Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Barbican Library

Today we had the opportunity to visit the Barbican Library, part of the City of London public libraries system. The Barbican Library is housed in the larger Barbican Centre, an arts center that provides art, theatre, film, education, music, dance, and other events. The Centre was opened in the 1980s and is in the business district of London.

We were given a fantastic guided tour by three of the librarians and learned about the history of libraries in London. In 1423 Dick Whittington, who was Lord Mayor of London three times, founded the first library at Guildhall, which is still in existence. Guildhall is a reference only library. Beginning in the 1850s there was a boom in the opening of public libraries, but it was not until 1964 that the Public Libraries Act was passed to guarantee access to public libraries.

The Barbican Library has a general collection, including DVDs (regular and Blu-Ray!), CDs, books and audio books, and large specialized music and arts collections. The music collection includes a number of scores, a song index, and a free listening booth. This collection is used by members of the general public as well as people from all over London and the surrounding area. The Barbican has over 16,000 CDs, making it one of the largest collections in the country. Interestingly, due to British law, CDs may not be lent out until they have been out for 3 months. The music area also houses two keyboards which may be booked for free by the general public (users wear headphones), a cool feature that I wish was available in more libraries. Books and audio books may be borrowed for free, but a fee is charged to borrow CDs and DVDs.

We also visited the children's collection, which covers birth to age 14 and is divided into sections according to age. There is no school library service in the area, so the Barbican Library loans out books to area schools. A national reading scheme called Bookstart provides three packs of books to all children under five at designated intervals. Books are housed in bags, satchels, and treasure boxes, depending on the age group. The Library participates in the national summer reading challenge, and the 2010 theme is "Space Hop." The challenge's website is really cool. For each of six books read children get a small gift, such as a sticker or bookmark. A great visit to a brilliant library.

After visiting the Library, a friend and I visited Hyde Park. We wanted to see Speaker's Corner, but did not realize that it is only in action on the weekend. We also strolled around some of the area shops, including Marks and Spencer and Selfridges. The area was so busy! We headed back to the Barbican Centre via the Tube to join the rest of our group for a performance of "Nevermore," a musical based on the life of Edgar Allan Poe. The costumes were fantastic and I loved the show.

Photos courtesy of A Muscial Promenade (Barbican) and Greater Vancouver Professional Alliance ("Nevermore").

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