Sunday, 11 November 2012

Newcastle Central Library

During a weekend jaunt up north I took an hour out to visit the new Newcastle Central Library... I say new, it has been open since 2009! This is part of the new generation of public library and the thing that always hits me about these buildings is how they look and adopt the layout of academic libraries reminding me of Sheffield University’s Information Commons. It was also interesting to compare it with Swindon Central Library and Wiltshire’s new Trowbridge Library (housed within County Hall, Wiltshire Council’s headquarters).

The central library is over six levels with space for exhibitions, meeting rooms, a computer suite, cafe, crèche and all the normal things a library holds including BOOKS! I particularly liked the express zone on level one with different themed displays for quick choice but was thrown that the fiction is housed on level three. Instead the non-fiction is located on level one and adds to the feeling of it being an academic as oppose to public library. I should explain that there are two entrances to the library but in some ways it’s more like walking into a shopping centre than a library (modern design is funny like that!). It would take too long and you would be asleep by the time I’d finished so I'm just going to pull out a few interesting and what I think are key points.

  • All library staff are roving in the central library and were easy to point out but became few and further between the further you went up. There are enquiry points but none of the more traditional counters for memberships and queries.
  • For the size of the library there are only two bays of horror fiction although there is a very prominent blood-thirsty display but I wonder what will happen to this once the genre dies down.
  • The size of the children’s library struck me as odd in proportion to the size of the library but I imagine that children are not the main catchment for the central library. It takes up a third of the floor space on level three along with what you would expect in a standard public library (fiction, DVDs, music, large print and talking books). Whilst we were there this space was also being used for a gaming afternoon which livened the atmosphere and brings an often reluctant demographic into the library.
  • Newspapers and magazines were spread out across all levels of the library which could be confusing to first time users. 

The library’s wide variety of services include the normal eBooks, author events, home delivery service but also other initiatives which I believe work in these urban environments such as work clubs, business workshops, Internet taster sessions and law in the library which sees solicitors from Northumbria University School of Law give free legal advice to users. There is a similar programme in Wiltshire not with the law but with health which sees local nurses hold drop in sessions in libraries which has proven very successful over the last two years.

One last point I would like to raise which is along the same lines is the  promotion of a collection called “From Words to Wellbeing” which is much like Wiltshire’s “Books on Prescription” in that local GPs can ‘prescribe’ books that help you manage your wellbeing. In Newcastle Central this collection is kept together and under signage which makes it obvious to all what a person is looking at... the advantage of this is that members of the public can find it themselves and help themselves if they are too shy to ask. In Wiltshire libraries these books are kept in with the normal run of non-fiction and people have to come to the counter... it would be interesting to compare these two services and see whether users are comfortable with one way over the other.

Below are a few photos of interesting displays and initiatives set up in the library. Living in such a rural county it is interesting to see how more urban areas are dealing with the challenges of twenty first century public services including libraries. Newcastle impressed me and there are small changes I can make in my libraries which may prove successful. 

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