The Curve, Slough

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One word – Lego!

This library was really nice which was an unexpected surprise. We arrived early – about 9:40, on a Saturday and wandered around the ground floor – it took me a while to realise that the rest of the library (on the floors above) was opening later at 10am.

This building is called a cultural hub with a performance space, museum, register office and much more. The Curve is next door to the local shopping centre so it is easy to pop in when you’re going to the shops. On the other side of the building is a very attractive church so the building was designed to make the best of the view and has glass on that side. This let in a lot of light and as the building is largely furnished with white it had a heavenly feel. There was even a little reading patio on the church side of the Curve.

The ground floor had a cafe, although not open yet that day, some computer terminals, a help point and some displays of books, but once we got upstairs the ‘real’ library started.

What really excited me though was the children’s library – one of the biggest and best I have seen so far. I presume Lego helped with financial support as they have an office based in Slough and that is why it was Lego themed. There were large Lego models everywhere, Lego character stickers on the windows and a Lego portrait on the wall that looked like a tapestry and was tactile rather than hidden behind glass. There was a craft area with tables and a sink and worktops to make it easier to run craft sessions.

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The other feature that really impressed me with this library was the museum pods. Dotted around the building there were at least 7, maybe 10, small square pods that were themed on different topics. You could step inside and read boards about Slough in Victorian times, or go inside another one and find it decked out like a kitchen in the inter-war period. The structures added colour and interest amongst the white and grey calm of the rest of the building.

Maidenhead Library

The Royal Borough of Maidenhead and Windsor doesn’t designate a central library so I chose Maidenhead. The one-way road system of Maidenhead defeated us so we ended up parking outside Homebase and walking back to the library. This meant we approached it from the side but did mean we were able to walk alongside the canal rather than the road. There is also a fountain and amphitheatre at the side entrance.

From the front, the library is opposite the Town Hall which looked very nice with a lot of flowers in bloom outside. From the canal vantage point, our first impression was more about why the whole building was swathed in a large net?

The library building was reminiscent of the Lord Louis Library in Newport on the Isle of Wight – although much bigger. I am assuming that the net was in place to stop birds flying in through the open slat ventilation and nesting in the open rafters above. However, the net meant that the windows hadn’t been cleaned and it did make the inside feel a little darker than I would have liked.

The local studies area was in the centre and from the teenage zone looked like an air raid shelter. My teens liked the teen zone with it’s laptop bar, sofa and collection of young adult fiction and graphic novels.

There was an area at the front of the library that had a book sale in. I can’t work out if it was intended to be a cafe area or a bus shelter area (as there was a bus times information screen) or a versatile exhibition area (there was an NHS exhibition up). Above was a huge mobile of bulsar wood type aeroplanes which was lovely but the vast open vaulted ceiling meant it’s impact was rather lost.

This is the first time I’ve noticed parcel collection boxes in a library. I’ve seen them at petrol stations which is a good idea as you can get to them 24 hours. I would be very interested to hear how well used these are.

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Bracknell Central Library

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Bracknell Central Library looks a bit cubist from the outside but on the plus side it looks big and has a car park next door. It was refurbished at the end of 2012 and still looks and feels in very good condition inside.

It was quite a brave decision to go for black as the colour scheme and have black stack-ends, wood and chairs but there are splashes of colour elsewhere and the plants are a nice touch.

I really like the study tables at the end of many of the bookstacks. They are like little hidden away study pockets. The clusters of computer terminals around the pillars is an excellent way to soften the corners of the pillars.

Love the red/read display of books and the past pictures of the High Street in the hallway. Many libraries have exhibitions and displays marking the 70th anniversary of the NHS, including Bracknell.

 

And Karen, you’ll be pleased to know your colleague’s are respecting your request, even on a Saturday.

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Wokingham Library

 

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Wokingham library felt a little dated, particularly compared to The Curve (Slough), which I had seen earlier that day. The building looks lovely and inviting from the outside particularly with the flowers. It’s sited on a roundabout but has two entrances/exits, level access and a car park next door. Although the building has two floors, the book stock is all on the upper floor while downstairs is for computers, local history and Learning Direct.

I noticed quite quickly that the shelves were a bit higher here than in more modern libraries. This means you can’t see across the library. Although it makes it a little more private when you’re browsing the books and you have a sense of being cocooned in your own world of books – it does change the environment.

The children’s library was largely just a corner but I love the book rugs which I’ve never seen before. There were staff helping the children join up to the summer reading scheme and I saw two posters encourage reading and creative writing for teens, who I feel are a slightly neglected group.

This was the first time I’d seen a period poverty donation/pick-up box in a library. This was simply a plastic box left by the door but means no-one needs to ask if they need a packet.

There was a cafe at one end of the room taking up quite a lot of space but there was still a fair amount of book stock. I loved the origami butterflies left out with instructions.

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I know there are discussions to build a new improved library within a new leisure centre but I’m not sure where those plans stand now.

Newbury Library

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Helpfully, we could see the library building from the road with “West Berkshire Libraries” on it. Outside there was a wonderful mosaic – although there were some improvement works that were worryingly close!

The design on the side of the wall in the entrance area was also striking.

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The library is a modern building on two floors with the usual setup of fiction and children’s downstairs and local history and reference upstairs. Upstairs also had a well decked-out room that could be hired called the Carnegie Room.

I really liked the quotes on the side of the movable bookcases, although some were hard to read.

 

West Berkshire libraries was considering closing all its branch libraries in 2016.

Newbury library has views of the next- door canal and park and as this was a hot, summers Saturday in July we enjoyed an ice cream by the pedalos.

Reading Central Library

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Reading Central Library is a large red brick building on four floors. According to Wikipedia it was built in 1985.  This library has a river (or brook) running under it. The gallery upstairs is named after it – Holy Brook.

Even though we arrived at the library 20 minutes before closure time on a summer Saturday there were still lots of people in the library on the three floors that were open. The children’s library is a castle theme and there was evidence of the summer reading scheme being promoted.

It was a well stocked and well-used library, if showing it’s age a little.
Like all local authorities budget cuts have forced the council to discuss reducing the number of hours the library is open.

 

Carlisle Library

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Cumbria Council is another area that doesn’t designate a central library. Cumbria is a large area with many libraries and book drops. Carlisle appeared to be the biggest library and had the local studies facility so that was the one I chose to visit to represent the region. Regardless, this was a wonderful opportunity to visit the Lake District and Carlisle for a few days.

Carlisle Library is housed within – and above – a shopping centre. This always worries me as I am concerned that people may not remember that their local library is still there, as it is above them, but I do see the benefit of people being able to pop in to the library at the same time as going to the shops. I also expect people drop off teenagers and elderly parents who would prefer to sit and read while retail therapy can take place for other members of the family.

The library feels quite modern and yet a bit industrial because of the tubing on display which I assume is for air conditioning. The fiction and children’s library is on the entrance floor (the first floor of the shopping centre) and then the next floor above has reference and local studies material.

There were comfy tub chairs clustered around windows and study carrels too. I had got to the library just a few minutes after it opened on a May Tuesday and there were already plenty of customers arriving and settling down for some reading or studying.

This was another library that was full of displays – which I like. I hope they are able to change them and mix them up occasionally.