I know I keep saying this after practically every library visit, but Edinburgh Central Library really was my favorite of the trip. The library is huge and does so many good things for the community. Let's just say the Edinburgh Central Library puts every other public library I've seen (UK and US) to shame! The building was constructed in 1890 and is part of the Historic Scotland registry, which means they face the same kinds of construction challenges as the New College Library. However, the Central Library has learned how to adapt under pressure.
According to Fiona, the charming and indefatigable librarian who gave us the grand tour, the library has gone through many renovations over the past year and a half, and several of the rooms and services we saw were completed as recently as May.
There are several floors in this library, and they have used their space well. The adult fiction/non-fiction part of the library was the prettiest.
In this picture are the books on reserve. I took a picture of them because the librarians apparently cover the reserved books with a special wrapping. I thought this was very smart because no one can see what the patron has ordered. This way, people are less likely to steal bestsellers.
The music library is in a new location and is very well laid out.
The local history library is actually what you see in the bottom floor; the music library is where I stood while taking the picture on the right. As you can see, the local history part of the library was very accessible and comfortable to use.
The reference library is farther down in the building. Interestingly, the reference library is still in the same building as it was in 1890, and they still have a...wait for it...card catalog! That is my gigantic paw in the picture below. Apparently, they did not dispose of their card catalog once they switched over to the online form. I thought this was smart, considering in the event of a power outage or any other catastrophe, all is not lost!
The architecture there is beautiful, still retaining the elegance and opulence of the Victorian era, but also allowing for improvements to make the building more accessible.
Speaking of accessibility, the Edinburgh Central Library takes disability access very seriously, not only renovating to have a lift, but also including audio programs for the blind and even special events and programs to help people with Dyslexia. I was truly impressed and believe many of the libraries back home can take a lesson or two from this library.
After the tour, we were treated to afternoon tea and biscuits and a PowerPoint presentation by a very charming man who runs the electronic/online programs at ECL. He joked at the beginning that after making sure we were tired from a long tour and giving us a snack, he was there to ensure we went to sleep, saying he regretted to inform us the PowerPoint was unfortunately very typical. I thought he was hilarious!
ECL has a good many online programs for the community, helping people of all ages and of all abilities. There are way too many things going on there for me to list in this post, but you can read all about them on their website.
During the Q&A, I asked Fiona something that had been on my mind throughout the entire visit. "We've been to many libraries throughout London and the UK," I said, "and they seem to be struggling thanks to budget cuts, with many of them having to close down. You seem to be prospering, though. How have you managed to avoid this pitfall?" She told me there were several reasons for this, the first of which is the amount of online activity, which both justifies their presence in the community and brings more people in to the library. She also pointed out that Edinburgh's city council makes sure there is funding for the libraries. Lastly, she said the attitude in Scotland is just different because "we really care about our libraries." While that could easily be mistaken for a dig at the English, I think she really meant what she was saying, and I have seen it first-hand here in the UK. For one, the man giving the PowerPoint said there are over 28 libraries in Edinburgh alone; when you take into account how small Edinburgh is for a major city (less than half a million people), the book to person ratio is pretty big. It has been interesting to witness these issues and compare them to the problems going on in libraries back in the U.S.
All in all, it was a beautiful day, and I enjoyed every moment!