Plymouth Central Library

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Plymouth Central Library doesn’t look that attractive from the outside – I admit I didn’t see the colourful blocks above when I was at pavement level. However, inside it is lovely and bright and modern.

Work began on the vacant commercial units at the end of 2015 and it opened in March 2016. It does make sense to use this space and bring the library to the heart of Plymouth.

It was busy and bustling on this April Friday afternoon and felt a little cramped in certain areas of the ground floor

I like the quote on the wall above the computers “The only thing that you absolutely have to know is the location of the library.” Albert Einstein. There were lighthouses decorating the stack ends and walls and stairwell – a nice theme for the maritime location.

Nice looking children’s library with a performance/reading/imagination tree in the middle. A great cosy red reading cubby hole.

There is a nice view of the other side and a roof terrace off the first floor which must be great on a sunny day.

I don’t know if the monster glass art are always there or if it was a recent school project – fun though – they are really large and eye catching.

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Apparently the staff are so lovely there they have even opened on Christmas Day in the past to combat social isolation for those who would otherwise spend Christmas alone.

There are more professional photos on the designers website – Thedesignconcept.

Redbridge Central Library

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It was nice on entry to be greeted with these children’s model making exhibits (below). And draped over the balcony above were banners made locally to mark the marches for women’s suffrage that took place over 100 years ago.

 

The library was built in 1986 and refurbished inside in 2012. It still looks in good nick with modern signs and bookcases and clean carpets. The library is on three floors with a central atrium. The children’s library was off to the side and too busy with kids for me to be able to take a photo. In 2013-14 Redbridge Central Library was the 14th busiest in England.

As the library shares the building with the museum they have placed some exhibits in amongst the bookshelves which is a nice touch.

There is also a Hub Central – a popular space for business start-ups, where you can use your library card to enable the use of a tablet – not seen a hublet unit before.

On-site there was also the Hardback cafe (where I presume the Hardbacks book group meets) and I saw a knitting group in action. There were few seats available as it was so busy and people were making good use of the quiet study area. There were plenty of staff about – they wore uniforms of black T-shirts and fleeces so they were easily identifiable.

Idea Store – Whitechapel

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I really like the name – Idea store.

The Tower Hamlets website advertises it as “the borough’s flagship library, learning and information service.” It was designed by Sir David Adjaye, opened in 2005 and shortlisted for the RIBA award in 2006.

It was a large square, blue and green glass, box like building but inside the light was nice and the spaces were welcoming. Although there’s a concrete ceiling and concrete pillars the hard-wearing red floor added colour and the wooden bookcases warmth.  The building is on five floors which are very accessible with wide spaces, a lift and toilets on every floor. Readers are encouraged the use the stairs and burn 4 calories per floor.

The opening hours are impressive – open till 9pm on Mondays-Thursdays, 6pm Friday, 5pm Saturdays and also open Sundays, 11-5pm.

It was packed with people studying on a February half-term weekday. Many people making use of the Learning Labs on each floor.

I was impressed that there were water coolers on every floor – part of the campaign to allow people to reuse bottles rather than having to keep buying more plastic. I liked the books display such as this valentines one in the picture above.

We stopped and had a snack in the cafe – which has impressive London views, the TV was on Sky News, there were sofas or tables and chairs. There was also a gallery space along one of the walls.

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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.