Friday, August 1, 2008

The Scottish Libraries

While in Scotland, I officially (for research purposes) visited three public libraries, but unofficially I looked around two more. I will mainly write about the three I took notes in, but may include information I gleaned from personal observations in the other two.
As an irrelevant aside, all three of the official visits were to Carnegie libraries, not for any research reasons, but because I wanted to see the buildings.

Edinburgh Central Library
Carol Marr, Library Officer

Photosource: Flickr, by 'kaytethinks'

This is the main library in a 26 branch system. As such, it has the largest non-fiction collection in the city. There are approximately 60,000 books in the library's adult collection, but some are kept in reserves, available on request. In addition to standard non-fiction and fiction collections, the library has titles available in large print and a variety of European and Asian - both near and far eastern - languages, a low literacy collection, and A/V materials. Like the other UK libraries I visited, there is a charge for borrowing videos and music CDs, but not for audiobooks. We did learn from the librarian, Ms. Marr, that those patrons who are disabled do not pay this fee. I would like to find out if this is true in all UK libraries, as well as in Scotland. There are an art library and reference libraries on separate floors of the main building, and the library's children's and music collection are housed in a building across the street. Because the children's collection is in a different building, every area of the main library has a small batch of books for young children, so families can work and browse comfortably there. The YA collection is in the adult library; and though it is meant for ages 12+, due to the difference in the Scottish and English school structures, the collection is not any larger than any of the others I've seen. This is one area in which the UK libraries are definitely lacking compared with US libraries. Internet access is available throughout the library. Finally, the library features a very nice sized local studies department, the first in the country. People come from all over to research, especially family history.

Adjoining the main part of the library is the Learning Centre, where public computer classes are held, and where the Resource Centre for special needs services is located. This center is run by Jim McKenzie, Disabilities Services Officer, who is also a professional librarian. The Centre is staffed by Mr. McKenzie and one of several assistants each day. The main service provided here is computer accessibility for a wide variety of special needs.
Here people who are having difficulty with technology and information resources for any reason can come and have their needs informally assessed, so the staff can find the best way to help them. From what Mr. Mckenzie said, they will not turn anyone away who is having problems, even if they do not have an actual disability. For example, many elderly people come in who are simply too unfamiliar with computer technology to use it well, but need more help than they feel comfortable asking for in the main library. The Resource Centre will help them and allow them to use the facilities until they become comfortable. In other cases, they may simply need to use a special mouse that is easier to manipulate for someone with arthritis or loss of fine motor skills.
For those with more serious disabilities, there are a number of assistive technologies available, such as software that will read aloud texts which have been scanned into a computer. The Centre also serves the county by printing up county documents in Braille on a machine they have for that purpose.

Carnegie Library, Ayr
Aileen Cowen, Carnegie Librarian

The Carnegie Library in Ayr is part of the library system of the Dumfries & Galloway Council. Upon entering, I found myself in a beautiful, domed lobby, with doors leading off to the right and left, and a staircase in front of me. The stairway led to the local and Scottish history collections, while the two doors led to the children's and adults' collections. The reference department, Internet computers, and coffee shop are also on the main floor.
The lobby itself has been used for some very appealing book displays. Glass display cases contained items relating to Africa generally and Nelson Mandela in particular, since he has recently received a British knighthood. In addition to books, staff had decorated the spaces with artwork belonging to both the library and individual staff members. The lobby also contained a rack of brochures advertising local tours and sites of interest to visitors. This is something I had noticed in other public libraries we had visited, so I asked about it, and learned that the individual councils rent out the space to private travel/tourism organizations, and those organizations moniter and stock the racks.
The adult collection was typical of any library in the US or UK, except that they had chosen to create a section of items, both fiction and non-fiction, of Scottish-themed books, called the "Scottish Collection." Within the section, the books were arranged by Dewey classification like the rest of the library. One of the most interesting features was a rack of drugstore reading glasses for sale by the entrance to the adult section. This is a service we could definitely use in our library! The Reference room was unusual in that it shared its space with the coffe shop. The cafe area was separated only by a few dividers, and I wondered if noise was a problem. The cafe was closed while I was there, but the space was being used by a tutor with a group of ESL students. I would have asked the Reference librarian about the noise, but she seemed to be busy with phone reference, and besides that she looked a bit cranky. The Internet computers were in a separate room, and the computers were all very new looking, which is something I have noticed in all the UK libraries, including the less affluent ones that seem to need an infusion of new books.
This library, unlike the one in Edinburgh, attempts to serve youth up to age 16 in there children's room, but they didn't seem to have much in the way of services for teens, and, according to Ms. Cowen, they don't like to come into the library much in any case. It's no wonder, considering how miniscule the YA collection was, and how the children's room was quite obviously designed, decorated, and stocked for younger children. When I somewhat jokingly commented that they would probably be happy if the library let them decorate their own room in the basement, the librarian actually looked surprised and interested for a moment, as if it had never occured to her to create a space for teen patrons. I get the distinct impression that UK libraries are well behind the US in making a concerted effort to promote library use to this demographic, and I can't actually remember noticing any teens using any of the libraries I visited, either with the class or on my own.

Ewart Library, Dumfries
Helen McArthur, Libraries Support Manager
(Photo from

The Ewart Library in Dumfries serves as the central library in a district of 24 lending libraries, if you include the three which are open for the minimum nine hours per week required to classify them as libraries in Scotland, which my guide, Ms. McArthur, chose to do. Since Dumfries & Galloway are mostly rural, only nine of the 24 are open more or less full-time. The library is also responsible for a separate Archive Centre in Dumfries that is open to the public, and they have four mobile libraries and a homebound delivery service (which is common in UK public libraries, according to Ms. McArthur). Those on the bookmobile routes can put in requests for specific items, as well as selecting from the stock in the van; however, they do not have access to A/V materials - except audiobooks - because they do not want to carry cash in the van.
Something I found very interesting was the way they manage stock in the branches. The Exchange Department in the Ewart Library is responsible for rotating the stock on a regular basis, and the items do not move in and out of the main collection, but belong separately to the branch collection, and are kept on storage shelves in the Exchange Department.
The Computer Centre occupies what was once the reading room where the periodicals were kept, but a decrease in demand for newspapers and magazines, along with the high cost of subscriptions, has meant a reduction in number to only a few very popular ones. The library offers computer classes in all general areas of Internet and MS Office, as well as classes for parents about Internet use and children.
The reference department is nicely tucked away in the back of the l-shaped main area of the library, at the opposite end from the children's area and circulation, making it a mostly quiet research area in what is a relatively small, open space. There are Internet computers there for reference and history research purposes, but they are sometimes used for overflow from the Computer Centre if they are not in use. As the main branch in the council, they have an extensive local history collection which includes cemetary indexes on microfiche, historical photographs, property tax records, and the Lockerbie Archives, which contain all documents relating to the Lockerbie air disaster.
Some other general services the library offers are a coffee machine, free scanning, fee-based fax service at all branches, and sales of local history publications through the various branches.

No comments: