The Barbican Library
Barry Cropper: Head of the Barbican Library, 1981-1995

The 1964 Public Lending Libraries Act fathered my child

The 1964 Public Lending Libraries Act required all local authorities to provide public lending services. The City of London Corporation at the time did not have any lending libraries, although it did have two reference libraries, and a number of institutes which had been established by Victorian philanthropists.

The City of London Corporation agreed to take over responsibility for the institutes, and convert the existing resources into four strategically sited lending libraries. One of these included the Barbican library.

The Barbican Library funding was put under threat during the 1960s, but the project went ahead, because the site of the City of London’s Cannon Street library was bought by a developer. The money was used to fund the library.

Equipping ourselves for action

Back in the seventies it was decided that the Barbican Library's initial stock would be created by combining the content of the Cannon Street Library with that of one of the public lending libraries run by voluntary institutions in the City of London. Furthermore the library was included in a joint specialisation scheme for the South East which decreed that the library should specialise in finance, conservation and Marxism. Its location in the Arts Centre meant that it was decided to also specialise in arts and music.

Tenant landlord relationships

When the library opened, the Arts Centre made us feel welcomed. We worked hard to ensure that the library was part of the Centre. We installed art exhibitions in the foyer, an idea I took from when I had worked in Watford, and included children’s activities.

The biggest problem is the noise. The Barbican Arts Centre has expanded its foyer activities, often to generate income. For example it caters for graduation ceremonies, where you can find 2000 people queuing to enter the Barbican Hall, and the events are broadcast. The library stands above the foyer.

Sadly the Centre does not see the Library as central to what it offers and, although we work together very constructively whenever possible and they do their best to minimise any problems, when push comes to shove they inevitably look after their own interests.

I fully supported the integration of a library with the Arts Centre. I think it needed to be there. But in purely library terms if someone came to me with a site that was central to the city I’d be out like a shot. If we were to designate a spot for a central service in the Square mile, then the Barbican Library would be considered too northerly. I recently read that the average lunch break for the City worker has come down from 40 to 19 minutes (essentially they need ten minutes to get here, ten minutes to get their book out and ten minutes to get back to work).

Use me, shake me, anyway you want me

The total number of loans has dropped from 500,000 to 470,000 in two years. Over the last five to six years, the City of London has developed a website for its libraries, and the public can now reserve books online, which has the impact of reducing the number of physical visitors.


In the 1980s, when there was a ‘City Boy’ mentality amongst those working in the city, the city boys were so used to getting out their wallets and showing their cash, that when I asked one for fifty pence, which is what we charged for requests for books from other libraries, he instinctively took out a fifty pound note.
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