Sally and Edith in Europe

LIANZA Travelling Scholarship

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Buzz about The Hive

Sorry for the pun, it is terrible but I need to entertain myself with titles.  I am also learning how important it is to post very soon after visiting and I am way behind now.  I have taken a few hours hour of dashing around London to put my feet up in the hotel and make the most of the expensive wifi.

I am sorry to say that the exterior of the building, that I was dubious about in a previous post Continue reading



It is difficult to find words to describe

It is difficult to find words to describe the visual impact of the new Birmingham Central library. It looks so much like the architect’s drawing which is amazing and a bit weird.  I absolutely loved it.  The really sad thing for you who have not seen it yet is that I promised not to publish any interior shots until after opening day (3 September 2013).  Fay Davies and the team want to save the Wow for the big day and I can’t fault them for that.  It is going to be amazing.

The gold layer of the building is the archive layer. The gold depicts the treasured nature of the collections

The gold layer of the building is the archive layer. The gold depicts the treasured nature of the collections

Even without people, books or computers and the other tech treats this building oozes charm and gorgeousness around every corner.  It is a very large building of about 30,000 sqm and comes at a cost of £188.88M. It is funded entirely but the Birmingham council, an undeniable commitment to the role libraries play in modern viable cities.  The other partner in the project is the Shakespeare Theatre.  Included in the building is a 300 seat ‘studio theatre’ which fills a gap in the market for venues.


As with all of the libraries I have visited Local History and Archives are a big part of the service.  Bring the treasures to the people and increasing access has been achieved in various ways.  Like most of us and exactly what I am doing, all the people I have met have been to the libraries I have been to to get ideas and learn lessons from each other and I can see the development of the ideas and how things have moved on even in the four years since the Newcastle library has opened.

Exterior detail

Without giving anything else away, I can say a few things that won’t spoil any surprises….electronic rolling stacks in the public spaces to get more collection on the floor without using extra space…lots of interesting spaces created in what is a very large footprint, levels of connection, computers throughout the library.  The foyer is huge and leads you up into the higher floors as well as the basement floors.  The foyer has also been designed to be used as an event space for receptions and parties.  It has enough special features to make it viable.


Not so many secrets here

Not so many secrets here

Brian Gambles and Fay Davies and their colleagues should be very very proud of their achievement.  Fay,  I know has been working on this project for 10 years and I can only imagine how complex the journey has been and how amazing it is going to be watching the city flood in on opening day.  Birmingham library will be the new ‘go to’ library so keep your eye open for the opening day photos.


Liverpool Central Library

Amazing renovation of an older 1950’s library.  Achieving so much in the space, beautiful atrium, creative lighting, flow and stunning reuse of old spaces.  Very inspirational and a challenge to us all in our planning and designing of amazing public spaces.  The place is humming with hundreds of proud Liverpudlian visitors as well as a few tourists.  I have bagged myself an Everton ‘Love the Blues’ library card too.  Architectural drawings of the refurbished Central Library, due to open in 2012.

Special features include a stunning children’s space with a spiral walkway in lime green down on the floor, the ‘Picton Room’; domed with a whispering ceiling (I tried it), a roof terrace where you can veiw the city while you get blown to bits by the fierce northern wind,  and the integration of the old ‘Hornby Library’ into the new space.  I love they way the Brits can mix old with new and are proud of their buildings no matter what age they are.  Very nicely done.


I didn’t have a meeting here so don’t know stats etc but they seem immaterial when you are here.

p.s I have managed to upload some photos since the first version of this post.  I hope they give you a taster of how gorgeous this all is.


First stop Newcastle

So, I have made it to England and to Newcastle and it is hard to believe I am actually here.  I loved my visit to Newcastle and realise I have made a good decision starting in the UK.  Good to get the hang of the transport in a place you know and also spend a few days with family settling in and getting some sleep.

It is hard to know where to start with this visit. It was great spending two hours with Angela Forster. She was the perfect person to have at my disposal due to her involvement in the building project and she provided valuable insights into every aspect of the process.

Angela Forster

Usually with a new central library comes change, usually in the form of service delivery, teams or staff roles etc. It is obviously essential to review all your processes and services while planning a new facility as most new buildings don’t come with a generous new staffing allowance as well.

looking down on the entrance floor from the 4th floor balcony

looking down on the entrance floor from the 4th floor balcony

Finding out why things ended up where they did and what is and isn’t working is so valuable.  Essentially, all project require some form of compromise, whether it is the space, the location or levels of service.  For Angela and the team it was about making the most of their location.   Oddly enough there were enough similarities in the location and site configuration to that in Christchurch that I can bring home some useful insights and ideas.   Spending time in the building after my tour, writing up my notes was also useful.  Being able to see how people used the spaces, engaged with the collection and the staff showed some areas for improvement but also tested out some thoughts we have on the table even at the early stages of planning.


I know this trip is primarily about architecture and buildings but I just loved the human aspect  of the visit. The things that all librarians deal with on any day on the week were evident in one building on a quiet Monday morning. A taster …. Note to self, ventilation around free access computers.  Should the free public access computers all be in the same place?  Why do we do this?  I know why, but is there a better way?  I think there is.

OTHER THOUGHTS ..almost too many to contain on one post

Flexibility of spaces has been acheived but to really make this work, the staffing set up or service delivery model needs to encourage and enable people to make the most of it.  Getting business services up and running can be really tricky but partnering with the university and ‘tame’ business contacts really makes a difference.   Self service, all or nothing.  Staff uniform, interesting. Would it catch on at home? I am seeing this as a theme over here.  Two entrances – depends on the site, but yes it is a great idea if your front entrance is in an odd busy corner.  Automated returns…yes.

Glass lifts

That is all for now.

I am having a nightmare trying to upload some photos to share but will do this later.