Our first public library visit was to the 125-year old Edinburgh Central Library. Our guide joked that the library ran out of space the very minute it opened, which is a theme that has appeared throughout our library visits. The library was funded by American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and was the first public library to open in the city of Edinburgh. It remains in its beautiful original Carnegie building. But being in a Victorian building has its challenges too, especially when trying to meet the needs of contemporary library users. I thought that there had been some particularly creative and effective updates to the library space, such as the new meeting room space, the renovated children’s library, and the addition of a mezzanine level in the lower levels of the library, which allowed the library to meet modern needs without totally sacrificing the beauty of this historic building.
The library has several special collections, including materials on Edinburgh and Scotland, as well as an extensive music library. Edinburgh is a very musical city, which is reflected in the huge collection of sheet music, CDs and DVDs, and an online music streaming service. I thought it was especially neat to hear about local writers, some of whom are now quite well known (including Ian Rankin) who have written here before. I think that’s one of the most interesting thing about public libraries – the opportunities for using it as a creative space no matter your age, background, or present circumstances.
We were very warmly welcomed to the library, and it was inspiring to see the enthusiasm and creativity of all of the staff that we were lucky enough to meet. Following our engaging library tours, we got the chance to hear about some of the specific initiatives and programs taking place at the library, over tea and cookies. The library has also developed many digital offerings, to be available to users 24/7. And beyond its 1 million item collection, entirely accessible to the public, the library is actively recording, preserving and making accessible the city’s history. There are opportunities for community members to be part of the creation of historical records, or to access historical images. There is a photographer on staff who is capturing life in Edinburgh today, for the benefit of future generations, and who has been working on the library’s digitization projects.
It was very exciting to visit a library where such exciting and innovative work is taking place, and especially to encounter fellow librarians who were so open and willing to share their experiences with us.