Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Holborn Reference Library, London Borough of Camden


“Rain rain go away,
Come again another day.
Little Johnny wants to play;
Rain, rain, go to Spain,
Never show your face again!”

Co-written by Gloria Shayne Baker and Noel Regney; part of a children's rhyme dating back to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I of England, with lyrics stemming from the invasion and defeat of the Spanish Armada in part by the stormy weather.

I finally made it! Over the River Tims and through the Wet Streets, to Holborn Reference Library I Go. The bus driver knows the way to carry the passengers through the steady downpour of rain, O!

Upon entering the Holborn Reference Library, my first independent research library visit, I noticed that there were three levels. This public library resides in a residential or borough region right outside of London Central. The borough is called Camden and the library is very near another borough called Islington with it’s own set of reference and lending libraries. The weather was just terrible on this day and as I entered I was dripping with water, so I decided to stay for a spell, do a bit of research through note taking, data collection, observation, and hopefully a formal or informal interview with a library staff member. The entrance to the library had steep steps and a long ramp for wheel chair access. I walked right into the library from the main floor to get a taste of what the entrance of the library offered. What I was immediately directed to was what I call the Reference desk, but more appropriately termed “Inquiries” here in London. There was a longer desk next to it and it appeared to be the check out desk or circulation. There were many younger persons working behind this desk. It was obvious who the Librarians were, as they were either seated behind the Inquiries desk or walking throughout the main floor with name and title badges on to my surprise. This is something that you rarely if ever see in the public libraries in America, at least in my home state of Louisiana.

I spoke for a few minutes with a reference librarian at the Inquiry desk for a few minutes. It seemed as if it were like the type of entry interviews that are conducted at the British Library to “become a member”. I told her the basis of my research and that I was a library student in the United States that has come to the UK to take a few classes at King’s College through my university’s British Studies program. I also asked her if I could walk about and take notes, get temporary access to the Internet, and observe the staff and patrons for a few hours. She said “absolutely” and let me know that if I had any questions to ask any of the staff. She let me know that in relation to my research topic on special needs populations in public libraries in the United Kingdom, Holborn had certain accommodations available for the blind, deaf,and physically disabled:

• Lift
• Portable Induction Loop
• Lift access for walking
• Ramps
• Learning Center with special keyboard for Children
• Special Software

I proceeded to collect free resources in the form of pamphlets, flyers and brochures at a large display center for the community. This display was for the eldery and there were many resources available that I collected, read and took notes on for my research paper. Some examples of the resources I collected were: resource centers for the elderly; living skills and transportation; helping with sight loss; reference groups; maps and bus guides; care homes and elder abuse. There were also very resourceful guides made available with reference to:

• looking after yourself during hot weather/health information
• accommodation options for older persons
• shelters
• moving information
• retirement
• housing
• care homes

Programs that I found relevant to the poor and the elderly in this section offered information on abuse and adult protection with contact information. Local agency information was displayed for the community and I found an elder abuse response program offering a call center with trained workers who listen, locate resources and offer options. Other brochures and guides offered health related resources on staying active and independent. There was also information on obtaining mobility aids and other useful equipment for getting around. Financial help and contact information was all found in this display and was a free hand out at the Camden public libraries. Holborn did an excellent job of having many resources available to its patrons.

I looked around and noticed that this was a very busy library and well utilized. Almost every computer was in use and there were many individuals reading or working. I was seated next to a gentleman who was working on a graphic display and kept looking up to me and wondering what I was doing because I looked around at everyone and took notes. I suppose he was suspicious of me, so I just smiled when he looked up at me only once and thereafter pretended not to notice. A smile is usually the cure for almost anything!

I observed that for those with struggles to read or visually impaired, the RNIB talking books was made available and a program for living with sight loss helpful. There were over 12,000 titles to access. This was an impressive number and I am sure this population is grateful for these resources.

Venturing over to the computer stations on the main floor of the library, I observed the online reference library collection that offered a digital collection with encyclopedias, dictionaries, databases such as newsbank and language works, reference books online, literacy resources and biographical dictionaries for just a sample of this collection. These digital resources could be of service to those who may not be able to access to library due to a lack of transportation due to poverty conditions, a physical impairment, or age. This reminded me of a program I read about called “Well and Wise” where healthy living skills training is instructed to the elderly who may have issues getting around and to help learn new venues to obtain health information as well as recreational. I thought it was interesting how this program offered information on signs of hearing loss and what to do if you think you have it and how to get help. I thought this was very responsible and helpful information to offer the elderly and thought it was wise to make this information available at the public libraries in Camden.

The Building, the Collection and other Special Features:

Other building features that I took note of was the open and automatic doors, clearly marked shelving with larger letters for clear viewing/reading, even for someone who may be visually impaired. The main floor I toured initially was for adult fiction items of the collection. A clear view of the top level of the library was made available, where I could see the non-fiction collection, more computers and tables. There was quite an extensive collection of large print books up ahead, past the non-fiction items that were alphabetized. The talking books that consisted of CDs were similarly alphabatized. I came across music and other CD’s, DVD’s and videos. Some of these formats/items could be well used by those who may have hearing impairments.

For patrons who may either be somewhat illiterate or want to enhance literacy, I came to the collection that offered special books for summer reading and new books. Since I had made it to the back of this level of the library, I headed to the front once again and decided to stop at the lift for persons with a "push chair or shopping trollies" as the sign said. It was a very small glass room that instructed one to press a large red button once inside and keep depressed after closing the entry door. I found that if you let go of the button, the lift would stop automatically and one could get stuck between floors. After being alarmed at the thought of being stuck in this lift, I read the rest of the interior signage that stated you simply needed to hold the 0 or 1 until it stopped, bringing you successfully to the level of your choice and since there were only three levels, the distance travelled was not far! You could either go up 1 or down (0).

After getting permission from the Inquiries staff to use the lift, I made it upstairs to the adult non-fiction part of the collection. There were many well labeled shelves of books that were broad in range. Nothing was very surprising subject wise other than a large selection of books on the paranormal. I took the lift once again to reach the bottom floor, which housed the Children’s Library and the Learning Center.

The Training Center there offered 12 computer stations up ahead and was a glassed in room, visible from the main hallway. There was no one inside, staff nor patrons, so I assumed that there were not any classes at the present. I looked for a posted computer training schedule here, but surprisingly there was not one. Therefore, I kept moving on after walking through an empty and boring computer classroom with nothing quite unusual from what you would find in America equipment, layout and space-wise. Actually, the room reminded me so much of the computer lab where I teach Introduction to the Internet, Introduction to Computers, Getting started with Gmail, Microsoft Publisher, Powerpoint, and sometimes Excel. The Children’s Library up ahead was also void of library staff or patrons and offered a colourful room with small tables and interactive displays. The reference collection was a very good one with Compton’s Britannica for one example. Of interest, there were fun bean bag chairs for children’s programs stacked in one corner of the room. Because there was no one to speak with, I moved ahead to the Learning Center after careful observation and notation of what I found in the Children's Library. The Learning Centre was a more exciting zone that was populated at the time of my visit with half a room full of patrons and two library staff workers that were engaged in conversations with the patrons. The Centre offered resources and technology for adults and teens. Within this room was another glassed-in, smaller room with free refreshments, coffee, tea and vending machines that incorporated seating for discussion and study. I noticed information on literacy support, adult numeracy and resources for the poor such as job placement and training, computer classes and building literacy skills. There was also information on area schools, colleges and vocational/technical ("Vo-tech") schools. The computers offered a three hour limit for patrons in the training center. I think this was a space that is inviting as it is filled with many computer work stations within a large, open space. The service areas employed several attentive library workers who were very much engaged in discussions with patrons during my brief stay there. I sat in the glassed in snack and study zone to observe, collect data and drink a diet coke while I had the opportunity!

Websites of Interest:

Holburn Library

Camden Council

London Public Libraries