The above example is just one way in which the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) system works. The system has 18 branches throughout the city, all of which serve many purposes in their particular communities, but the BPL system’s beating heart is the Central Library complex downtown.
Central acquires, catalogs, and circulates the books, magazines, DVDs, and CDs that you’re accustomed to finding in the branches. But it also acquires a vast array of electronic media offerings such as downloadable films, e-books, magazines, audiobooks, and music, and it maintains databases available 24-7, at no charge to library patrons. Go to bplonline.org and you can find Hoopla, a streaming service for films, magazines, and audiobooks; Flipster, a digital magazine service; the learning tool Mango Languages; back issues of the Birmingham News, burial records from Red Mountain Cemetery, and so on.
The JCLC vans run three delivery routes five days per week to provide a
county-wide delivery service to patrons. Each year the vans travel 1,413
miles per week or 73,476 miles annually delivering materials.
These and all of the BPL system’s data sources are available to Birmingham residents, and most of them are available to Jefferson County residents. All you need is a card with the Jefferson County Library Cooperative. The cooperative serves 40 libraries throughout the county—including municipal libraries such as those in Bessemer, Homewood, Hoover, Mountain Brook, and Trussville—and it is based at the Central Library. So are the vans that deliver books and other materials that you request from your local library.
But these services are not all that you can find at Central. In Central's Linn-Henley Research Library, check out the Southern History Department, which is renowned for its book collection, maps, and genealogy resources and instruction. There’s also the Archives and Manuscripts Department, which holds more than 30 million documents and 500,000 photographs of local, state, national, and international significance, including the archives of the City of Birmingham.
At a 2012 Eat Drink Read Write festival, Brooklyn-based chef and author
Tamar Adler leads a bring-your-own cooking class, where attendees brought
anything from their fridge or pantry to see what Adler could make with it.
Like its branches, Central is a lending library, and it also hosts a variety of activities for all ages. However, its large two buildings and resources enable it to do some things on a grander scale than most of the libraries in the county. For example, Central annually sponsors a teen poetry initiative, WORD UP!, which draws teens from a five-county area, and a Local Authors Expo and Book Fair. There’s also its monthly Bards and Brews poetry slam competition and local craft beer tasting, and its annual week-long Eat Drink Read Write festival. New this year is the program Teens Engineer BHM, run in conjunction with the UAB School of Engineering, to encourage teens to consider engineering careers.
A volunteer from UAB School of Engineering shows Teens Engineer BHM
participants at the Woodlawn Branch Library how to design houses.
This month’s events calendar illustrates the scope of classes held at Central. Included are “Money Matters” programming on personal finances; “Steps to Starting Your Business,” plus classes on employment with Jefferson County and using Ferguson’s Career Guidance Center, which details more than 2,000 in-demand jobs at nearly 100 industries. Each month also offers computer classes and instruction on how to use the library system's databases.
This week is National Library Week. It is a time to acknowledge the important role that libraries and librarians continue to serve in our society. Both citizens and governmental leaders in Jefferson County often seem to forget the critical role played by the Central Library in our large and successful county-wide system since most people experience their libraries at the branch or municipal level. It is time to celebrate Central and remind everyone that it needs our continued support to maintain its special services and programs which enhance the other libraries in the county.
(You can support the Central Library by joining the Friends of the Birmingham Public Library at friendsofthebpl.org or by sending a donation to the Friends Foundation of BPL at bplonline.org under Support the Library, Library Foundation.)
Pat Rumore received a 2016 Library Champions award from the Jefferson County Public Library Association and is a board member of the Friends Foundation of the Birmingham Public Library.