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.

 

Hull Central Library

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Peter Church [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Hull is the City of Culture for 2016. I didn’t see any mention of that event anywhere although some buildings were lit up at night. However I get the impression the library is already an active hub in the community. It is a substantial library on several floors, close to the shopping area.

A wonderful music library with two pianos and a mezzanine floor with more study booths.

Spacious children’s library with gated toddler play area.

Teen zone off the children’s library – cool computer chairs.

Reference library and business centre upstairs.

Very good, active twitter account, tying up with the local radio station. Mention of hosting Raspberry Jams.

St Helens Central Library

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Image courtesy of Geograph.org.uk

 

St Helen’s Central Library was a short walk from the train station as many libraries from the Victorian period are. It is situated in a pedestrian civic square in the Gamble Building (opened in 1896) although quite modern inside.

 

It has a lovely colourful, hard-wearing children’s area.

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The library is very active within the community without having the benefit of an expensively refurbished or new building. St Helens Library Service is used as a case study by the government titled “The art of the possible: libraries as creative hubs” which includes an excellent picture of swimming in the library! In August 2016 the library was given a National Lottery Award for its cultural hubs team.

I love their Twitter logo.

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Wigan Library

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I couldn’t initially find Wigan’s library and was wandering around the block. When I actually came upon it from behind I was so surprised by the huge modern building that I swore under my breath when I realized it was the library.

It’s a vast community hub – Wigan Life Centre – on 4 floors incorporating many community resources including a credit union, council services and housing advice. Organisations such as Age UK, Carers UK and the Royal British Legion use it as their local base and a swimming pool and gym is housed in the complex too.

It was hard to see where the library began and ended but that may well be deliberate. Although I found the entrance a little bewildering and I could have done with a map or clearer signage.

There was a vast amount of book stock and plenty of seats, desks and study spaces in varieties of locations and computer terminals and charging points for laptops and devices.

The colour scheme was mainly grey and wood but with some vibrant chairs and art work, displays and collections. There was plenty of light and inspiring quotes on the walls.

The square outside has a sculpture called the Face of Wigan by Rick Kirby and it’s called Believe Square. Apparently this is to do with sport but I am going to hijack it and think of it as believing in the power of knowledge….

 

Bedford Central Library

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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:

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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.

Westminster Reference Library

 

Julia Mason uprooted

Julia Mason – Uprooted

 

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.

Oct 2015