The Barbican Library
Plugged Into The Matrix


Nowadays information can be transported at the touch of a finger – and the concept of library is beginning to dissolve itself into the more embracing notion of the World Wide Web.

IT will kill all physical attempts to store information, all that will be left of what once housed information, will be the name used as a short-hand term for its ‘virtual’ equivalent inscribed on some hard disk. Libraries will not escape.

Mind you, judging from the computers on show in the Barbican Library computer room, technology has got quite a bit of work to do before it gets a grip on this place. Part of the charm of publicly funded libraries is they are often twenty years behind everything else and contain technology that would not even be new to Albania.

There are two or three rows of computers in the computer room. Each computer is enclosed in a metal case, which is bolted to the desk. I start thinking about stealing one and how much I might be able to get for a computer, which looks marginally more powerful than a ZX Spectrum, and can only take a floppy disk.

But who’s the ignoramus here? Me. John, Head of the Library, explains that the computers on view, whilst 4 to 5 years old, are thin clients. Thin clients don’t work as a single self-contained computer, hence their small size. Instead they are controlled by and communicate with a more powerful computer somewhere else, something called a server. Thin clients are cheaper to purchase but also more secure, because the user’s data is never stored locally within the library, but at a distance on the server.

The computer room is housed in the area of the library which stretches behind the issuing desk. Here there are quite a few twenty-somethings, possibly students, and maybe immigrants with no computer of their own. This is probably the area with the highest concentration of people, and yet no-one is looking at each other. They’re all plugged into the matrix. The only eye contact is a furtive attempt from the girl sitting opposite me to work out why I’m looking at everyone and not typing.

I’d like to get to know her but has anyone ever really pulled in the Barbican library computer room?

The computer room is like a wartime bunker. The ceilings are low-lying and the heat from the machines raises the temperature. A guy walks around and behind me with a diaphanous orange plastic bag in which there is a half-litre plastic bottle of milk.

People still come to libraries to get information, 45% of users included in a recent survey, said they had come to the library to find something out. However people are now using the library, and the internet facilities, as a conduit into which they can channel information and communicate. Thirty-eight percent of those surveyed said they attended the library to use a computer.

The internet, unlike the telephone or the mobile phone, has become an accepted medium through which people may communicate with people outside the environs of the library. It seems that the gentle pitter patter of the keyboard is a good noise, peoples’ voices aren’t.


www.fivelondonlibraries.net
Barbican Library Videos Barbican Library Links Other Library Links


Brutally Cemented Into The Future

Hiding From the Bibliotheque Hunters

The Guts of the Library

Are You Contented?

Plugged Into The Matrix

The Corridor of Light

Thank-You For The Music

International Arts Centre v Community Library

Peter Boxer: Library Reading Groupie

Barry Cropper: Head of Library 1981 to 1995

John Lake: Head of Library 1995 to Present Day

White Hairs' Wonderland