I realise branch public libraries need more support and publicity but I physically can’t get round all the libraries in the country. However, the central libraries in England … that sounds doable.
I have an affection for central public libraries as I worked as a Saturday/summer/shelving assistant in Croydon Central Library for most of the 90s. I was there when the Library moved to its new building the Croydon Clocktower. A brand new library on 4 floors including reference, lending, music, children’s, local studies, café, museum, cinema and tourist information centre. It was a wonderful modern building hidden behind the old Town Hall façade (which regularly appeared on the TV show The Bill).
The design wasn’t perfect – nothing ever is – but it was so nice to be in a spacious building designed for books and computers! It had natural light, lifts, escalators and now even served cake!
Budget cutbacks and local government policies have since trimmed its services so my memories are rose-tinted but it’s more the feeling of being a in a library – a centre of learning and repository of knowledge – which was valuable enough to a community to be considered worthy of precious funds, that I most remember.
However, it turned out that my understanding of a central library feeding branch libraries is a metropolitan idea that I had assumed was the standard model. But it isn’t. I contacted CILIP to see if they had a list of all the central public libraries but they didn’t. I found a spreadsheet on a gov.uk website and endeavoured to edit it down but in the end I realised it would be easier with a book. So I ordered a second-hand copy of the LA’s Libraries in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland 2002 (28th edition). A discard from South Tyneside Libraries. Henceforth the directory will be known as my bible.
Where I work UX (user experience) and ethnography are the buzz words. Customer service and reader services have always been my area of interest. I am fascinated with the first impression customers get of the libraries I work in. Staff quickly become institutionalised. The only way I can capture that feeling of walking in to our Library for the first time is to visit others myself. Yes, first impressions are very superficial but they can determine whether you will ever go back, or at the very least your interactions and expectations of the Library will always be judged on the benchmark of that first visit.