This is the first time I’ve walked into a library and entered a shop. Admittedly it was a shop full of stationery, cards and gifts with a small gallery space. The Library was through the shop and to the right – past the screens displaying bus times and racks of tourist leaflets.
The vast library inside was quite a surprise….
… and that was just the ground floor.
I loved the funky purple chairs and there was a cool wavy bench that I tried to take a picture of but people kept sitting on it – the cheek!
I particularly liked the special Young Persons area which – rather amusingly – had two OAPs sitting right behind the sign.
There was a café that was very much part of the space with the tables arranged in a social setting so you sat “with” strangers. It seemed that readers were permitted to eat and drink throughout the library.
The children’s library was wonderfully vibrant and colourful and full of active children. Sensibly they had their own set of toilets separate from the adult ones. The back wall was an art installation by Kate Malone Ceramics called Wall of a Thousand Stories.
“The artist was inspired by her own bedtime stories with daughter Scarlet; “We make up tales by taking three random things and weaving a story together that will include these three elements.” This interactive work is used by children, families and groups to inspire and enhance story telling. “
The only qualm I had with the library was that the stairs didn’t look very inviting and I wasn’t sure we were allowed upstairs at all. The sign was rather unobtrusive and I didn’t realise at first that the entire reference section was upstairs on another spacious floor with a Rare Books reading room and study area along one wall.
Before I set off for Bedford Central Library, whilst I was checking the address and map, I came across Google reviews of the Library. I have never bothered to read reviews of a library before as they are always a mixed bag and I believe people are more likely to write a review when they have something to complain about. The first reviewer had been complaining about the fact that there were mothers and babies singing nursery rhymes all the time. So I thought it hilarious that I turned up at exactly the moment baby rhymetime started!
Bedford Central Library is in a pedestrian area and looks very inviting and colourful from the outside. The ground floor has an information desk and a book drop-off point but then you need to get on the rather grubby and drab escalator (or take the lift or stairs). However when you get to the first floor you enter a very big library space with another wraparound mezzanine (or gallery) above. As it is open plan, it is true that you could hear the nursery rhymes throughout. But, as a past frequenter of baby rhymetimes I don’t have a problem with half an hour of singing in a library and I could hear other readers subconsciously singing along to Wheels on the Bus as well.
It was a Thursday morning (on Thursdays the library closes at 1). It was very busy and bustly and felt like a genuine hub of the community. The stock was easy to navigate because it was open plan with clear sections and signs and I saw plenty of helpful looking staff around.
There was a silent study area on the mezzanine which was partially screened off with glass but perhaps it could do with doors too. There were, what looked like, noise reducing panels on the ceiling so I’m presuming noise has been recurring issue for the library. But better a noisy well-used library than an empty quiet one!
I had brought my father along on this visit and as he is an ex-local studies librarian. We spent most of our time in that corner. He found exactly the book he wanted and we had no problem locating and using the photocopier. He grumbled that the local studies material wasn’t very secure but did note that the filing cabinets were at least locked. I noticed lots of helpful leaflets, guides and posters and this one which I thought was a great use of librarian talent:
We sampled the tea and cake in the small café and admired the view which we thought was a church but have now learnt is a shopping centre. We finished off with a short walk along the river and a look around The Higgins – Bedford’s Museum and Art Gallery.
I have referred people to this library many times but never actually been myself.
As I had some time to kill in London before going to see Dara O’Briain it seemed like a perfect opportunity.
Despite the aid of Google maps I walked round in circles a couple of times before I found it. It was obscured by some building work out front. But if I’d actually looked up instead of at my phone I would have noticed a flag with “Library” on it!
This was a good old fashioned library on 3 floors with the traditional municipal staircase handrails and floors. Drunks being told to talk quietly, people needing help with the internet from some very patient staff. Some slightly smelly customers but also students studying amongst the art and drama books.
There were plenty of community leaflets and posters and a couple of displays. One small display case attracted my attention and has proved very memorable. A piece of work by Julia Mason called Uprooted (main picture above). Absolute gem in a rather tucked away library.
I was captivated by the new Birmingham Central Library building when I saw a BBC article about it being shortlisted for the RIBA awards in 2014. When I realised I would have some spare time in the Midlands during a weekend break for a family wedding I jumped on a train (with my mother in tow). Birmingham’s investment in their central library reminded me of the opening of the Croydon Clocktower but this was also an amazing architectural statement. The building was so interesting I couldn’t resist visiting it.
I visited on a Sunday morning just before reduced opening hours were going to be implemented due to council budget cuts, so I was amazed at how busy it was. Almost every seat was inhabited by students and readers. There was a variety of seating and working areas and bookable study carrels. Wide open areas made the inside feel calm and accessible. It included all the usual areas plus: café, shop, exhibition space and story telling area. Every subject area was catered for with children’s and a music library in the basement. The funky blue lit escalators made it feel sci-fi. Being able to walk onto the roof terrace was a surprising treat.
But I don’t need to describe it as there is an excellent drone fly-through video produced by film maker Didier Soulier:
Needless to say I was so impressed with the place that the postcards I got now proudly live on my fridge:
It is accessed from the first floor of one of the main shopping centres. I find its entrance (and existence) rather too unobtrusive for my liking, so I am pleased to read that it is popular. The times that I have visited I have found it packed with customers. People are in comfy chairs and at tables or on the floor. They’re using Library computers or on laptops, headphones in. Rearranging the furniture, eating their lunch and drinking their coffees (despite the signs! I had to stop myself walking round confiscating them!!). There’s self-issue, escalators, a colourful kids library, loos, café and staff. Lots of leaflets, lots of community posters. Exactly how it should be.
I expect the integration of the library within the city centre shopping area helps bring customers in – as long as they know it’s there.