Bill Purdue’s book column: Bromley House Library is worth a visit

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A couple of weeks ago I was very fortunate to be given a personal guided tour of a library in Nottingham that is doing very well for funds and for its number of users.

I visited the Bromley House Library right in the centre of Nottingham and only a few doors away from the Central Library on Angel Row.

Bromley House is a subscription library – not many of those left nowadays, but this one (the only one I’ve ever visited) is a gem. Angel Row, Nottingham is a busy street, but once inside there was a welcoming atmosphere and a sense of calm and tranquility in the middle of a bustling city.

As my guide was in the middle of helping a reader at the time I was asked to wait in a smallish quiet room where I could help myself to coffee and sit in a comfortable armchair.

I felt that, if I were to join this august library (for which there is a £90 annual subscription – or £45 if you live more than 50 miles away), it would be the nearest I would ever get to joining a gentleman’s club, except that ladies are also admitted.

I noticed that there was a long run of Punch magazine in bound volumes, including the first volume, on the open shelves. They don’t have any shelving (or ‘stacks’ as we librarians like to call them) that is not accessible to the members, although there are certain rare and/or valuable books which are kept in lockable cabinets.

My tour started in the central room of the library, which has a spiral staircase and gallery both dating from the 19th century.

Geraldine Grey, Assistant Librarian and Reader Services Manager, explained that the books are catalogued using a unique system which makes use of fairly broad categories and that new books were simply added on to the end of the sequence, according to broad subject – which must make searching for requested items interesting.

With the exception of the Natural Sciences, there is very little on science in general or computer science and some categories of fiction (eg Sci-Fi) are not bought. However, much general fiction is bought and about 50% of the titles bought in any one year are as a result of recommendations from readers.

The stock totals around 40,000 books. The number of members is now around 1,300, a rise of about 500 since 2007, much of this possibly due to the decline in facilities at public libraries.

Readers come from both near and far. There are a lot who live or work in Nottingham, but there are even a few readers living on the south coast and one or two who live abroad.

Needless to say the librarians try to tailor their services to the requirements and circumstances of the readers.

There are no automatic or computerised issuing systems: in fact the loans are recorded in ledgers.

The only thing that is now computerised is the catalogue. Members can look up the books they need online and email their requests to the library. Geraldine told me that personal customer service was extremely important – something that the public libraries have been forced to give up to a large extent due to the cuts and computerisation.

It would be lovely to join the Bromley House Library, but ,living some distance from Nottingham as I do, I think I would not have the time to make the most of my membership.

In the April 16th, 2014 issue of the Chad, there’s more about the Bromley House Library