Barbican Library

Interesting Facts:

  • Opened in 1982, largest lending library in the city of London
  • Oldest book able to be loaned was published in 1739
  • First music library in the city
  • After the BBC and the government, it is the largest contributor to the arts in Britain.

The Barbican Centre: A self-sustaining city birthed out of the wreckage of war. Devoted to the arts and knowledge, it is a beautiful testament to human survival–in my opinon at least. This was our first look at a public library in Boston, and I’m not sure that the 3 hours we spent there was enough to do it justice! Our tour guide, Jonathan, was the IT librarian, and the image he presented to us made me think that working in the Barbican was an absolute joy! There are a million features to discuss here. First, the library serves not only the City of London, but all of London. It is easy to get a library card, and many of the patrons are commuters who would not be able to access their home libraries easily due to their work schedules.

For those incapable of making it to the library, there is a van delivery service. There is a delightful program called “City Read” where the entirety of London is encouraged to read a book together. While most of the collection is accessible to the public, only libraries are able to access the stacks downstairs. Their book clubs are highly successful, and while funding is an issue for them as it is for all libraries, they do receive a small stipend from the city.

The Barbican also serves as a school depository library sending out approximately 40 books per term. They have a fixed sechdule for nursery and school visits, and a plethora of programs for children. The Children’s librarian, Amanda, informed us of a few:

  • One public rhyme time for babies and one for toddlers
  • story time at 4pm for 3-5 year olds
  • A “Monster Club” for 5+ where they play board games
  • A knitting club run by volunteers
  • A film club that cannot be advertised for legal reasons, but they use clever marketing within the children’s room to suggest the film–at the time of our visit it had an underwater theme for Finding Nemo

They also have an impressive summer reading challenge. For every book they read–after being given a short quiz by the librarian to ensure that they’ve read it–they receive a prize. If they read all six books they are invited to a ceremony at Guild Hall!

The music library is one of the largest in England with over 16,000 cds, a streaming service, and a comparable amount of scores ranging in a variety of styles and levels. They also have a program called unsigned London that promotes local artists. The music library also collaborates with the Guild Music School. The students offer free lessons to the patrons.

There really aren’t proper words to describe the impressive nature of this library. The only downside is that being inside of arts centre means that it can become quite noisy, and the layout is a bit chaotic. If, however, those are the only complaints I think the library succeeds at being an example to public libraries everywhere!

For more information on the Barbican Centre Library, visit their website

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