The Barbican Library

The Barbican is one of three lending libraries of London’s square mile. It serves a population of 11,000 residents, though anyone that visits this part of London often can have a library card.

The area was heavily bombed during WWII and as a result the entire area was flattened except for St. Giles Church. The government made the Barbican Estate for the people who lived there and is a very active arts centre that has a theatre, symphony, movie theatre, library, gallery and a girl’s music and drama school. The building is a great example of brutalist architecture and because of this it is difficult for the library to make any changes to the building to make it fit their needs.

Barbican’ main issue is the building itself as it was not designed to be a library and because of its design it is hard to modernize as the walls are made of concrete. Changes can not be made easily as permission is needed by two authorities. Changes are rarely granted as the building is protected due to its architectural significance. One thing the Barbican library would really like is a meeting room/classroom for them to use, as well as the public, for programming. They have done their best to create a sitting area in a corner of the library but are not able to put up a wall due to the architectural significance of the building

One thing I learned today that shocked me was that because the British Libraries Act of 1964, the library does not provide DVDS or CDs for free, only books. I work at a library in Canada that provides everything for free no matter what it is or what it is for. The librarians explained that the act was written before technologies such as CDs, DVDs etc. And that without a great amount of funding they would not be able to provide these materials without having patrons pay a small fee for them. I do not judge or criticize British Libraries for this as I know that the cost of these materials and that funding is hard to come by. I also know that libraries would provide these materials for free if they were able. All librarians are very generous with information sharing, it’s in our nature.

The librarians here do an excellent job of adapting to their surroundings and providing the best services they can with the building they have.

Librarians often have to think outside of the box to make make a cut budget and an old building work. From my experience this is a problem that all libraries face no matter the country or city. Since public libraries receive most of their funding from the government it is difficult to have the funds and the authority to make the decisions the library would like to make. This is the trade off for public libraries being free to the public. It is not always an ideal situation but librarians make it work and provide excellent services and materials that target their specific community.


About librarianmaggs

Working on my MLIS (Masters of Library and Information Science) and have a tremendous love of books and libraries. Works at a city library and hopes to one day make a difference in the library a world. I want this blog to be a place where we can have conversations about what is happening in the book, library, archive and museum world! It is also a place where I will post travel blogs of libraries, archives, and museums that I visit.
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2 Responses to The Barbican Library

  1. Loves2Read says:

    Excellent article! Do the people of these communities value their library? Do they use them? It seems like in general people feel that libraries are no longer needed. They do not recognize the services and value they add to communities, especially in times of economic hardship. I wonder if people in other countries feel the same way?


    • Good question. I have been to 3 libraries on London so far for this course and all libraries were active and being used by the public. People who use the library and have incorporated the library in their lives understand the value of a library.

      Librarians understand the value because they see their value everyday. Whether they help someone access a government form online to fill out, provide free computer classes, help someone send in an online resume, help young children with their reading, provide a student information that they can not find online, archive a rare document etc.

      I also find that most people would say that they think the library is important even if they do not use it themselves. Most understand the importance of early literacy and the help the library provides for the less fortunate. One of the main issues that libraries face is how to get the non-user to use the library. Libraries are having to find new ways to get the word out to their community that they exist and have useful resources and services.


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