01st February 2017
by Tom Armitage
Early on in the Libraries project, we agreed as a team it was important to do everything we could to disregard and reject nostalgia as a component of our work. We weren’t interested in our existing ideas of libraries; we were interested in what libraries are now.
And so as part of our initial research, the team went to visit a variety of libraries. This would give us real, up-to-date points of reference for thinking about and designing around.
Brixton Library (see header image also)
Ollie visited Brixton Library: a large hub library that felt like my memories of other large town libraries around the country. Well-stocked and equipped with a large staff, it was a reminder of how popular large libraries can be - he reckoned over 100 people were there on his visit.
East Sheen Library
Hilary and Cassie went to other council run libraries - East Sheen and Ashbourne libraries, respectively. Ashbourne's much smaller - a small town library, effectively a single room, and not as generously resourced as the central hubs. East Sheen was somewhere between Ashbourne and Brixton in terms of size. Large enough for separate rooms and multiple uses from reading through research and computing, and, on the day of visiting, children's ballet in the hallway - but with less of the turn-of-the-century ceremony and scale of Brixton.
I went to my local community library: another turn-of-the-century red brick building, but now encompassing a small second-hand bookshop and community cafe as well as the lending services of the library; the differences in resourcing between this and the more well-appointed libraries were very noticeable. The community noticeboard was bustling and busy, with lots of events taking place in the area as well as in the library itself; the library itself was somewhat quiet, though the computer alcove was full up with people using the Internet for work or leisure.
Cassie also went to Glasgow Women's Library: a library "dedicated to women’s lives, histories and achievements", that's been running since the 1990s. A community-focused institution, then, but focused on a community that isn't just local or geographically bounded.
Glasgow Women's Library
Her descriptions and photographs showed it as a library and archive that enthusiastically embraced its work and its focus, in its events, archive displays, and day-to-day service - and reminded us how important the focused attention of librarians can be to the effectiveness and impact of a space.
We managed to cover a broad spectrum of libraries, then, and came away with enough material to describe them to one another. We also now have a set of institutions we can think back to, rather than distorted or nostalgic memories of libraries from the past - as we all as a better understanding of the range the word 'library' encompasses, and that our project is going to have to address.
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