Out of office switched on, Christmas presents wrapped, time for a look back at a year during which I’ve visited a total of 64 libraries*. Lots for work, but even more in my own time. Mostly public, but 2 academic, and one in an institute. Mostly in England, but also one in France, and one in the Maldives (OK, strictly speaking, the latter was a book exchange for visitors – but the sign on the door said library, and it was pretty large  – more than just the odd bookcase you usually find in holiday places.) Also, lots of repeat visits – and not just to the ones on my doorstep which I visit regularly as a reader.

*visited means actually gone inside, had a look around, and in most cases spoken with people who work there. If you include the ones I’ve seen on the outside – perhaps they were closed when I visited the town, or former libraries that have been replaced by new buildings, the total rises to 83!

Highlights

I know it’s a bit unfair to choose favourites, but I really loved The Word, the brand new library in South Shields. I visited for its 6 months birthday, and wish it was my local library – not just a beautiful building, but also a great programme of events.

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The Word, South Shields

We spent a wonderful couple of days in Liverpool, and while the definite highlight was the amazing central library, and the buzzing Makefest, it was also good to explore and visit a couple more Carnegie libraries.

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The entrance to Liverpool central library

And finally, a library I’ve been meaning to visit for a long time: Canada Water. The outside is space age looking – a geometric shape, leaning out over the dock – and inside is equally dramatic, with a circular central staircase, and shelves radiating in jagged lines.

As I said, invidious to choose favourites though, I enjoy every visit to the always busy Manchester central library, I love the crazy victorian decoration of Leeds central library, I’ve been surprised by the wide diversity of libraries in Kent (including one which contains a fossil mammoth tusk) and I received a very warm welcome when I popped in to Kibworth community library in a Leicestershire village (they had actually closed for the day, but as they were still setting up an exhibition, they opened the door when they saw me peering in, and were happy to talk about how things were going.)

New libraries

To counterbalance the endless newspaper stories which focus on closures, there also continues to be a lot of investment in libraries. Besides some brand new library buildings, there have been many refurbishments – often celebrated with a reopening event (an excellent way of encouraging locals to take another look!) I’ve been to 3 brand new buildings, and 2 opening ceremonies this year (and colleagues went to at least 5 others) – and am looking forward to more in 2018.

The new libraries were in Chester, Meopham and Halifax (towards the end of this album) – where I also went to the opening event (read more about that here). The new Halifax library is a modern construction that incorporates parts of an old church – and this works especially well in the local history section, where gothic windows line one wall.

Meopham is a new building on the same multi-use site as the old one. But while the former library was actually part of the school – and I struggled to find the front door! – the new one is a standalone building, which proudly has its name above the door.

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The new Meopham library

The third new library building visited was technically a refurbishment: Chester’s Storyhouse contains a theatre, tiny cinema, restaurant and library – all contained in a renovated 1930s art deco former Odeon cinema! I visited twice – once for a tour shortly after it opened, and again when they hosted a Taskforce meeting. It was good to see how it had evolved even just in 6 months – I loved the poetry on the walls!

The second ceremony I attended was the reopening of Fleet library in Hampshire. The library has a new entrance, and is bright and welcoming – but the nicest surprise was to discover that they have one of the Paddingtons from the 2014 trail. He is a real landmark in the library – and apparently has his own supporters group.

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Paddington Bear in Fleet library

Libraries in Kent

I managed to tick off 18 more libraries when exploring Kent – a huge variety, from Maidstone history and library centre, to lots of small village libraries. I was very impressed with the extended facilities at Gravesend (unrecognisable from when I last visited, in 2008!), and as mentioned, I love the new Meopham library.

A miscellany of other libraries

We took advantage of other trips to explore – and during holidays or weekends away, saw 5 libraries in Yorkshire, 4 in West Sussex and 3 in Derbyshire.

We (and that includes my nephews) enjoyed a Fun Palace in Cheltenham central library – besides having a go at silk painting, and watching 2 small boys cracking safes and programming robots, it was a wonderful surprise to bump into the author and illustrator of Luna Loves Libraries – the book that features in Libraries Week publicity.

We attended Tech Ilford in Redbridge central library – now I’ve finally found out about how 3D food printers work, and seen Pi-tops in action (a laptop-style casing for a raspberry pi computer).

I mentioned 2 academic libraries – these were: Aston University – spent several hours meeting fellow members of the PPRG committee, first working on the 2017 marketing excellence awards, then planning the conference, and the library in the University of West London. Love their reception desk!

Carnegie legacy

Last, but by no means least, my hunt for the Carnegie legacy continues. This year I continued to get my research into better shape, and added lots more entries to the website I started last year to make this easier.  There are 15 Carnegies in the list below – but still lots more to visit and research.

It was while I was visiting Long Eaton library, that it struck me how often libraries had beautiful stained glass windows. So I set up a flickr group to gather together examples – 82 photos included so far, and I’m always looking for others.

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Stained glass in Long Eaton Carnegie library

Complete list (most were actually visited, * denotes driveby/they were closed):

  1. Allington, Kent
  2. Ashbourne, Derbyshire
  3. Bath, Wiltshire
  4. Bexhill, East Sussex
  5. Birmingham: Aston University
  6. Birmingham: Library of Birmingham
  7. Bishopsgate Institute, London
  8. Canada Water, London
  9. Cambridge central
  10. Canning Town, London
  11. Chatham
  12. Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
  13. Chester: Storyhouse
  14. Chester (former)*
  15. Coldharbour, Kent
  16. Dartford, Kent
  17. Dashwood, Kent*
  18. Denholme, West Yorkshire*
  19. Ealing: University of West London
  20. East Peckham, Kent*
  21. East Preston, West Sussex
  22. Eastbourne, East Sussex
  23. Fleet, Hampshire
  24. Garston, Liverpool
  25. Goring, West Sussex
  26. Gravesend, Kent
  27. Greenhithe, Kent*
  28. Halifax, West Yorkshire
  29. Higham, Kent
  30. Hipperholme, West Yorkshire
  31. Hive House, Kent
  32. Hull, central library
  33. Hull, West Park
  34. Ilford, Redbridge
  35. Kensington, Liverpool
  36. Kibworth, Leicestershire
  37. Kings Farm, Kent
  38. Kings Norton, Birmingham
  39. Larkfield, Kent*
  40. Lenham, Kent*
  41. Lille, France: Mediatheque Jean Levy
  42. Lille, France: University library*
  43. Lille, France: Mediatheque du Vieux Lille*
  44. Littlehampton, West Sussex
  45. Liverpool central
  46. Long Eaton, Derbyshire
  47. Maidstone, Kent
  48. Manchester central
  49. Marling Cross, Kent*
  50. Meopham, Kent
  51. Morley, West Yorkshire
  52. Nailsworth, Gloucestershire
  53. Northampton central
  54. Paddock Wood, Kent*
  55. Pancras Square, London
  56. Pear Tree, Derby*
  57. Pembury, Kent*
  58. Richmond, London
  59. Riverview Park, Kent
  60. Rochester, Kent
  61. Salisbury, Wiltshire
  62. Sefton Park, Liverpool
  63. Selly Oak (new), Birmingham
  64. Selly Oak (former), Birmingham*
  65. South Shields: The Word
  66. South Shields – former library*
  67. South Woodford, Redbridge
  68. Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire*
  69. Stoke Newington, London
  70. Stroud, Gloucestershire
  71. Swan Valley, Kent
  72. Thimblemill, Smethwick
  73. Todmorden, West Yorkshire
  74. Upper Norwood, London
  75. Vakarufalhi, Maldives
  76. Vigo, Kent*
  77. Waterloo, London – former library*
  78. Wembley, London
  79. West Malling, Kent
  80. Whitechapel Idea Store, London
  81. Worcester: The Hive
  82. Worthing, West Sussex*
  83. Worthing (former library – now museum), West Sussex

Plus a mobile!

Photos of all of these can be found in my flickr album. Plus specific albums for Kent and Medway libraries.

Looking forward to exploring many more libraries in 2018 (already have plans for visits to new places in January and February!).

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