Saturday, 13 April 2013

Mini world tour

A while ago I had a few days off work and decided to drag my boyfriend along on what I called a ‘mini world tour’ of libraries. There are several libraries in the near-ish locality (West Mids) which had made headlines and being a library fan I wanted to explore them. I chose the following ones to visit because they each offer something different to the communities they serve.

Choice number one had to be the Hive, in Worcester city centre. It took about an hour to drive there and I fell in love as soon as I saw the place. My boyfriend (a dedicated non-fan of libraries) wasn’t very impressed with the exterior of the building, saying it looked almost silly, but I disagreed. A modern library has years of stereotypical images to fight against and what better way to start than to make the building look different? I thought it looked interesting and exciting and I was curious to see what would be different internally. I was not disappointed – it is amazing inside! I could ramble on about everything inside the building but I won’t, I’ll just say my favourite section was the local history floor. The gigantic tablet-like touchscreen table for viewing maps was fun, and I enjoyed walking under the sound domes to hear oral history recollections. It was also interesting to look at the book stock and see the way university collections and public collections were available to everyone but on different loaning terms. I think we'll see more combined public and academic libraries as times goes by.
The Hive, Worcester, Worcs
Next up on the ‘mini-world tour’ was Oldbury public library in Sandwell. Although this isn’t my local library I do live in Sandwell, so it was only a ten minute drive from home. The new building – Jack Judge House – is huge and very impressive with its purple, blue and whilte exterior, but I was slightly disappointed inside. The library only occupied part of the ground floor, the remainder of the building was dedicated to council offices. I’m not saying this is a bad thing – if libraries have to share buildings to survive in the current economic climate then so be it – but for some reason I presumed (hoped?) the whole building would be the library. But not to worry, inside it was cosy, friendly and attractive. Focussing mainly on fiction books, this library was in complete contrast to the Hive. Every inch of space was utilised, whereas the Hive was spacious with an almost minimalistic style foyer. Oldbury library was full of people, a real hub of activity, and it warmed the cockles of my heart to see it so.
Oldbury Library, Sandwell, West Mids
Our final stop on the ‘mini-world tour’ was in Belbroughton near Stourbridge. The decommissioned phone box library is run by the local history society and was purchased from BT for just £1. It is crammed full of books – biographies, children’s, fiction – all donated by members of the public. The phone box is unsupervised but open 24/7. People simply take away any books they fancy and leave behind any they no longer want. Technically, it’s more of a book exchange than a library, but it’s still a wonderful idea. It works well and is something the locals are quite rightly proud of. This library is positioned in a reasonably affluent area and it may not work so well in other areas where it may be abused, which would be a shame. Also, when I visited it was heavily raining and because the phone box was so full of books I couldn’t actually step inside. I had to browse from the pavement through the open door and, being the good librarian that I am, was concerned the books would get wet. That aside, this library phonebox is a hidden gem.
Book Exchange Library, Belbroughton, Worcs
All in all it was a lovely few days pottering round libraries, exploringtowns and reminding myself that size really doesn't matter - all libraries are beautiful. 

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