Swiss Cottage Library

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A recent trip to London for a book launch at the British Library allowed me an opportunity to visit Swiss Cottage Library. This is the central library for the London Borough of Camden. It was built in 1964 to a design by Basil Spence and underwent a clean and interior improvements in 2003.

It is an oval building with two circles at either end; fiction and arts at one end and CDs and science at the other end. In between there is an art gallery, the children’s library, a learning centre, the magazine reading room and a cafe.

Each circular end has two spiral staircases leading to a mezzanine. There were bookcases all round the walls and coming out in spokes. Each divided area had a desk populated by a reader or two. The design allows lots of light in without having to sacrifice wallspace to windows.

The children’s library, according to Wikipedia, was designed by Laura Ford who took her inspiration from Ordnance Survey maps and it certainly is green but I can see how it would help kids’ imaginations soar.

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Guildford Library

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Surrey County Council don’t designate a central library so I picked Guildford as it was listed as one of their area libraries and we found ourselves passing Guildford on the way back from our holiday.

The children’s library has a great “reading house” underneath the stairs which was occupied by a mum and daughter.

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The picture window was lovely and let in lots of light (but that doesn’t come across in my photo). People were happily reading in the adjacent chairs.

I always love to see evidence of lots of community activities.

It was interesting seeing multiple copies of books stacked on a table like in a bookshop.

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Southampton Central Library

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My first fountain!

Southampton Central Library was very impressive. It is a grand building within a civic centre including museums, a concert venue, the Guildhall, council offices and an art gallery and opposite a park. However, when you enter the library is has been recently refurbished and looks and feels very modern.

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It’s all very curvy, even the edges of some of the bookcases are curvy.

The only downside of the layout is that I couldn’t find the stairs going up! However, I found the stairs going down.

I like this way of displaying recently returned book with the book covers facing up – there’s even a book there that I was currently reading.

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I’m always interested in the study spaces on offer. There were lots of desks dotted around with feature reading lights and also private study rooms.

Lord Louis Library

The Lord Louis Library is in Newport on the Isle of Wight. It was opened in 1981 and named after Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Queen’s cousin and diplomat, and opened by his wife, Countess Mountbatten of Burma.

Newport is in the centre of the Isle of Wight and although it doesn’t explicitly claim to be the central library, Newport is the biggest town on the Island. We go to the Isle of Wight on holiday. A lot.

The library is in a very central location, beside the bus station and near the shops. I think there is a park and pavilion behind but we visited in torrential rain (typical British summer) so I didn’t try out the greenery.

The central part of the library is an octagonal shape with a mezzanine, with further areas coming off it. However there is not a great deal of room for books on the upper level. They have done their best to dress up the library with colourful signage, artwork on the walls and the children’s library has a huge tree structure.

We visited on a weekday and there were several people in the library, reading, researching or just sheltering in from the rain. The staff were happy and helpful but the building is feeling run down and the stock neglected.

The Isle of Wight library service is suffering from budget cuts and recently reorganised closing a couple of libraries and moving the library service headquarters to the Lord Louis Library. Another sign of cuts was the need to put out book crates to catch the rainwater dripping into the library.

 

Portsmouth Central Library

 

“Standing in bold contrast to the adjacent international-style Civic Offices and neo-classical Guildhall, the Norrish central library in Portsmouth, Hampshire was designed by city architect Ken Norrish and completed in 1976.  Its striking sculptural form in incised concrete is a grandiose composition of curvaceous volumes and heraldic turrets.” Brutalism Online

I love the above quote. Brutalism is a very apt description of the architecture. Portsmouth Central Library celebrated 40 years in 2016. It became the Norrish Central Library in 1995 named after its designer. It is a vast building of five floors and packed full of books. The décor is a bit brown and orange and in a 70s way rather than a modern way.

There were two Jane Austen exhibits and what looks like a permanent local authors display. I like a library that has jigsaws out but I’m not sure of the etiquette when doing a communal jigsaw. I have seen posters about getting free ebooks from the library but this was the first time I have seen a poster mentioning free music downloads from the library – very interesting.

 

Virtually all of the second floor is the Portsmouth History Centre.

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It wasn’t very busy on a Friday early lunchtime in August, but this library will be able to hold a lot of people without it being obvious. I think the CCTV signs are a consequence of  that.

Winchester Discovery Centre

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Winchester Discovery Centre was very busy on a Friday lunchtime at the start of the school summer holidays. There was a science festival on and the Animal Agents summer reading challenge was in full swing.

The Discovery Centre opened in November 2007 after a £7million refurbishment. The entrance still has grand pillars outside but inside it is very modern and clustered around the central circular area. It was colourful, inviting, lively and with funky colours and signs.

I think Winchester wins the prize for the best library name as “Discovery Centre” really is a wonderful name for a library and cultural hub.

There were lots of study spaces dotted around the library – a large number in use for a summer Friday. There is a café, performance hall, gallery and small library shop.

There was a display of a Jane Austen books as she lived in Hampshire and it is the 200 year anniversary of her death. There was a proper exhibition earlier in the year but that had finished before we got there.

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Manchester Central Library

I was lucky enough to get a tour of the refurbished Central Library for Manchester after the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians conference in June 2017. A whole group of law librarians were shown around the Grade II listed 1934 building which underwent a major refurbishment in March 2014.

We congregated in the hall that had very impressive stained glass windows while we awaited our tour guide. When he arrived and told us about the refurbishment and pointed out that before the refit only 30% of the building was accessible to the public but now it is 70%. This was partly achieved by moving staff offices to a town hall extension.

We were taken up to the fourth floor which is a big circle. All around there is electric powered mobile shelving (it would be inaccurate to call it rolling stack – even though I want to). A really nice touch is that they have put pictures of well known Mancunians across the stack ends which really dresses up the shelves in what would have otherwise been a very boring vista. Every few metres there is a break in the shelving where there are some tables, chairs and study space – all of which were occupied (this was a Saturday afternoon).

There is an enormous reading room in the centre of the library which was packed with students revising for exams. The reference desk is still a feature in the middle but is no longer staffed. In fact it has a glass floor to let some light into the floor below.

We saw the former Chief Librarian’s Office which has now been converted into a meeting room with secret doors. There are other function rooms where they can hold ceremonies. The second floor has a Business and IP Centre run with the British Library to encourage young entrepreneurs. There is a mini lecture theatre where Google have held some talks. The library even has a 3D printer.

There are community dance rooms that can be hired and there was a troupe rehearsing in there while we are looking around. There are restaurant-style circular booths where people can watch footage from the North West Film Archive.

There is a very impressive music library with people playing drums and pianos in amongst the book shelves.

 

Useful study rooms off the corridors.

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There is more book stock and the children’s library in a lower area that feels more modern, however it is less lit by artificial light and feels a bit subterranean. There was also a Nick Sharratt exhibition on outside the reading room.

There is a sizeable café and a local museum section plus the archives area which we didn’t get into.

An incredibly impressive library and community hub. There are similarities to Liverpool as there is the traditional reading room and modern areas. I don’t think I can choose between them.