Monday, July 27, 2009

Central Library, Edinburgh: "Tecvm Habita"

After a break wandering around Edinburgh that included lunch at the Elephant House (the coffee-house where J.K. Rowling wrote tons of Harry Potter) shopping for fabulous old books, and eating crepes in front of Edinburgh Castle, our group met up at the Central Library. I was very interested to see a public lending library in Scotland, and Central did not disappoint me.Central was founded in 1890, and it has the distinction of being a Carnegie Library; there is a bust of Andrew Carnegie inside to commemorate his generous endowment (£50,000!) for the building. The motto on the outside of the library, "Let There Be Light," is a Carnegie Library characteristic. The library is now funded by the local authority, although they receive grant funding for special projects. Central is quite large, and is comprised of the Edinburgh Room, a unique local history/archive for Edinburgh with 100,000 books, maps, photographs, parish registers, newspapers, and more; the Learning Centre, a place for free internet and Office applications; the Resource Centre, similar to the Learning Centre, but for people with certain disabilities; the Fine Art Library; Children's Library; Music Library (the largest in Scotland); Central Lending Library; and the Reference Library. Central is one of the largest public lending libraries I've ever been to, and I was impressed by their array of buildings and services. Ian Wright, Development Officer for the library, gave my half of the group a tour around the non-public stacks, as well as all of the rooms I listed about. The children's library is a great space; the music library was very similar to the Barbican's in sections and material, but I'm sure it had more of a Scottish focus. I absolutely loved the reference library - the ceiling is high and domed, there are chairs and tables everywhere just to sit and read. The space in every section is beautiful - the Art library had lots of natural light, and the stacks in the other shelf areas were beautiful wooden bookcases. However, as I've seen in other libraries in the UK, beautiful, fixed bookshelves often create space issues, so many books have to be retrieved from storage in employee-only stacks. In almost every library I've been in, both in the US and UK, there are problems with aesthetics versus practicality in the design of buildings, and space is usually a problem no matter what. Central Library has barely had any renovation since it was built, and it does not have a lot of wheelchair access. This is disappointing, but they are aware of it and working on it.After the tour, Ian and the other group guide, Fiona, took us to a huge conference room and offered us tea, coffee, and biscuits (cookies), as well as free "Edinburgh Public Libraries" cloth bags. Their hospitality was absolutely incredible - they, and every other Scottish person I met, were so helpful and nice.

While we had tea, resident Reading Champion Colm Linnane talked to us about some of the projects he's been involved with regarding reader development. He has primarily worked with young people in children's homes and group homes, trying to get them interested in reading by making reading fun, not something they just associate with school. He discussed how he and his team do not impose taste on what people read; they just want young people to want to read, whatever that might be. He tries to match a person's interests with books they may be interested in, and often finds that particular "in" to get them reading. Colm also arranges book groups that have become very popular. It was very easy to see that Colm is incredibly passionate about his work, and he stated that he just wants to show others how important libraries can be. It is no shock that his program was nominated for a national award.A moment that stuck with me - on the tour, Ian pointed out a door near the reference library with the Latin inscription "Tecvm Habita," which he said loosely translates to "Be comfortable with who you are." This is a wonderful message for a public lending library, I think. No matter who you are, you belong here. Be comfortable in your own skin. The Scottish people I met certain seem to have that concept down, and the Central Lending Library is a wonderful place to be who you are.

For more information about Central:
Central Library
For more information about the first Carnegie Libraries in Scotland:

--Outside building photo from Flickr page of Liz McGettigan, Library and Information Services manager at Edinburgh city libraries (scaffolding is currently on the building, so I didn't get an exterior shot)
--Reference room dome photo courtesy of Dr. Teresa Welsh (my camera died)

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