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Are new libraries rarer than the giant panda?

[Editors note: Spring 2016 is seeing a number of new libraries opening. We look forward to seeing new buildings in Slough, Bicester and Solihull - plus later in the year, the culmination of the Re:New project in Chester. We invited Ayub Khan from Warwickshire and Neil MacInnes from Manchester to tell us about the new libraries in their networks.]

New libraries in Warwickshire

Recent campaign headlines might lead you to think that new libraries - like the giant panda - are a rarity these days, as councils continue to tighten their belts. That’s not quite the case. New libraries are springing up.

Partnership working is proving to be the way forward for Warwickshire where two new libraries opened their doors this month. Both these projects were years in the making but, thanks to the collective will to work in partnership, we got there - and it was well worth the effort.

Southam library

Southam, an historic Warwickshire market town - where Charles I stayed before the Battle of Edgehill and where coins were minted to pay his soldiers - has a new, purpose-built library.

The former library building, on a generous plot, was much-valued but getting a bit tired - so the county’s Library and Information Service seized the opportunity to work with a housing association, developers, architects, other local councils and community groups on an ambitious town-centre redevelopment plan.

The site was an ideal place to build the extra care housing for older people that Southam lacked (a council priority) and presented an opportunity to reinvigorate the town centre. The recently-completed £12 million scheme includes the new Southam Library, 75 extra-care homes for older people, a restaurant and other community spaces.

The main costs to the County Council were associated with the library interior, furniture, fittings and ICT. The Library & Information Service now pays a basic rent which covers the maintenance of the site. At a time of limited resources, this project has made the most of the former library site, providing brand new facilities at the heart of the community.

The new library opened in January and is already proving a great success - with more visitors, increased loans, and lots of glowing compliments from local people. It was formally opened by local MP and Attorney General Jeremy Wright, on February 19. The Cabinet Minister’s attendance was touch-and-go for a while. Euro matters threatened to intervene and, in the end, he arrived straight from Washington. Amongst the other VIP guests was NAO - a humanoid robot who works with the County Council’s ICT service, inspiring schoolchildren across Warwickshire.

Child with NEO - the robot who welcomed visitors to the new library.
Child with NAO - the robot who welcomed visitors to the new library. Photo credit: Warwickshire libraries

The news story and a short clip is available online.

The official opening provided an opportunity to remind decision-makers and influencers of the important role libraries play in the community - and how they are changing to meet modern agendas.

Alcester: Globe House

Alcester is another Warwickshire market town with a long history - dating back to Roman times. Alcester Library has just moved into Globe House - a disused district council building converted to accommodate the town’s library, integrated Roman museum and a range of services, including CAB and Town Council, all under one roof.

The County Council used proceeds from the sale of the former Alcester Library site to redesign Globe House, for which it took on a 99-year lease. The local ward County Councillor described the opening as “the culmination of five years of work negotiating, re-structuring, re-organising, financing and pooling public support.” Other Councillors have praised the project as “a wonderful community asset’ providing the local community with “a vibrant hub of culture and learning”. A case study  was prepared on the Alcester project to illustrate the Libraries Taskforce first toolkit.

Continued investment

Alcester and Southam are not just refurbishments but totally new libraries. They are not large central libraries either. In Warwickshire, we are feeling the pinch, like everyone else, but we continue to invest in our local communities - providing customers with the convenience of multiple services in one location. We believe these partner projects will prove more sustainable in the long term - enabling different services to maintain a strong local presence by sharing costs and safeguarding their future.

[Editor]: Now let’s hear from Neil in Manchester:

Arcadia Library and Leisure Centre – Healthy minds and bodies

Manchester opened its third co-located and integrated library and leisure centre on Saturday 20 February at an event attended by Sir Gerard Kaufman MP, Lord Mayor Paul Murphy and Executive Member, Cllr Rosa Battle.

I had the pleasure of being MC at the opening ceremony, where a number of speakers, including members of the local community, celebrated the new facility. We then launched a weekend of free activity in the centre to promote this fabulous £9.4m development on the A6, right in the heart of the district centre.

Ribbon cutting ceremony
Ribbon cutting ceremony at the new library. From left to right: Cllr Rosa Battle, Sir Gerald Kaufman MP, Cllr Nasrin Ali, Lord Mayor of Manchester Cllr Paul Murphy OBE. Photo credit: Ben Blackall

The library is housed at the front of the facility and is larger, more attractive and spacious than the old Carnegie library which it replaces. The stunning glass frontage, in line with Manchester’s library strategy, allows passers-by to see what is on offer within the library space.

The new library boasts 20 state of the art PCs, free wifi and thousands and thousands of new books. A programme of events is planned including “Treasures on Tour” which sees some of the rare books and special collections being released from the vaults of Central Library to allow local residents to see these gems.

The library is managed by Manchester Libraries while the leisure centre is managed by Greenwich Leisure Limited (GLL). Thanks to the shared reception desk and the use of customer self-service printing and RFID, the library can be open the full opening hours of the centre – currently 90 hours per week, a significant increase from the previous opening hours. One of the busiest parts of the library on Saturday was the very attractive children’s library which was full of tots and young children, embracing the joy of reading with their parents before taking a dip in one of the two new swimming pools (minus the books of course).

Children's section in the new library
Children's section in the new library. Photo credit: Ben Blackall

Programme of investment

This is the third new library to open in the last three years in a leisure centre, the other two being Abraham Moss and Hulme High Street which are part of a £1m programme to provide new, larger and more attractive libraries in Manchester.

Please note, this is a guest blog. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of Libraries Taskforce or the DCMS.

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  1. Comment by nicki hitchcock posted on

    Worcestershire have 2 new libraries opening this year and opened 2 last year. It would be great to see these features too.

  2. Comment by Ian Anstice posted on

    I love seeing new libraries open, although sometimes it's hard to tell which are co-located replacements for previously stand-alone libraries. Sometimes these co-locations, as the case seems to be with Arcadia above could be superior to the original.

    So far in 2016 as well as the ones you mention, see:

    Flintshire – New co-located library opens at Deeside Leisure Centre: replacing Hawarden, Mancot and Queensferry which will close this month.(Feb 2016)
    Oxfordshire – Bicester to move into new £6.6m co-location on 11 April. Library to be “larger and have better facilities”.

    In 2015, there were a lot more noted:

    Barnsley – New central library announced as landmark of £50m town centre redevelopment (announced Jan 2015)
    2.Bradford – Shipley Library will have £640k refurbishment inc. self-service machines, new exhibition area, heating, toilets. (June 1015)
    3.Brent – Willesden Green Library reopens after major rebuilding.
    4.Buckinghamshire – £100k improvement to Buckingham Library. (July 2015)
    5.Derbyshire – New £892k library opened at Heanor, including health and wellbeing zone. (December 2015)
    6.East Sussex – Official opening of Newhaven Library (opened in March).
    7.Greenwich – Greenwich Centre Library opened June 2015 (new build). Abbey Wood Library to mov into new building in Cross Quarter. (November 2015 announced)
    8.Herefordshire – Ledbury Library reopens in Master’s House, £2.9m move from old library. (March 2015)
    9.Merton – Donald Hope Library £1.2m upgrade, paid for by development. Temporary library for site for 2 years while work takes place. (August 2015)
    10.Milton Keynes – New Kingston Library opened January 2015. Bletchley Library receives £529k for refurbishment: will collocate with others, possibly police. (October 2015)
    11.Newcastle – Newburn Library reopens after refurbishment. (September 2015)
    12.Newham – Gate Library reopens after refurb inc. café, wifi, community space and digital displays. (June 2015)
    13.Nottinghamshire – Bingham Library £720k refurbishment inc. moving in of children’s centre. £300k improvements to Arnold Library completed inc. new books, gift shop, café and study section.
    14.Plymouth – Central Library planned to move to Armada Way (August 2015)
    15.Renfrewshire – Johnstone – ” creates a new model for the delivery of community services with the public library, theatre, marriage suite, conference room and café sitting alongside staff from the council’s housing and social services departments, AdviceWorks, Police Scotland and MacMillan Cancer Support. In this respect it is an extraordinary building inside and out.” (May 2015).
    16.Shetland – New mobile library starts. (September 2015)
    17.Solihull – Central Library refurbishment includes increased co-location with voluntary services and two cafes. December 2015)
    18.South Tyneside – “The Word” new library/digital centre in South Shields to be built.
    19.Staffordshire – Stafford Library moving to new building in Staffordshire Place, expected to be open in September. Additions will include “digital touch tables”, innovation suite (including 3D printers and Raspberry Pi’s) (August 2015)
    20.Surrey – Cobham Library reopens in Cedar Centre: takes ground floor in community-group run building.(July 2015, replacement)
    21.Wakefield – Sandal Library refurbished in association with the Alzheimer’s Society (early 2015).
    22.Waltham Forest – Leytonstone Library reopens after £1.5m refurbishment. (September 2015)
    23.Warrington – £16m collocated leisure centre/heritage/health/library planned for Great Sankey. (June 2015)
    24.Worcestershire – Stourport Library reopens in Civic Centre (along with Coroner’s Office and Town Council) following move from County Buildings. (April 2015) Bromsgrove Library reopens in co-located building: £6.9m jointly between county and borough council. (November 2015)

    See for the full list going back to 2011. It also links to reports for each one.