Sunday, August 14, 2011

Central Library, Edinburgh

On our first day in Edinburgh, we also visited the Central Library of the Edinburgh public library system. The librarians talked to us about their virtual library presence, reader development services, and other services that the library provides.
First, Alison Stoddart, discussed the library's virtual library and the library's new developments on that front. Their goal with their online presence is to provide a 24/7 digital library for customers of the 27 Edinburgh community libraries. In doing this, the library has created "Your Library," an online portal that collects together all of the library's online services, including electronic information resources, links to social media (blogs, Twitter, You Tube, Flickr profiles), Library 2 Go (where one can download e-books and audio books) and other items of interest to library patrons. Their goals in creating such as strong online presence is to attract different and new audiences, increase use of the library, and to provide services for library users even when the physical library building is closed. The library was also developing a mobile app for Android and iPhone users that will soon be transactional, meaning that users can download audio or e-books to their phones.  I thought that the "Your Library" page was very innovative--most public libraries that I've seen and used in the U.S. have Web sites with this information (electronic resources, online audio books and e-books through OverDrive or other similar providers, and ways for customers to access their accounts), but they don't collect them all in the same way. I thought that this was a very helpful thing for the Edinburgh libraries to do because it brings together all things on one page, whereas most libraries online presence is spread out over many different pages.

Then, we heard from Annie Bell, the Reader Development Librarian, who organizes events and services to make it easier for customers to choose what to read. Her job is to try to encourage library users to read more and to read more widely. She talked about the author events that she has set up in the past for the library, as well as events and services that continue to happen at the library. The library provides reading materials for over 50 book groups, and they also organize groups of people to read aloud to elderly people in care homes. She also discussed training that the library does in reader's advisory as well as training for leading book discussions. It was interesting to hear that the library, like most libraries in the UK are experiencing massive government cuts, and the libraries that we visited all discussed the impact that these cuts have on services they can offer. The librarians at the Central Library are providing so many services to their patrons, I can't even imagine what they could do with more funding--a lot of the services that they provide aren't available at many of the libraries in the United States.

Lastly, we heard from Wendy Pearson, who is the Service Development and Learning Librarian. She discussed some of the services that the library provides, including computer classes for beginners; they wanted to provide informal, encouraging places for library users to learn. They also have volunteers that serve as IT Buddies, that provide one on one instruction to those who need help with using computers. They also provide classes and events on family history, social networking, and sessions that discuss job applications and employability. They also provide adult literacy programs, including English as a Second Language programs and classes for adults that are unable to read. They also have outreach in prison libraries.

On the second level of the reference room at the Central Library
I thought that the Central Library was very impressive and innovative. The library itself was a beautiful Carnegie library; the building that we toured held the adult collection, local history collection, and reference collection. The children's library was in another building down the street. The most exciting thing for me was that we got to go up to the gallery in the reference room of the library and there were magnificent views of Edinburgh from there.  Their collections seem to be up-to-date and their services go above and beyond any library that I've been to in the United States.

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