One of the most dramatic things to happen in the world of public libraries was in 1994 when Norwich Central library was destroyed by fire (BBC News, Eastern Daily Press). In 2001 The Forum was opened.
The library is within the Forum so there is a gallery, café, restaurants, tourist information centre and proper well maintained loos. The website claims around 5,000 people visit every day. The library is the most well used public library in the country according to the stats.
I’m not usually impressed by signs but these ones were perfect in height, clarity and appearance.
There were a lot of trolleys waiting for reshelving and bookcases of material waiting to be shelved sorted into sections which I found quite shocking but I suppose that is a casualty of success. Most of the old battered trolleys looked a little out of place.
The separate children’s library with doors, provided a contained area to keep the children safe, deter lone adults (I felt like I shouldn’t go in) and meant you didn’t have to worry about your kids disturbing other readers. Baby rhymetime was taking place and was well attended.
There was a series of eye catching display cases with recommended books. I really liked this one:
I’ve never seen such a vast Mills and Boon (and equivalent) section before and an entire section on walking.
There is also a 2nd Air Division memorial library to American serviceman who lost their lives in World War II is in a separate room off the main library.
All in all a very busy and well stocked library.
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.