Thursday, July 31, 2008

Library @ The Bridge, Glasgow


After the wonderful morning lecture, and treating us to a delicious lunch, Mr. McMenemy took us on a field trip to tour an innovative, joint-use public/community college library project in an economically disadvantaged area of the city called Easterhouse. The library is integrated into a multi-use community center called The Bridge, and has been open for only two years.

The Library @ The Bridge occupies an open space between the college and the community center, essentially making it the heart of the facility. It is laid out in terraces divided by shelving units, so each area has its own defined space. The day we were there, two of those spaces were being used for different organized activities, face-painting and some kind of art project/video activity. Because of the terraced design, there is a fixed amount of shelving space, but this has not been a problem so far, according to the librarian in charge, Stephen Finnie. Even though, theoretically, libraries with movable shelving could create more space by rearranging the stacks, all libraries have a finite amount of space, and it is always difficult to find more. If, in the future, this library needs more, there appeared to be space to work with.


Sloping ramps lead down into the library, as well as up to the terraces, making it accessible for wheelchairs, while an upper gallery provides seating overlooking the library. On the upper level is also a 'treehouse' room called the Den, which is available for community use and is wired for computers. A terraced, grassy area outside the library, and resembling a small amphitheater, is used for programming.
The library has approximately 30,000 items, for a service population of about 29,000, with a core staff of six full-time library assistants, and a currently in-flux number of other employees (the space is being renovated). Suggestions for new materials are submitted by staff on a weekly basis to Mr. Finnie, who serves on a committee of six professional librarians overseeing the whole area (this number does not include cataloguers and other "behind the scenes" librarians). Each one of them is in charge of multiple libraries, and they are in turn overseen by two senior librarians. Mr. Finnie feels that this more lateral management structure has put professional librarians more in charge of how the libraries are run than the former structure in which each branch had a degreed librarian working on-site.

In addition to the library, The Bridge includes a swimming pool, a dance/theater studio, a costume shop, and a cafe, among other things. The wall between the cafe and studio can be opened up for large events. Most events at The Bridge are free, with a few exceptions. Mr. Finnie said the costume studio rents out costumes to the public, and will sometimes even make costumes upon request, at no extra charge, if they feel it is something that others will want to rent in the future. There is a section of slat wall in an area between the library space and some of the arts spaces that can be used for special displays, including end-of-year displays of student artwork from the college.

In the short time it has been open, The Bridge and its library have had a powerful impact on the local community, based on the handout prepared for us by Mr. Finnie. The neighborhood statistics are rather appalling, but the services now available at The Bridge have been increasing in use, and the library is proving to be as well-used as some in more affluent areas of town. It seems to me that The Bridge has accomplished what the Idea Store model was aiming for, but has missed. Clearly their biggest mistake was to get rid of librarians, because if they had someone with the knowledge, expertise, experience, and passion of Mr. Finnie, they would surely be succeeding like the Library @ The Bridge.

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