Wembley Library

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Orange! That’s my first impression of Wembley Library.

The Library is in a very smart civic centre that opened in 2013. The building houses all of Brent Council’s services and is next to Wembley Arena and has a café, public toilets and a car park underneath.

The library is on the ground floor of the centre, and is comprised of glass and orange and white shelving. We visited on a January Saturday afternoon and it was packed full of readers and had the bustle of activity.

A whole table in the central area was devoted to travel. I don’t know if that is always the case or whether it was because we were there post-Christmas and that is when a large number of people turn their thoughts to their summer holiday.

There were four fixed ipads on a stand so that people could access the “Join the library” pages on the internet and presumably complete it there and then.

The staff were nice, chatty and engaging. So, it does not surprise me to read reports that in 2016 it was the third busiest library in the country after Birmingham and Manchester.

Hendon Library

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Hendon Library is one of 14 libraries in the London Borough of Barnet. None of their libraries are designated as a central library but as the local studies library is in the same building I picked Hendon to be the representative of the borough. Despite a campaign in 2015, the Barnet library service has suffered cuts in the recession. Since 2017 all of Barnet’s libraries either have days when they are completely closed or have days when they are not staffed but are available for self-service. For example, Hendon Library isn’t staffed at all on Mondays but is open to residents from 8am to 8pm.

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Library users have to scan their library card and enter their library service PIN number to enter the building.

Hendon Library itself was a bit uninspiring. The large, detached, proud-looking building is nice but on entry it becomes apparent that the whole top floor has been given over to Middlesex University (which is next door) so the public library only has the ground floor. There are two separate doors: one for the public library and one for Middlesex University’s Learning Support Zone.

However, presumably the deal with the University is keeping this branch library open so I’ll stop complaining.

Once you enter through the public library door there is an enquiry point in the middle and then book stock and reading areas on the left and right. There is a glass study room and a very small children’s area.

There were details on the wall about making appointments with the local studies service which is accessible at the back of the building.

Most interestingly, I saw a picture on the wall of Eileen Colwell with the caption that she was a librarian at the library for over 40 years and a founder of children’s librarianship.

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Her obituary in the the Telegraph is most enlightening and begins with:

In the 1920s, when Eileen Colwell first became a librarian, there were no children’s sections in libraries, and the presence of children, especially young children, was discouraged. She considered it of vital importance that children should have access to books from an early age, and that their first introduction to literature should be a pleasant one.

I have purchased her autobiography and added it to my “to-be-read” pile. I’m sure most people reading this have such a pile at home!

Gayton Library

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Gayton library is one of the libraries of the Harrow area. It is referred to as the Central Lending Library on the Harrow Libraries website and does seem to have the most extensive opening hours including Sundays. The shopping centre is just a street away so the library is in a very good location.

The library is on three floors and rather box-like with a central staircase. It was well stocked with material and well used with every desk and chair in use.

The stairwell is rather boring and uninviting, I would put up some old local photos or posters but maybe, as it isn’t a large space, that would be considered too cluttered.

The general local area is being developed which is promising, but it does make the library look a little dated – there is mention in the Harrow Times in December 2018 of investment in a new library.

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.