As described in a previous post, I’m working my way around Kent’s libraries. Today we stayed relatively close to home, as we explored the Gravesend/Gravesham area, visiting 6 libraries of similar age, but each with different characters.

Higham library

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First stop was Higham, where a friend’s daughter is doing some voluntary work. As we arrived, the Saturday board games club was in full swing, with Izzy fully involved. There is a lovely courtyard garden outside the library, and evidence of local skilled craftspeople, as the library has a couple of beautifully worked wall hangings on display. The one below celebrates their connection with Dickens (whose house was at Gad’s Hill – actually closer to Higham than Rochester – who usually trumpet him as their own!)

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Coldharbour library

One of the larger ones we visited, this library is situated next to a health centre. At one end is a large children’s area, and all around there are lots of book related quotes on the walls. There is a separate section for older children, with computer, desks and comfy seats, plus a colourful stained glass window.

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Also, to the left of the library is a small building – not sure whether it is a garage for a mobile, or just a storage shed, but it has appropriate graffiti decoration – credited to the Coldharbour Crew: Free books, Free ideas!

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Dashwood library

Next stop was Dashwood library – which wins the prize for the tiniest building visited so far. It looks not much bigger than a double garage, and unfortunately didn’t open until later that afternoon, so I couldn’t go in – but there was a small window in the door so I could see that inside it is completely lined with bookshelves, brightly painted and looks welcoming. Its situated at the edge of a park, which was busy on a Saturday morning with football practice. Apparently (we heard from a library worker we spoke with later) there used to be a nursery over the road, which brought in lots of extra visitors.

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Kings Farm library

This library is on the Kings Farm estate – next to a building bearing a carved sign: ‘Estate Office’. The estate was apparently mostly built in the 1920s, but has been substantially rebuilt/refurbished over the last 20 years. If you google the estate, you only get bad news stories,  but the library was bright and welcoming inside, with a colourful children’s section, and customers using the computers

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Marling Cross library

Penultimate stop was Marling Cross library – another that unfortunately wasn’t due to open until after lunch, but through the huge glass windows, looks modern and tidy. Posters advertised a diverse number of groups meet there, from code club, to mums and toddlers, to knit and natter. It is another that was part of a row of shops, and it’s next to a doctor’s surgery.

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Riverview Park library

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Last stop for today, we called in to Riverview Park. This hexagonal library was opened in 1964. It is situated next to a row of shops, by a reasonable sized carpark – and apparently (according to a bronze plaque on the wall) on the site of the old Gravesend airfield. Inside, the shelving echoes the unusual shape and peaked roof, with wooden peaks above each bay. In the centre of the building is the old mainmast of a Thames sailing barge.

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And we did borrow some books from this library – after a slight confusion, as my Medway card should be valid, but the library manager got some slightly odd messages as she put the books through. And another thing we learned, as another borrower went to take out a book, the computer beeped and alerted her to the fact she had borrowed it before. A good tip – and she went back to choose something else. Apparently the self service machines don’t do that – something to look into perhaps?!

All the photos I’ve taken to date of libraries run by Kent County Council are in this album. Still some way to go!

 

I had to stop myself from scattering the word “inspiring” too frequently in this post, but it would be truly deserved. Today I was lucky to be invited to the event run by the Good Things Foundation, to celebrate reaching their 2 Millionth Learner.

As their website says:

“At Good Things Foundation, our aim is to improve lives through digital. And at the end of last year we reached a significant milestone – helping 2 million people gain new digital skills since 2010.

We wanted to put that milestone into context by finding some of the individuals who made up that 2 million, and following their stories.”

And just as they did when they reached their first M milestone, they used the opportunity to scan their community, reaching out to all the different partners who run courses, and seek nominations for awards.

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Helen Milner, CEO of the Good Things Foundation, kicking off the event. (I can’t remember what she had just said, but I love the shadow play and display of hands in this photo!)

The event today – which started off with lunch on the famous rotating 34th floor of the BT Tower,  aimed to celebrate all 2 million, and share some of the lives changed through learning. All the winners and their stories are shared on the website, but as I’ve come into contact with the Good Things team through work they have done with libraries, I was really pleased to find out that 2 of the winners learned their skills in programmes run in libraries.

The Learning for Health award was won by Bertram Henry. He suffered a breakdown 10 years ago, and  has gradually worked his back to health. First by learning digital skills for himself, then, when the online centre manager at Longsight library saw how much he was enjoying his learning, she suggested he become a volunteered as a digital champion. His enthusiasm shines through as he shares his skills with others – and as he says “Now I’m happy with myself. I’m not down in the dumps anymore and that’s thanks to Linda and Learn My Way“. [Learn My Way is the  online learning platform built by Good Things Foundation to make getting online easy.]

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Bertram receiving his award from a representative of MIND, with Helen on his right.

Another  award winner with a library connection is Tasleem Akhtar, who was runner up for the Inspirational Learner award. She came to England from Pakistan, was living in a refuge with her young son, and knew that to build a better life she had to get back to her studies. She did the Learn My Way courses at Newcastle library, is now at college – and is now helping others to follow her same journey.  “I was very, very excited to be able to study again. I know if I can learn, I can make my life better. I did not know much about digital before. I could use my phone to make a call but nothing else! Now I know much, much more. You need to know this to be part of society.

I found out that I can volunteer at the library at the same time as learning. So I have something for myself now, but even better I can show other people how to have that too. That has made a big difference to me. I can tell other people ‘I was there too’. You must be strong. You must keep trying to find a way to do what you want to do.”

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Tasleem with Helen, and her certificate.

While I was talking with one of the winners, Jenny Bayliss, runner up in the Learning for Work award, who had been introduced as learning her digital skills via Citizens Advice East Staffordshire, leaned over and said that she too now ran sessions in her local library, in Burton. Apparently when the CAB had to move out of their offices, they looked around for available space in the town, and found the library was just right for their needs.

I urge you to read some of the other inspirational stories on the website: Paul – who was left with serious brain injury after a car crash; Bob – who actually suffered a stroke during his digital skills class, but didn’t let that stop him – and was straight back to classes after his stay in hospital, using the internet to find out more about his condition; and Margaret, who used the opportunity to learn digital skills as she fought addiction and depression. One thing they all had in common, was that they said they didn’t think what they had achieved was anything special, but as Helen wrote in the event programme: “I  hope this ceremony helps them realise how special their very different journeys and achievements are”.

In the words of the final winner, the truly inspirational Olwyn Popplewell (who just a couple of years ago was sleeping rough – but now has his own flat and a job, and still finds time to volunteer at Evolve, the shelter organisation who helped him, and whose facility includes an online centre) – I wouldn’t be where I am now, I wouldn’t have done even a quarter of it ….. without someone helping me, being so positive, believing in me …. I’ve come from sleeping on park benches to my own place. I’m accepting this award on behalf of all those who want to make their lives better.

I haven’t done this for a year or two, but as I’ve just completed my 7th annual photo-a-day project (plus my second 52 in a year weekly photo challenge) I’ve had a quick trawl through the numbers.

And the totals are:

total views of photos chosen as photo of the day (as of 31/12/16): 52,074
average number of views per pic: 142
total favourites: 834 (av 2.8 per pic)
total comments: 199 (av 1.65 per pic)

Despite flickr stats going wobbly a couple of times during the year, I rely on my own spreadsheet, and it tells me last year gained the most views so far (just, 2015 total was 50,633). No photos in explore, (which has inflated the overall total in previous years), but my most viewed photo – the robin below, was possibly due to my decision to select it and add to the flickr group: Your best shot 2016. 796 views as I type this, plus 17 faves and 2 comments.

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Other popular photos may also have an explanation: Wordplay (662 views as I type) was the first photo I added to the 52 in 2016 challenge group, and the Book Bench based on Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere story that I stumbled across in Manchester Central library was probably helped by the fact that @neilhimself retweeted my tweet and brought lots of extra viewers! (663 as I type)

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And the least viewed? Discounting the last couple of weeks, where photos haven’t been published for very long, the two photos which tie for that ‘honour’ with 31 apiece, are one taken in a gorgeous italian garden we discovered in East Kent, and one taken on our holiday: the temple at Xunantunich.

Both re-published below so they do not feel unloved!

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Godinton italian garden, Kent

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Xunantunich, Belize

Back to the numbers

33 photos were taken in our garden. 54 were of recognisable London sights – not surprising I guess as I spend most daylight hours there! 21 were taken out and about in the Medway towns.

Despite my vow each year to try and take more photos of people, I’ve failed again – just 8 contain people, although there were 7 featuring Neil (although only 1 which showed his face!)

Nature wins overall, with 98 photos featuring birds (34), flowers (32), animals (12) and butterflies (11) plus a variety of fungi and insects – and lots of countryside scenery.

Other interests are well represented in the project too. I captured 8 photos of unesco heritage sites, and 29 of libraries (plus 7 book or book related photos – as I made a point of recording some of the many literary anniversaries last year: Happy Birthday Charlotte Bronte, HG Wells, Beatrix Potter and Roald Dahl).

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I chose 13 transport related photo-a day images – including 4 trains and 4 planes, and published 11 sunrises/sunsets. And finally, to dispel they myth that all of social media is about food – but to recognise that sometimes after a long day I do take the odd photo of my supper…… 33 of the photos in the project were food or drink related.

Overall numbers

As a final numbers roundup, aside from the photo-a-day images, on flickr overall I now have 9,078 photos published (some of which are restricted to family and friends only) with 1,170,530 views (according to flickr stats, which as mentioned above, do go through wobbly patches so I’m not 100% sure how reliable they are). And out of that total, I now have 44 photos which have been viewed more than 1,000 times. They are often photo which surprise me – and as I mused above, sometimes there might be an explanation, like flickr explore, a certain group, or social media publicity, but sometimes I have no idea.

Besides the 2 photo projects mentioned, I published a further 15 albums (pretty much the same as every year – although that is completely by chance) – I tend to set up an album when there are a number of photos from a particular place or trip, but do also add photos throughout the year to a number of generic albums, such as garden birds, libraries or fungus forays.

And despite rumours of flickr’s demise, I still haven’t found anything better for a vast collection of gorgeous photos, and a global community of people, many of whom are ‘just like me’ – in many different ways, and isn’t that one of the best things about social media?!

Having visited all of the public libraries in the Medway towns, I’m casting my ‘local’ net further and aiming to visit all of those in Kent too. And after a busy year working on issues that affect ALL public libraries, and being lucky enough to visit some of the city centre ‘stars’ of the library world, its good to be reminded about what some of our smaller but no less varied and welcoming local libraries offer.

Kent has 99 public libraries, so its going to take me a while, but today I added 5 to my total: Allington, Larkfield, West Malling, Vigo, Meopham (ending up in Longfield, but that was a revisit…..) . All bar one were open and busy, and in contrast to my last mini tour, when I saw library buildings of all ages, most were of a similar style.

Allington library

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On the outskirts of Maidstone, this library is opposite a Waitrose, and next to large playing fields. It was probably the busiest and noisiest I visited, as a large group was having a christmas party. Lots of notices showing the usual offerings – plus a knitting group is due to start in the new year (perhaps inspired by the efforts of the Woolly Maids in decorating the High Street in Maidstone?)

Larkfield library

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Another library close to a school and a parade of shops – there was lots of free parking near to this one. Inside was bright and cheerful, with a family choosing books in the childrens section, which was decorated with lots of artwork from local primary schools.

West Malling library

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I always enjoy walking along West Malling High Street – so many beautiful old buildings. The library is on a narrow part, and parking is a bit of a lottery, but once inside it was buzzing. The only library where staff made eye contact and said hello, but they were busy scratching their heads making recommendations to a family in the children’s section – to 2 children who I think had read a large chunk of stock already!

Oh yes, and this team get top marks for their christmassy windows:

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Vigo village library

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The only one out of the 6 visited today which wasn’t open. Vigo library is in a building shared with the village hall and a church. It is only open 10 hours a week, but they have an arrangement with the pharmacy opposite, so people can order, collect and return books there when the library isn’t open.

Meopham library 

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Last new (to me) library was Meopham – and this was also the hardest to find. Meopham is a long village which sprawls along the A227, and the postcode directed me to a part where all I could see was a pub, church and garage. Luckily the people in the pub directed me – and the library shares a campus with Meopham school – plus a leisure centre and health centre. All fine, but the only signs from the main road mention everything but the library, and even when you get close, you could be forgiven for thinking it is just the school’s own library – until you see the familiar shape of Invicta (the white horse of Kent) and the red signs of the public library service. However there is one final step – I went 3 sides of the building before realising that the entrance is the one headed “Meopham School”.

Inside was busy though – as in all the others, computers in use, families in the children’s section, and people browsing the shelves.

Last stop was a re-visit to the tiny Longfield library – completing my mini-tour. A standalone brick building with lovely arched windows, possibly the oldest of the group I saw today.

So, that’s around 20 of Kent’s libraries seen – plenty more local exploring to be done.

 

This year’s Publicity and Public Relations Group’s conference: Library marketing and PR – critical to success, was held in the Custard Factory, Birmingham. Probably the CILIP group with the most relevance to my work with the Libraries Taskforce, I was glad to get a place and looked forward to seeing presentations from their Marketing excellence award winners.

p1070121Celebration cake: pprg award winners 2016

Before we got to those though, first up was Alastair McCapra – CEO of CIPR, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.
He started by asking if anyone was familiar with Libraries Deliver…… (not many were – but then as a large percentage of the group were from academic libraries, I’m not that surprised). It was valuable to hear comments from someone not at the heart of the libraries sector, but who has experience and expertise in marketing. Alastair worked from the draft text, commenting that he thought it set out a good summary of what libraries have already achieved – confirming that even in a document looking at a future vision , it is important to remember there is a track record. He went on to pull out some important lines, which, as he put it, sound good, but benefit from unpicking. Overall he was positive, and said he was pleased to see communications, advocacy and marketing given a profile in the document. I’ve invited him to write a guest blog post for the Taskforce, and look forward to hearing his thoughts once he has seen the final document.

He commented that any advice around libraries and marketing perhaps includes the supposition that the library has some kind of PR resource – and he suspects many don’t, or have to rely on a central PR team. His follow up comment: if you work in a library and don’t have your own PR team, but want to land a campaign, DO go and talk to the central team. His aside: “cake will always open doors” went down well! He made the point that the main thing PR people hate is having things dumped on them at the last moment. They like to be in at the beginning, so they can help shape things. nb. this did remind me of the wonderful cartoons I saw from Helen Reynolds the other day – which she called face-palm bingo.

The next speaker was Liz McGettigan, whose lively talk titled: From a whisper to a roar! contained masses of examples of innovative library marketing, modern exciting library and exhortations that we ALL need to shout more about what we are doing. It was delivered at breakneck speed, and I plan once the presentation has been shared to work though it more slowly, following up many of the links I noted and actually watching some of the films she shared tantalising clips from.

Emma Walton‘s talk: Marketing – a nice thing to do? shared how Loughborough University engages with its users to ensure that they continue to deliver exactly what people need. She used the example of their recent refurbishment as something that could have caused problems (while the library building had to close for the summer, services were still available). She commented that while marketing was business critical, and essential, it was also a nice thing to do, and could be fun.

At the end of the day, we heard from the Library of Birmingham’s Dawn Beaumont about the challenges they have faced. Tough times is an understatement, but it was good to hear that this iconic building is now recognised as a real landmark in the city (and its worth noting that their twitter account now is one of the most followed among English library services – with 22,600!)

2016 Award winners

But, as mentioned, what I was really looking forward to was the award winners.

Oldham libraries were the first of 2 Gold award winners, for their live@thelibrary programme of literature and arts events.

p1070122The team from Oldham with their award.

Andrea Ellison introduced the context: there are 12 libraries in Oldham, including the flagship central library. It’s is a colourful, architecturally interesting building (definitely one to add to the ‘must visit’ list) which includes a purpose built performance space. The performance space is a good space, but had a low technical level spec and tended to be used more for meetings. ACE capital funding improved the quality of the space, and GftA supported development of the programme.

 

I’ve invited Andrea to blog about their programme for the Taskforce, so I hope to be able to share more details about their project soon.

The second Gold award was given to Durham University’s Palace Green library for their Magna Carta exhibition. Emma Hamlett – curator of exhibition shared their objectives and evaluation, which included a specific measure of economic impact generated (£2.4m) and % of people who came to Durham specifically to visit the exhibition.

A different team from Durham received a second award: silver, for their 2015 induction campaign for students, which was based around Harry Potter.

p1070107Publicity materials from the Durham University library induction campaign.

Their aims were to inform new students about library services, and encourage them to visit the library.
Assets included ‘owl’ flyers, banners, bags and traditional publicity leaflets. They had displays at library entrances,  and attended campus events (freshers fairs etc) plus there was lots of activity on social media.
One idea that captured peoples attention was the sorting app they created (as students swiped their library card, they were ‘sorted’ into one of the Hogwarts houses).
Their overall budget was around £3000, which chiefly went on printing materials. Design and organisation was all done by the in-house team.

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Their induction video sums up the  style tone of the campaign  “we think the library is magic” (and it contains owls – whats not to like?!)

NB – someone in the audience asked about copyright. The team did contact JK Rowling’s representative, and as it was non commercial use, permission was given.

Leeds libraries won the Bronze award for their #whatsyourstory campaign. This one was already familiar to me, as they had written a blog for the Taskforce, but it was interesting to hear Alison Millar presenting their plans for the future, and how it has turned around the way they think about services: focus on the people and what difference library makes to their lives. Statistics are important, but stories matter.

The final award was for a social media campaign. Edge Hill University won for #WillOnCampus, a one week campaign which ran 18-23 April 2016. Julie Nolan told us about the initiative, which started as a fun idea to celebrate the anniversary. They wanted to engage with their social media community and lift the mood during a stressed time in the university calendar.
They took a series of photos of the Bard hiding around campus, and shared one each day, challenging participants to guess the PLAY and guess the PLACE. All planning and implementation was done by the in house team and their total budget was c£18 (!) which included the chocolate bars for the winners (and for those alone they deserve a prize for plays on words – as each was relabelled, for example ‘Much Ado About (Fruit and Nut)-ing’)

Having seen the impact of this, they are planning more social media campaigns, for example another photo competition, this time to highlight library services.

p1070120All the award winners.

Conclusions?

A well organised event in a bright and easy to get to venue, which illustrated the range of activities going on in libraries – both public and academic, showed just how many similarities and overlaps there are between the 2 sectors, and how much we can learn from one another. It also endorsed the calls made by several of the morning speakers, that libraries really need to get better at publicity: while the media loves bad news stories, we must not let these drown out the innovative work being done.

And my own objectives? Well and truly met. Lots of people met and ideas for future blogs and case studies gathered.

As more than one of today’s speakers said, a good talk starts with bragging, moves on through philosophical meandering and ends with something interesting. All elements of today’s GovBlogCamp – with an emphasis on the interesting.

Organised by GDS (credit to the team, it all went really smoothly – great venue in Bermondsey) this was the first time members of the government blogging community had been brought together to share ideas and ask questions. And that community is bigger than people think “92 blogs with over 7 million visitors”.

First sessions contained a healthy dose of nostalgia, led by Giles Turnbull  of GDS, who illustrated his blogging credentials with screenshots from blog platforms of long ago. Anyone remember blogger? I  love his sentiments “blog, as though there are no rules…… because there ARE no rules” and “the web belongs to everyone, so make your bit of it reflect you”. Also the thought provoking “contradiction is OK, it shows an organisation can adapt and change. He ended with some reasons to blog, which included: thinking out loud, documentin the dull stuff, and talking to your future self. He also name checked Janet Hughes’ excellent post on boldness.

Next up was Neil Williams, head of the GOV.UK team at GDS, who is no.1 ambassador for civil servants and blogging. He described how his team are all encouraged to contribute, post about what they are working on, share learning and challenges – its a way they talk to each other, and how stakeholders talk to them. He too injected a dose of nostalgia – first by reminding us of his own credentials to speak about blogging – as the civil servant who set up the first ministerial blog.

Neil with the first ministerial blog: David Miliband at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

Neil with the first ministerial blog: David Miliband at the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister

He moved on to show a slide which gathered some of the early pioneers of blogging in government – I’m honoured to share a screen with people who I have enjoyed reading and learned lots from.

Neil with some of the early government bloggers

Neil with some of the early government bloggers

His “reasons to blog” include that it saves you time, helps you think (‘rubber ducking‘ is a new term to me, but I recognise exactly what it means), helps build confidence and make you bolder (2nd ref to Janet’s post), and helps you do what matters. Top tips: keep it varied, talk – don’t (just) announce, embrace individuality, and lower the barrier to entry.

Next session was led by Louise Duffy of GDS, who described how she handles planning and shared some of the things that can derail even the best laid plans. These include long sign-off chains (familiar to many in the room!).

Pete Wilson of InnovateUK shared lessons from their first year of running a blog. Lots of familiar experiences:

  • Blogs are ravenous – consistency is more important than frequency, and the importance of engaging with authors
  • Process is not a dirty word – running a blog with lots of authors needs co-ordination, someone has to own it
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of images
  • Not everyone is a Hemmingway – convincing people who are used to writing academic papers or business cases about the different style needed for writing a blog post takes effort, he talked about the value of good headlines, and constructing a good story
  • Comments – see photo below
Pete Wilson with his comment categories

Pete Wilson with his comment categories

A series of sessions advertised as clinics – which turned into roundtable Q&A, was followed by Sam Spindlow from Public Health England, who asked some questions which challenged current assumptions. Lots to think about including:

  • the growth in some of the major platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google offering quick access to content
  • established wisdom around non-duplication of content (although I’ve always thought that if the mantra of placing your content where your audience already is, is true, then you will always need to place it in more than one channel – unless your audience is very small!)
  • thoughts about the statement “don’t build on a rented lot” – eg don’t put a lot of effort into something that may not exist the next day, or change the rules so your material is no longer findable.

I think a lot of people will be looking into Facebook instants! And I’d be interested to talk to anyone with experience of Medium as a blog platform – especially to share content among a specific community.

Penultimate session was led by the double act of Kirsty Edwards and Andrew Rees from the Intellectual Property Office. Introduced as “a department who doesn’t write like government” they shared some of their skill in breathing life into seemingly dry content. Part of their skill is I think in building a community of people who actually want to share stories about things they are passionate about. I’ll be reading Girl with a Curl, Discover the Force and many more on their site. They shared lots of tips on how best to exploit opportunities, including scheduling posts to match popular topics (although advised steering clear of dead celebrities!).

And final speaker was Stuart Heritage – aka Man with a Pram. Neil managed to capture his list of reasons not to blog, which followed closely on his assertion that most of the good things in his life had come to pass because of blogging…… There were lots of wry references to live blogging the Eurovision song contest (get the strong impression its not top of his list of fun things). To follow the model of a good talk described at the start of this post, he ended with some useful stuff around finding time, finding inspiration and finding your voice (in order – routine, audience, and practise).

And as with all good workshops, besides what was actually said, I’ve got tons of scribbled notes on tangents and thoughts that speakers sparked off – lots of good ideas and lots to follow up.

 

Extremely busy weekend: looking at all the wonderful and diverse things going on in libraries across the country, gathering examples of where colleagues and members of the Libraries Taskforce are visiting, and doing my own library tour!

You’d think after spending all week immersed in library news I might like to take a break at the weekend (you know, watch some rugby, go out for a lazy lunch? – its OK, managed to fit that in too!) but National Libraries day is an opportunity too good to miss. I checked the website  and discovered no particular events planned for my home area, but Kent Libraries were offering activities, so we started the day by heading over to Snodland library.

Snodland

Snodland library

Snodland library

Their library is in the High Street, and besides library services there is also a space for the local borough council to offer surgeries. There was a book sale so I couldn’t resist 5 books for a pound. [note to self…. supposed to borrow books from the library, not fill up the house], but more importantly, there were also people reading, choosing and borrowing books, and a family in the children’s section having storytime. I did their “so you think you know libraries” quiz and was duly awarded my certificate.

Completed quiz and certificate

Completed quiz and certificate

Over the 20 years I’ve lived in the Medway towns, I’ve visited many of the libraries, but not all, so this year National Libraries Day was a good excuse to plan a route to fill in all my gaps.

Grain

Grain library

Grain library

While we’ve had many walks around Northwood Hills and Cliffe, we’d never ventured right to the northeastern edge of the peninsular, and Grain village is a long way from the rest of the Medway Towns. The library is in a former Bethel Congregational chapel (built 1893) and is also billed as a community and learning centre.

On a grey damp Saturday morning, behind that blue door was an explosion of colour and sound. The regular Saturday morning kids club was in full swing and every corner of the library had children making posters, colouring, playing with lego or on the computers. A couple of brave adults also brought back and chose new books.

Me, and a book, in Grian library

Me, and a book, in Grain library

Rainham

Rainham library

Rainham library

I must have driven past this library many times, but never stopped to visit. The building opened in 1961 and lots of the features are classic 60s: curved concrete entrance porch, coloured mock granite tiles, wooden shelving and crittall windows. Inside, the walls are painted vivid deep pink, and many of the shelves are dark wood, but the high ceiling and huge windows means the overall impression is of light and space.

Inside Rainham library

Inside Rainham library

There is a mezzanine floor, with comfy looking sofas – apparently popular with the many reading groups and U3A groups who meet in the library. Just as in Snodland, there was a family having storytime in the colourful childrens section, and adult readers were scattered among the armchairs. One patron was using the free wifi to carry out some research (on a table behind me, surrounded by files and papers).

Wigmore

Not far from Rainham, in another part of the Medway towns I’ve never visited before, is Wigmore library. Not an attractive looking building on the outside, but with its own carpark and woods behind, its one I’ll go back to. Inside the library lobby has a display of pictures by local artists, and the childrens section has lots of creative displays on the walls (including 2 exotic looking owls).

Inside Wigmore library

Inside Wigmore library

Like Rainham, this library also has an upper section, but here it houses the computer section, while the main space has lots of mobile bookshelves and a table with a pile of jigsaw pieces……. if I didn’t have other libraries to see, I might have been there til closing!

Thomas Aveling school and community library

Inside Thomas Aveling library

Inside Thomas Aveling library

Final destination was a library I’ve been intrigued about for a while. Thomas Aveling library is on the site of Thomas Aveling school. During school hours it is the school library – with space for classroom activities, plus a coffee bar. From the end of school time, it becomes a public library – although staff said from 3-4.30 it is often still filled with  students doing their homework and using the computers. Later and on Saturdays it is available to local residents.

The last port of call completed my visits to Medway libraries and its great to look over the full set of photos and recognise how different they are. From a 19th century chapel to a refurbishment only opened last year; partnerships with council services, adult education, and a school; 16 spaces with very different atmospheres and sense of place. And as I can take out books from, and return to, any of them, think we should make more effort to break away from force of habit (just popping into Rochester or using the ebooks option), and visit more of them, more often.