The past couple of weeks have involved a certain amount of travelling and as usual I've slipped a couple of library visits into each journey. Last week I had a meeting in Birmingham and decided to go up north a little early to get some family history research in (I have ancestors from Rugby). This meant I managed to spend a day in the lovely Rugby Library and Information Centre using their microfilm reader. I've visited Rugby Library a few times now and I really like the layout and atmosphere. The children's library is right by the entrance with a great big activities room viewable from the issue desk through the perspex wall, the activities room does a good job of making the children's activities visable but cutting down on the noise in a very open library. The computers have been put up on a mezzanine level which also cuts down on the noise level and allows for a IT classes or homework sessions to be held away from the main library. Unfortunately all 3 microfilm reader/printers are on their last legs and after several dodgy printouts the librarian had to admit defeat "they need replacing but I don't think we'll get new ones any time soon"! They also have a single photocopier, located at the front of the library which has to be activated by a member of staff and then involves you queuing up a second time to pay for your photocopies (assuming you're honest enough to do this!), a little frustrating when you consider there are no reading areas near the photocopier. In all Rugby gets my thumbs up as a lovely public library.
A thumbs down however to the Birmingham Central Library which I found rather confusing and depressing. A quick look at their website shows that the service is aware of the problems with the library and a new Library of Birmingham is planned for the near future. I'd like to see tidy shelves and a more welcoming staff presence added to the list as the only smile I received was from the guard on the front door and after 10 minutes wandering round the library I had to leave before I took my coat off and started tidying!
This week I managed to fit 2 visits into a trip to London for another meeting and also popped into the British Library. My first visit was to Swiss Cottage Library in Camden (north London near Regents Park). I came across this library following a conversation at work discussing innovative libraries we could visit in London. All the news from London seems to be about Ideas Stores so I wondered what other London libraries had been redeveloped recently and I'm so glad I looked into this. Swiss Cottage Library was a delight to visit! I even sat down in the library and started to make a list of all the things I liked so that I didn't forget any! The layout was so simple that I felt I could make a decent guess at where any book might be filed and find it there. They have gone for an Arts/Science division to the library with a red zone for arts and blue for sciences. Arts includes fiction, biographies and CDs/DVDs on the first floor with more academic subjects such as music scores on Arts 2. Science has cookery etc on first floor (including teenzone with GCSE and A-Level revision guides) and subjects such as chemistry on the second. The children's library is fantastic and has been designed by a local artist. This library doesn't set out to wow but includes lots of simple little ideas to make the user experience better. I liked the globe in the travel section, the quiet reading areas with wall racks for newspapers and current journals, the children's toilets right next to the children's library and the large number of desks with sockets underneath for laptops to be plugged in. I would also like to steal the idea of promoting subjects on the second floor by putting new and interesting items on designated displays on the first floor and 'for more books on ... see S2' notices. Much of this echoes plans that we have for our library and I'm hoping our librarians get a chance to head up for a look sometime soon.
While in the capital I had to check out one of the Ideas Stores as well and chose the most recent 'flagship' Idea Store Whitechapel for my visit. Now before I go further, please bear in mind that this visit was at the end of my day, I had been on my feet for about 7 hours and had just experienced how 1 inch of snow can affect the Tube 12 hours after falling! Firstly, there is a very good cafe at the top of the 'library' which serves excellent tea and chocolate cake (a very important point when you forgot to stop for lunch) and has a lovely view of the city at night. This is not top of my list of what I would like from a library but I did like the fact that the newspapers and popular journals were available in this area for you to read over a cup of coffee. Refreshed I ventured into the rest of the library hoping to be inspired but left rather disappointed. I had hoped to see something innovative and exciting but the building felt to me like a library in a multi-storey carpark. There was some rather nice curvy shelving and self-issue points on each floor but the library is still divided into reference and lending floors with families firmly kept in the children's library on the ground floor away from the adult books. DVDs and some display books are the only other items available on the ground floor and from the outside children and DVDs are about all you can see. I'd like to visit again and take a look at some of the other Ideas Stores as my first impressions of this venture were not good!
Lastly a mention of my quickest visit of the fortnight - I finally got a chance to pop into the current British Library exhibition London: A Life in Maps and this has to be my top recommendation for anyone visiting London this month. I love historical maps generally but was amazed by the amount and variety of images that the British Library have brought together in this exhibition. Arranged chronologically the exhibition takes you from the earliest images of Roman London to visions of the Olymic future. I was particularly fascinated by the maps showing London before and after the great fire and the descriptions of how the city grew to encompass surrounding villages such as Islington. Unfortunately I only had about 30 mins so I'm hoping to pop up for a longer visit later in the month. For anyone who doesn't get a change to visit the BL I can recommend the online virtual exhibition.