if not THE most, memorable moments of the whole trip for me.
While we waited for our visit to officially begin, the professors presented me with a birthday card that everyone had signed, and then everyone sang Happy Birthday...only, because we were in the Edinburgh Public Library, they had to whisper it!
I will never forget this chorus of 20+ librarians whispering Happy Birthday to me in the entrance to the Edinburgh Central Library. It. Was. Awesome.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Welsh, taken by Dr. Griffis.
Anyway…back to business: the Edinburgh Central Library.
Entrance to the Edinburgh Central Library. This is a Carnegie Library. Andrew Carnegie insisted that any library he funded have the words “Let There Be Light” placed above the entrance.
First, we broke into three groups for a tour of the library. Later, we met back in a conference room for refreshments (I love public libraries!) and some presentations.
One of the things I like about the layout of this building is that the Children’s Library is separate from the rest of the library. There’s a room for each age group, plus a separate craft room for messy activities and events. Kids can practice being quiet (or not, depending on the activity) without being disruptive to (or disrupted by) adult library users elsewhere in the building. Each room is decorated to inspire the imagination. The room for children under 5 has illustrations on the walls and windows by Catherine Rayner, and the room for those aged 5 to 11 has circular cut-outs in the walls that the children can curl up and read in. (I might have tried it if I were certain I’d be able to get back out.)
The main floor houses the Lending department. This department houses all materials for every subject except music, art, and Edinburgh/Scotland (these materials each have their own departments elsewhere). Everything is available to borrow. Our guide explained that, in the past, you would have had to go up to a huge counter and tell a member of staff what you wanted. Now, the shelves are arranged using retail principles, with certain items on display to catch a reader’s eye, and patrons can help themselves.
The Reference department holds the same types of collections as the Lending department. This room serves as the main study space, but also as a function room after hours—staff will move the tables out of the way to hold functions here.
While much of the catalog is digitized, some items are still in the original catalog, which is kept along one wall.
There’s a special Art and Design Library upstairs that houses all materials related to fine arts, painting, sculpture, etc. This space is a combination lending and reference library that also has display space for showcasing original artists. We weren’t able to see this space, but our guide told us that the library has a special collection of Japanese works—the Dyer Collection—which includes a 40-foot scroll of Tokyo. There are images of it on the library’s Capital Collections site.
The Music Library just opened in May 2014 (my pictures of this area are too blurry). This department contains various media covering all genres of music—even whale music. They have books and films about music and musicians, sheet music, and full orchestral scores that local orchestras and choirs can borrow (up to 80 scores per concert). The Music Library has a unique mix of music-related materials in its collection: a rare collection of 18th century Scottish bagpipe music, instructions for Edinburgh country dances, and memorabilia from the mid-20th century Edinburgh Jazz scene. (The Edinburgh Jazz Festival was set to begin that weekend. I wish I’d been there to see it.) A Holocaust survivor, who also served as cantor in a synagogue in Edinburgh, even donated his sheet music to the collection. There’s also a performance diary in which local groups can promote upcoming performances, and the library has a digital piano and a computer with a piano keyboard for those who want to come in and play or compose music.
This is mostly a lending collection, though patrons are charged a fee to “borrow” video and audio recordings. I asked whether those who couldn’t afford it had a way to view or listen to the materials in the building. Our guide just said that seniors and those unemployed were classified as “Concession” status (it’s a different level of membership) and could borrow items at a discount (which still isn’t free…).
The Edinburgh and Scottish Collection is housed on a lower level and is filled with ephemera…concert programs, maps, prints, and newspaper clippings. Our guide told us that the librarians used to go through the paper every morning and clip stories related to Edinburgh. The collection has Gaelic language courses, laminated maps for hill walking, and photos of Highland life. And it has voters’ rolls and tax registers, documents from Scottish Parliament, a collection of graveyard inscriptions, and other Scottish genealogy materials.
After our tours, we all returned to a meeting room for tea, coffee, and cookies (even the shortbread sandwich cookies with the jam in the middle; I LOVE those) while we listened to some presentations.
I realize this post is already painfully long (there’s just too much good stuff!), so I’ll try and just recap key things from the presentations:
Karen O’Brien talked about the library’s collections and shared some great advice:
- Look for materials that will add value to the collection for years to come
- Collect items of national value
- Don’t purchase or accept things you know you can’t take care of
- Collect in all formats
- Conservation: if you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything
- If you’re lucky, some important collections may draw money to support their own preservation
- Use media whenever you can, let the public know about your collections, and make them fun and easy to use
Developing Business to Develop Readership
Sarah Forteath, the Library’s Business Development Manager, talked about some key initiatives she is proud of. These are the ones I found most interesting:
- Partnering with Dyslexia Scotland to put on events to raise awareness and attract more people to the library, where there are special collections and programs for people of all ages with dyslexia (e.g., Chatterbooks reading groups for kids aged 8-12)
- The Reading Rainbows Program, a book-gifting program that provides gift bags with two books for each 4-year-old in the city; the library partners with Children and Families to distribute these bags to nurseries in areas of deprivation; the libraries also conduct activities and events around these books
Alison Stoddart spoke about the library’s dedicated digital team (which includes a staff photographer) and the technology the library utilizes to organize its collections, provide access, and advertise its services.
The libraries in Edinburgh are part of City of Edinburgh Council, so the library’s primary web presence is a page with basic information on the council’s website. (This has been the case in all the public libraries I’ve researched here: the library is presented and, it seems, treated as one of the many services provided by the local council—not as a stand-alone entity, like you might find in the US. You seem to end up with less information on the web—and access to online library resources for visitors who aren’t library members—but more connectivity and inclusion with the rest of the services in the town.) To remedy the lack of information and access, the team developed Your Library, which provides links to the library's online services and collections.
The library uses free media, like Eventbrite, and social media sites (Facebook, Twitter) to advertise its services and events online. Alison said that a key to breaking down any resistance to the use of these methods is to get the staff involved in populating these sites.
The library also has a blog, Tales of One City, which keeps readers up-to-date on what’s going on at the library. I’ve been following it, and they post something every few days. They inspire a lot of excitement for the unique collections and programs the library has to offer. They just published a story about a set of World War I scrapbooks found in the collection. The library was able to find out who donated them and where the family is now. Such a cool story.
In addition, the team is working hard to digitize the library’s collections. The library has a website, called Our Town Stories, which provides a curated narrative of the Edinburgh historical collection.
As I mentioned earlier, the library also has a Capital Collections site. This site gets over 100,000 visitors a year, and the library even sells images through this site.
Edinburgh Collected is a site where people can contribute their own personal memories and photos to the library’s digital collection. There’s also a mobile version so members can contribute photos and stories as they happen. What a great way to get people involved in making connections and contributing to local history!