Decided to use the last day of this year’s Libraries Week as an excuse to explore a few more of Kent’s libraries – as I didn’t have the work-related excuse to visit many during the week.

Did manage to find time on Friday to discover Westminster Reference library though  – what an elegant building, with a fascinating history. Notable now as the first public library to offer telescopes for loan – relevant as Isaac Newton, who invented the reflecting telescope, lived in a house on that site.

Our main library tour though was on Saturday, when we did a circuit around Dartford and ticked 5 more off the list. In a contrast to other Libraries Week articles which focused on iconic libraries (BBC archives) or magnificent libraries (Heritage England) here are some of the smaller branch libraries which form a vital piece in the public library jigsaw. I’d be happy to have any of them on my doorstep (as long as they were open at times I could visit!)

Fleetdown library

I confess to having a weakness for circular and polygonal libraries – so our first stop was a good one to add to the collection.

front view of hexagonal library building with peaked coper clad roof

Fleetdown library

Fleetwood library is similar in some ways to one close to Gravesend: Riverview Park library, but this one has no ‘mast’ in the centre. It is hexagonal, and inside is an open space. I loved the hedgehog book boxes in the children’s library, and the colourful mural in the entrance, which featured lots of familiar characters from children’s literature – including a gruffalo and Winnie the Pooh.

We also discovered there that Kent Libraries are running a ‘library bingo’ challenge – a good way of finding something new to read, or discovering different library services – and the possibility of winning a book token.

Temple Hill library

Moving anti-clockwise around Dartford (we didn’t visit Dartford central today, as been several times before) our next stop was Temple Hill library. Top marks for good location and free car park – this library is among lots of small shops, and close to a community centre and primary school. It looks fairly plain from the outside: reddish bricks and a flat white capped roof like so many other Kent libraries, but inside it is warm and colourful.

inside a library - showing bookshelves around all walls, a colourful rug and a table with a lego airplane

Inside Temple Hill library

We’d just missed lego club (probably a good thing, or I wouldn’t have been able to take photos) – but it was lovely to speak with the library worker, and see some of the flying saucers made during a recent craft session. Top marks for ingenuity in sourcing the plastic globes! She had worked in the library for many years, and when she heard of our tour, asked if we’d been to Ashen Drive – her childhood library……… not yet was our reply…..

Ashen Drive library

Next on our list, the aforementioned Ashen Drive. Another small branch, another brick box with flat white roof, this one was built in the late 50s and is on a residential road, with trees and a small garden around it. A bright space as it has deep bay windows which look out over the grass and trees, plus a row of small windows around the top.

This was the only library we saw with a #LibrariesWeek display – balloons and posters in their large front window. I also liked their display which aimed to bring readers attention to books that they might easily overlook: Something from the bottom shelf!

Display of books with orange balloons, and a sign reading "something from the bottom shelf!"

Something from the bottom shelf!

Summerhouse Drive library

Another library in a residential road, this building shared lots of similarities with Ashen Drive.

Small library building with glass front and flat roof

Summerhouse Drive library

It too is a small brick box with a flat roof, large display window plus bay windows and that top row of small windows that let in the light. The North West Kent family history society have a room there, and the display in the front window had lots of old photos from the area.

It was the busiest library we visited – so no inside photos of this one: there were children on the floor and showing of their halloween creations, people choosing books, and someone asking to use the library printer as she had something urgent to print out – and ‘knew the library would be able to help’.

We were also hugely impressed by the mature oak trees which lined the street – and this year have had a massive crop of acorns. You can just make out some of them in the photo.

Sutton-at-Hone library

Our last call – which completed the loop – was Sutton-at-Hone. Very different looking to the other libraries, it takes up the ground floor of a development (flats above) and has Kent timber cladding and arched windows – looking a little like a barn. It is also different in that it shares premises with a community cafe – although unfortunately that isn’t open on a Saturday – so we couldn’t end out tour with a cuppa.

Inside a library showing lots of bookshelves, plus tables with checked tablecloth and chairs around

Inside Sutton-at-Hone library

We made this one just 20 minutes before it closed, but apparently it is very popular after school – when every table is occupied, and popular with older residents who meet for coffee and a chat. The cafe owner is there on the 2 days the library staff are not, and she is able to issue books, and runs several activities, including a knit and natter group.

We also saw a display about a local National Trust property we hadn’t known about: St John’s Jerusalem – an ancient chapel and lovely garden. One to revisit in the summer.

Library tourism continues

Despite the recent reductions in opening hours, good to see that all are still open on a Saturday. And good that we had no trouble parking at any of them.

More photos of all the libraries visited are in my Kent libraries flickr album. Today’s additions bring our total visited so far to 48 (out of 99, so still a lot of exploring to be done!) and the sticker collection on my laptop to 3 🙂

3 circular stickers, reaidng: love your library, I love my library, and love Kent libraries

Library stickers



Two excellent excuses to visit libraries…….. not that I really need an excuse, but it is lovely to have a reason to visit lots of new libraries in a week!

Fun Palaces

First up was Fun Palaces weekend: 6-7 October. And while there is a great Fun Palace in Chatham, I wanted to find some libraries taking part, so we headed north of the Thames to Essex. Our original plan was to try and visit 3 (in 3 different library authorities!) but the traffic thwarted us – so we’ll have to visit Chelmsford library another time.

We were successful in finding 2 library Fun Palaces though – the first in Grays library, Thurrock. We arrived early, just as people were setting up, but had a chat with a lady from the knitting group, and then spent some time making a basket from woven newspaper ‘spines’.


Inside Grays library

The library is found inside the Thameside centre – which it shares with a museum, theatre and cafe.

Next stop was Westcliff, to visit one of Southend’s libraries. We used to visit family in Southend, but I don’t ever remember seeing this building. It is Grade II listed, I guess due to its unusual construction: masses of huge windows, very slim metal columns and an unusual ‘ridge and furrow’ roof.


Inside Westcliff library

I love the Beano characters still in situ following the Summer Reading Challenge! In the photo above, you can just make out the first evidence of Fun Palace – some of the 8 model planes which were laid out on and around the book cases. We spoke with the model maker and learned lots about different kinds of batteries (always a trade off – more power, longer life, weight – to say nothing of cost.)

There was a craft table, another with people doing quick health checks, and another with someone I later discovered was Andy – with his raspberry pis. Out in the garden were community champions promoting recycling, in front was a cycle repair team, and in a side room was a local reptile group – who had brought a tortoise, a tarantula, and 2 snakes. I was mesmerised when holding the king python – constant movement of muscles under its skin, and the most beautiful patterns.

Libraries Week

Libraries Week runs from 8 – 13 October, and the theme this year is wellbeing. A week long opportunity to showcase the many ways in which libraries bring communities together, combat loneliness, provide a space for reading and creativity and support people with their mental health.

A very busy time for me at work – encouraging colleagues to visit their local library – then share a photo and comment, plus plans for minister to visit libraries, a series of blog posts, and lots of social media activity. Good to see #LibrariesWeek trending on twitter – there have been some amusing tweets, plus lots of lovely memories of libraries – many in response to this tweet from Radio 4.

First visit to a library today was a quick stop in Charing Cross – a long narrow building, but a bright space.


In Charing Cross library

I’m hoping to visit as many new libraries as possible – and will try to fit in some with specific connections or memories for me. While I probably wont be able to make it to Kendal – the first library I was a member, or Brackley library where Mum  worked, or the Huw Owen at Aberystwyth University, I did travel to the end of the Metropolitan line today, and visit Uxbridge. I was a member there when I moved back to London after studying, and remember seeing Anna McCaffrey at a ‘meet the author’ evening.


Uxbridge library

The library had a substantial refurbishment in 2014 and was bright and spacious inside.

Finally on my way back I stopped off in Ickenham – lovely small library with lots of reading and study nooks. Not a bad tally for Day 1!

Day 2

As part of my [self imposed] quest to include libraries which had some kind of personal connection to me, and, as a reminder that Libraries Week is to celebrate all kinds of libraries, on Tuesday I called in to the Institution of Civil Engineers. It is their 200th anniversary this year, and there is a wonderful exhibition in their old library, aimed at encouraging young people to think about civil engineering as a career.


In the ICE library

The connection to me is that, as the daughter of a civil engineer, I know a lot about what contribution they make, and it was good to not only explore the ‘old’ library, but also to be invited upstairs to see what is now called the members resources area (“where the librarians work”) – a slightly smaller space, but with lovely arched ceiling and lots of study nooks.

A day of Carnegies

Day 3 was a day to represent my long time interest in charting the Carnegie legacy.  First stop was Islington Central, where the team had invited me to attend the launch  of their new collection of material related to women’s health. A perfect idea to illustrate the wellbeing theme of this year’s Libraries Week, and a good chance to hear about their plans to develop this building.

I then took the Victoria line to its end, and visited Walthamstow library. Doubly relevant to me as besides the Carnegie history, my grandfather was born in Walthamstow, so may have used this library.

I traveled home just in time to pop into Rochester library (not a Carnegie – although there used to be one in Chatham, before the council demolished it) and use the wifi to publish a blog post and check my emails!


In Rochester library

Out East – plus Libraries Change Lives

A shift of emphasis for Day 4, as I headed to CILIP, for their AGM and ceremony to celebrate the projects shortlisted for the Libraries Change Lives 2018 award. Congratulations to Glasgow, who were announced as winners, but I recommend watching all 3 films – as the projects in Kirklees and Newcastle are equally life changing.

Back on the libraries trail, and this time I headed to the end of the District line, to visit libraries in Havering. First stop was Upminster – one of the libraries where my mum worked in the 60s (she was there when it opened).  It hasn’t changed structurally, although the huge mural on the back wall was added during a recent refurbishment.


In front of Upminster library

A couple of stops along the District line, and I got off at Elm Park. The library there was opened in 2009, and meets all sorts of high environmental standards,  with its sedum roof, solar panels, energy efficient lighting and insulation made from recycled newspaper.

It is also a bright and welcoming library – and I picked up a brochure for the Havering Literary Festival – a hugely impressive lineup of authors and events.


Inside Elm Park library

Oh yes, and remember I mentioned plans for ministers to visit libraries? They did: the Secretary of State went to Salisbury, and Libraries Minister Michael Ellis visited Wimbledon.

Day 5 of Libraries Week – all about library people

Back to CILIP for the conference/workshop organised by the Public and Mobile Libraries group. An interesting day, hearing about progress with the Public Libraries Skills strategy, the new ethical framework, 100% digital Leeds, and talking with colleagues from around the public library network. One session provided the perfect photo to close the week – Jo has customised ‘Guess Who?’ to show the faces of the library people who have appeared in her podcast series ‘Librarians with Lives‘.


Guess Who? – the library version

So that was Libraries Week 2018 – exhausting, and I was really just an observer! But visiting all those libraries was an excellent reminder of  how there is no such thing as a stereotype library – rather a range from old – new, traditional – experimental, calm – lively, suiting the communities they serve. And if you search the hashtag, you will see a national, colourful picture of the diverse range of services offered and people enjoying themselves in libraries all around the country.