Brixton Central Library was the first Tate free library that I have visited – it makes a change from all the Carnegies. If you haven’t heard of Henry Tate he is the man who endowed the original Tate Gallery in London and whose sugar company became Tate & Lyle.
Brixton Library is the central library for the London Borough of Lambeth. I have an affection for this library as my father worked here in his early twenties (where he first used a photocopier) and the library is always in the press being supported by its community so I was looking forward to visiting.
I was a little disappointed by the entrance but a sign explained that the door hinges were over a hundred years old and had to be sent off for repair and that these were temporary doors – fair enough. The library is now over 120 years old (built in 1893) and, if you have time, take a look at the excellent old postcards and photos on the BrixtonBuzz website showing how the Library and the Tate Gardens have changed over the years.
Inside, the library feels very modern, with some older features still retained – like the spiral staircase in the corner. I am only just realising now that I look at the photos that most of the libraries I have visited have carpet or industrial flooring and yet Brixton has wood (or wood effect) which made the space feel warm in a homey sense.
I was captivated by the glow on top of the DVD cabinets. I don’t know why – maybe I was a moth in a former life. I couldn’t see where they plugged in and I wondered if the staff go home and kick themselves that they forgot to turn them off.
I wasn’t sure whether upstairs was also open to the public but as I saw a few people go up – I also ventured upstairs. The reference and study areas were upstairs and very busy with most desks filled (it was a Monday afternoon in April). There was even a queue at the enquiry desk.
I really like the signs on the wall that look like street signs and the modern study pod was cool.
The library is a short walk from the tube station and on the way you pass Electric Avenue. I spent the rest of the day with Eddie Grant’s song in my head and researched the street’s history.
Oldham library has a lovely approach – it feels like it has its own front garden. The new building is from 2006. It has a nice café, a gallery and a performance space. Its address is the cultural quarter. I really like its name – the “library and lifelong learning centre”.
Inside it was very modern, open plan with concrete pillars and splashes of red. There were large floor to ceiling picture windows on several sides. Between the book stacks there were sofas and chairs next to the windows arranged in a sitting room format. They looked like lovely spots to sit and read.
The children’s and teens’ library upstairs was extensive with study desks, comfy sofas, another picture window and high computer desks.
Interestingly the staff all wear T-shirts. I am in favour of staff being identifiable, usually by a badge, but I wouldn’t be keen on having to wear a uniform.
Sale Waterside is a very modern building which the library shares with the council and is described as a local arts complex. Although the building is great and I am in favour of these community hubs I feel that the library should have been given more space. Hubs feel quite odd at weekends when the council facilities are all abandoned but the libraries are still open. However, further along the building is the local theatre and art gallery and a restaurant and a pub. Waterside stands on the site of the old civic theatre and town hall and has preserved some of the original features.
There was a well stocked library shop in the vast entrance area, but then moving into the library area the ceilings were comparatively low adding to a feeling of “squashedness”.
The library had plenty of stock and patrons and included the local studies library and a children’s area. It even had a replica of an old shop in a corner.
There were several displays up and I thoroughly enjoyed the women’s suffrage one as I am working on a similar display in my library.
I had to take a picture of the penguin in the foyer as I love penguins. Apparently it was part of a summer public art project in 2016 created by Two by Two Hurrah.
Tameside Central Library in Ashton under Lyne, Greater Manchester, is in an old Victorian building with the library downstairs and an art gallery upstairs. According to the web the building was once a school.
The art gallery upstairs was particularly lovely. The library was shabby but I was told that the service is moving soon. The foyer and flooring were very grand. There was an old booth in the reception area that reminded me of a box office and made me feel like I was entering a theatre.
The main library room had a red wrought iron mezzanine floor. The book shelves on the mezzanine looked largely empty but there were students studying at the desks.
I loved the “Blooming Good Books” display with copies of book jackets growing on the tree. The children’s area looked colourful and inviting and had some children playing in it.
Along a corridor there was a separate reference reading room and two computer rooms. There were signs to the adjacent local studies and archives centre. Even the large print stock was in a room of its own. I can see how this building requires a lot of staff but I am disappointed to read reports that the number of qualified librarians will be cut after the change over to the new service.
There were other signs of under-investment such as a ventilation or heating grate that was making an awful racket in a corner. As I usually comment on the chairs I have to point out how threadbare they were at Ashton.
I look forward to seeing the new library service when it has moved and I wonder what will become of this building.
Staffordshire County Council don’t designate a central library so I visited the county town’s library. The current Stafford Library was opened in 2015. The previous library had been based in the centre of town at the Shire Hall and there had been an even older Carnegie library in use before that. There was some disappointment that the new library was not centrally located (see the BBC article on the subject). However, it was argued that this library was more fit for modern requirements, with emphasis on the new Innovation Suite, coding club and 3D printer.
The library still feels brand new and clean. The overwhelming décor is grey, green and glass. I have seen this signage, furniture and layout before in Rotherham library although there the colour pallet was grey and purple.
I liked the quotes on the walls but was surprised at how many TV screens there were. I think one had the news on with the sound up and another had local adverts. There were also several freestanding digital signs. There was a quite a lot of hussle and bustle and the man on the PCs giving his entire personal details during a mobile phone call was amusing (and trusting).
The children’s area was a corner of the large space. There was a reading hideway and a pond themed raised reading area that was really imaginative.
I have been looking forward to visiting this library, as I had seen pictures of it in other publications, looking new and interesting, with a pool of shimmering water beside of it.
As I have a tendency to do – I walked out of the tube station and charged off round the water only to realise the stairs to the underground were next to the library’s entrance and I was walking the wrong way.
Once I had turned around and gone back I entered through the café which was brimming with people on this cold Monday lunchtime. Adjacent to the café is the ground floor area with an enquiry point, some self-service terminals, some “Quick Choice” books and a security guard.
I immediately saw the central wooden curved stairwell that looked very warm and inviting so up I went. The next level up had a really colourful block carpet which brought the place to life. There was plenty of book-stock, windows, staff, computers and readers.
The next floor up was a mezzanine of study positions around the stairwell/atrium. Most seats were occupied including some by older kids in school uniform. There were chairs with the built-in note-taking arm which were positioned in the windows. There were plenty of meeting rooms on the sides of the library, of various sizes. Several were in use and they must be a really handy facility for the community.
The library’s opening hours are good – opening until 8pm every weekday and opening on Saturdays and Sundays. The theatre is in the same building too.
The whole library was bathed in light but also full of nooks and crannies for people to settle in and study. The children’s library had several children in it, so I couldn’t take pictures, but I was able to take a picture of their boat.
Southwark Libraries don’t designate a central library and Canada Water may not be their largest, but it was well worth the visit! Here’s an interesting article in the Guardian from when it opened in 2011.
Although quite a grand building, Northamptonshire Central Library is quite unobtrusive if you approach it from the side, walking along the busy shopping streets. It is a Grade II listed building built in 1910 with statues on the front of John Dryden, Thomas Fuller, George Washington and Andrew Carnegie. I like how it proudly has ‘PUBLIC LIBRARY’ in stone at the top. The building was refurbished in 2009. The registrars have also been based in this building since 2015 so it is called: LibraryPlus.
The library floorplan shows three floors however the stairs down to the basement were roped off when we were there. I don’t know how to get to the local and family history section which is in the basement and called ‘Discover’. Maybe there are other stairs or maybe the basement area was closed as this was the period in between Christmas and New Year?
The children’s area was fenced off and made to look like a castle. It looked really great and had swathes of colourful fabric from the ceiling which made it look quite magical. I could also see an Elmer book box (Elmer gets everywhere).
This library also has the popular spotty chairs. Green is a theme as the walls, the plaster edging on the ceiling and the end of some the bookstacks are green.
The library is also a Business and IP Centre and has an enclosed glass pod that can be hired for meetings.
There was also a display and a social media campaign encouraging customers to download an app so that they can borrow ebooks from the library.
There are some further historical details of the library and a picture of the Carnegie Room on the Carnegie Legacy in England blog.
Unfortunately the library service in Northamptonshire is under threat as the council has launched a consultation on how to save money.