15 August 2011

Central Library of Edinburgh


July 18

The same chilly, rainy day in Edinburgh, and after lunch at The Elephant House (J.K. Rowling’s former haunt) and a slog through the saturated Greyfriars Kirkyard (where Rowling got some of her HP names), my feet were disgustingly wet but we had another tour to do.  Since we were early, some of us went across the street to the National Library to check out an exhibit on censorship, which had an interesting history of the f-word which would never be showcased in the US.

Then we went back over and into the Central Library, and settled in at a conference table to hear all about the public library system of Edinburgh.  There were three staff members present to talk to us, and first was Alison Stoddart from the Digital Information Team.


The library was opened in 1890 and is at the heart of the library system of Edinburgh, coordinating all the branches and serving thousands of people. 

There are many way in which the CLE is trying to stay on the cutting edge of web 2.0 services and technology to bring the community what it needs. The library works hard on development and maintenance. They have many online services, providing a virtual library, have recently launched a library app for smartphones, there are plasma TVs throughout the building for providing information to patrons as well as interactive touchscreens that provide maps, location information, and catalog searches.  The library is on Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, and has its own blog.

The Your Library website is a collection of all the online resources that the library provides, many free to users. There one can search the catalog, check out the ebooks and audiobooks on Library2go, get news updates, find links to local and family history resources, and access many other resources.  It’s meant as a community information site—bringing users services from all over city.  Alison also spoke about digitization as a new way of allowing involvement and giving a wider reach to the library; it is not meant to be replacement but an alternative and an outreach resource to make more people aware.

Next up to speak was Annie Bell, Reader Development Librarian.  She spoke about how the library subscribes to lots of online literature, and the Scottish Book Trust, which promotes reading, writing and literature in Scotland.  She also touched on the Reading Agency, which is a program where authors are willing to come in and promote their work, and there are monthly author events at the library.  There are also City of Literature events once a year.

Some of the work Annie does is with promotional material, awards, and the forty-six book clubs associated with CLE.  These aspects of the program work to get some people out of a reading rut.  Another program is Frontline, a reader-centered approach training. They also work with book groups, and Read Aloud for the elderly in care.

Wendy Pearson, Service Development Leader, was the last to talk to us before our tour.  She spoke a lot about technology and computer literacy, having funds for free computers and internet in libraries.  The library tried to be an informal, easy place to learn, with classes held for two hours a week for six weeks.  Sometimes there are one-on-one sessions for those who are still unsure by themselves, and every 4 months there is a celebration of class alumni.

The library offers so many services besides this though, with social network classes, job classes for those out of work, dyslexia services, and dealing with illiteracy.  Two interesting programs that they do are the Six-Book Challenge, in which people have to read six books in a certain amount of time and then write a review for each, a program which is also done in prisons; and Quick Reads, which are simple versions of books for adult beginning readers, which are important because they are not children’s books and adults don’t have to feel like they are being treated like children while they learn to read.

We looked at a few materials and were given several more, including a catalog to the Edinburgh Book Festival, which I am sorry to say happened the week after we left.  At this point we had a break for tea, and then we were split up into two groups and given a tour. 

The tour was fast-paced, including the lending library, the Scottish collections (where Olivia got into an interesting discussion about copyright that I remember exactly nothing of), the reference room, and the music collection which is in an entirely different building along with the children’s room.  Music is really important in Edinburgh and it was interesting to hear about what kind of people come in and what kind of use the collection gets.

After all this stairclimbing and a precarious moment between the buildings when I looked down from the bridge and realized how far up we were, we checked out the touch screen system, which is really cool and probably addictive if you let it be.  The second half of the class joined us, and then we were free to go, so some of the girls ran off to see Harry Potter, and I trudged back to the bus stop to return to Dalkeith to rest.

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