Oh yes, I remember why I want to be a librarian!

This post is about a visit to two local libraries last week in the Sheffield area, as part of my masters. The visits were great, and really reminded me what great work libraries can do (hence the title).

I’m really sorry, but this post is quite hefty!

The first visit was to Chapeltown Library and Children’s Centre. The library is co-located with the Children’s Centre, and has a large community room for use by different groups, such as baby weighing, or breast-feeding advice. The library was really nice, and has aged well considering the building was erected in the 1980s. It had a feel very much like the public library I used to work at during Sixth Form College, as it was a similar size. The visit involved a quick look round, then a  discussion about the library and Sheffield libraries in general. The library has self issue machines which operate using RFID. These have proved a success, with very little complaint from the public. This was amazing to me, as I worked in Mersea Library when they implemented RFID, and the public, although on the whole please with it, were quite vocal when they disliked it. I also sympathised with the library staff, as I know how much work must have been involved, as I’ve been there myself!

After another look around, we got back on the coach and drove to the public library at Southey Owlerton, which is very new and impressive. It is part of the SOAR (Southey Owlerton Area Regeneration) project, and it is located in The Learning Centre. The building was lovely and bright, and the layout of the library really made good use of limited floor space. We were given a quick tour by the acting manager Daryl (who had amazing dreadlocks). The building has many great ‘green’ features, such as motion detecting lighting to save energy, and a ‘green roof’ which is a wildlife garden covered in wildflowers (currently covered in logs and dirt). The library has several schemes to get users involved through volunteering, for example children can help out adults at IT classes, and the building as a Learning Centre has several classrooms and an IT suite. It seems very much embedded in the area, and was built with a huge amount of consultation with the local community.

After our tour we went up to one of the rooms for tea and biscuits, and for a discussion with Daryl, the Head of Services and his soon-to-be replacement. I was really honoured that they took time out to take part in the day, and I really hope they all enjoyed it as much as I did!

This discussion was fantastic, and covered a huge range of topics. We covered the current economic climate and it’s impact on Sheffield libraries. It seems that they are doing better than most, but have still have to reduce staff numbers, and will have to reduce opening hours in the future.  We were also informed about the planning and building of the new library, and the consultation with the public. It was really interesting to hear that in the past changes to libraries were often done behind closed doors, and the public just had to deal with it. With this new library, the community were asked ‘what makes a good district library?’, and the ideas were stemmed from their opinions.

Another in-depth topic was the classification vs categorisation debate. Currently, Sheffield libraries categorise their fiction and non-fiction sections in community libraries. This is because their experience has been that users come to the library to browse, making the ritual of finding a shelf-mark on the catalogue and searching out that one particular book redundant. Instead, they can find a section they enjoy and books similar to it in the same area, i.e. Romance, Westerns, Science Fiction etc. However, the central library in Sheffield does use the Dewey Decimal System, because of the sheer size of stock.

Someone asked whether they felt there was a particular demographic they were not reaching, or were actively encouraging. The Learning Centre is a very new library, and as such they have been able to start from scratch. They are much busier than the previous local library in the area, and feel they have attracted a much larger demographic – success! However, a problem they felt was that there is quite a clear divide between different groups of users and the time of day. For example, during the day they get many adults in the library, but at 3.05, when the school just across the road lets out, the library is chocker with kids. This is absolutely fantastic, especially getting teenagers in, but it does mean adults are a little put off using the library at this time. The team are working to resolve this issue, though it does seem to be quite a small problem considering the successes they’ve had, in my opinion.

Ok, I really should stop there, or else I’ll be gushing about libraries and ‘dishy Daryl’ for weeks. I really enjoyed these visits, and they reminded me a lot of the visits on the traineeship at Oxford. I was particularly flattered that such senior members of the service came to meet us and discuss all things public libraries.

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