The ASW included a visit to the magnificent Library of Birmingham. It was truly a stunning space, but offered many stark lessons to be learnt about building new libraries, particularly functionality vs. design and the importance of consulting users and librarians throughout the process.
Two presentations the following day offered a welcome positive perspective on new libraries. The first by David Pulford and Diane Job (University of Birmingham) was an informative update on the new main library going up there. The new library, situated next to the old, will bring together various stores and collections currently scattered around campus. The old library building will be demolished and replaced with a green space. It was apparent that great care had been taken with details and functionality: a ‘research annexe’ will be below ground with semi-restricted access housing lower demand items; they plan to open 24/7 and have factored that into the planning, e.g. are there any collections/spaces that would not be safe for unrestricted access? Energy efficiency and sustainability are key priorities as is technology: they will have massive Wifi capacity (they calculate on 6 devices per person) and plug points at every desk. Even acoustics have been carefully considered: they are planning a lively exhibition space open to the public in the front but don’t want the noise filtering through to the rest of the library and so various solutions such as acoustic baffling have been found.
In terms of the music library, their current space is too small, not accessible and technologically outdated, so they will be happily moving into the new building! We were told music was a central consideration of planning the layout of the new library (isn’t that nice!) mainly because they wanted the collection as close as possible to the A/V room which was in a fixed location. The whole talk was hugely encouraging. It demonstrated that this new library business can be sensible and that with detailed planning and consultation, needs can be addressed, problems solved and learning facilitated!
The second presentation was by Janine Downs (The Hive, Worcester). The Hive is ground-breaking in many ways: it is the first integrated public and university library; it combines several council services in one building including the public library, archaeology and archives services, a business support centre and the records office; it is jointly managed and governed by Worcester County Council and the University of Worcester; it also happens to have a striking gold exterior! Obviously this project came with big challenges- how to integrate many different teams? How to serve so many different customers? And apparently their building management system was difficult too (windows staying open in the rain because the temperature was ‘too high’). Some of the benefits highlighted included: efficiencies made by combining many services under one roof; facilitating continuous learning within the community; cross fertilisation amongst the different teams and sharing of expertise; having fully integrated collections increases access and use, for example now families can borrow picture books from the university teacher training section; great opportunities for students to do work placements and volunteering within their university library.
I found this presentation very inspiring and feel that this type of collaboration is the future for libraries – so it was brilliant to see it being done so successfully!
Megan Dyson – Leeds College of Music