Tag Archives: library buildings

Kate Mosse Opens New Portsmouth Library

International bestselling author Kate Mosse officially opened Portsmouth’s new library today (29 July 2011).

Mosse said: “It’s a great pleasure to open this wonderful new library. Libraries are treasure troves of knowledge, of books, where a love of reading can take root and flourish.

“They belong at the heart of the high street and in a time when the principle of free and fair access to books is under threat in so many parts of the country, this is a wonderful and important statement of how important books are to Southsea and the wider community.”

At a time when many libraries are under the threat of closure, Portsmouth is one of the few councils in the UK to open a new library.

What was once the old Woolworths store on Palmerston Road in Southsea has been transformed into a library, café and customer service centre providing advice and information on a wide range of council services.

With its striking interior, designed by local firm RBA, the building is everything residents can expect from a modern library. This includes thousands of books for adults and young people, free computer and internet access, an IT learning zone, community space for local groups and lots more.

The customer service centre will give residents access to information and advice on a wide range of council services, all under one roof. These include council tax, planning and even waste management.

The cafe will serve a range of coffees served by professionally trained baristas, handmade cakes and even a Woolworths themed pick and mix box for children.

Cllr Lee Hunt, member for culture, leisure and sport said: “At a time when many other councils are having to close libraries, here in Portsmouth we are investing in our library service.”

“The new library is more than just a collection of books. It’s an exciting environment to explore and discover, engage with the council or even just enjoy a cup of coffee and a slice of tasty cake.

“I am sure it will become a vibrant, dynamic focal point for the local community.”

Southsea Library

The following messages of support were received from authors, illustrators and celebrities.

John Banville
I send heartfelt congratulations to Portsmouth City Council on its decision to open a new library at Southsea. The library is one of the greatest human inventions, and our libraries must be protected and nourished even in times of financial stress, when they are most needed.

Guy Bass
Ah, Portsmouth ‘n’ Southsea! My home from home, my happy place. Well fought, well earned, well deserved. You felt the wind on your back and cried, in bold defiance, “Eat my new library, so-called financial uncertainty! You’re not the boss of me!” May others follow in your footsteps – and may we all bite our thumbs at those blinkered, lazy duffers-in-power who don’t like libraries ’cause they’ve never bothered to stick their heads through the door and realise there are LOADS OF FREE BOOKS in there. Farewell, Woolworths. Long live Southsea Library!

Alan Bennett
I’m afraid I can’t come to the opening of the new library at Southsea but I send you all my good wishes – and I rejoice that it is an opening and not a closing down! Hurray for the readers – whatever they’re reading! Hurray for the librarians who watch over them! ‘He always has his nose in a book’ people used to say. Thank goodness!

Bill Bryson
I am delighted that Southsea is getting a new library.  The world cannot have too many libraries.

Bernard Cornwell
It’s wonderful that Portsmouth City Council is opening the new library!  Libraries are the most exciting places on the planet – they can lead you to the past, explore the present, suggest the future and take you all across the universe!  Enjoy the new library!

Neil Gaiman
When I was three we lived in Waterlooville, and my grandparents lived in Southsea. I remember the excitement of weekly library visits, the thrill of each new book I’d be allowed to bring home. It gave me a love of books and of learning and of libraries that has continued to this day. I worry that all across the UK libraries are being short-sightedly closed to help balance the books by people who haven’t realised that a library is an investment in the future. I’m delighted that Portsmouth and Southsea are bucking the trend, for us, for our children and for their children.

Tess Gerritsen
Congratulations on your new library!  When I was a child, it was in the local library where I discovered the books that would make me the writer I am today. The library was the whole world under one roof. How lucky I was to have one in my neighbourhood — and what a shame that so many children today aren’t as fortunate. So here’s joyful applause from my side of the pond for your opening. May many generations of readers – and writers – find inspiration within your walls!

Ann Granger
What wonderful news that a new library is opening its doors in Portsmouth shortly. All concerned are to be congratulated on bucking the trend and having faith in books.

North End library (in its previous location) played a big role in my childhood in the city. I haunted its nooks and crannies. The number of books that could be taken out on one ticket was strictly limited in those days. When I had worked my way through the junior shelves, I begged my mother’s ticket of her, and took out extra books on that from the adult section. I always felt, among the volumes, that I was among friends, some I already knew, some sitting there waiting to meet me, and, as with the best friendships, many of those books have remained my friends for life.

Good luck with the new library in every way.

Lilian Harry
What good news to hear that Southsea is opening a brand-new public library. This is incontrovertible proof that libraries are needed and appreciated, no matter where they are, and must surely give heart to all those who are trying so hard to keep their own libraries open. An event that is important, not only to Southsea but to the whole country, and I hope it will not go unrecognised. Hurrah for Southsea!

P.D. James
In these difficult times it is particularly heartening to hear that a local authority proposes to open a new library and I heartily congratulate Portsmouth City Council on the library to be opened in Southsea. When I was a child in Cambridge it was the public library that provided me with most of my reading experience, and I wish this new library every success with local readers of all ages.

Annabel Karmel
I am thrilled to hear about the opening of the Southsea library. The library is such an important place for parents, a place for them to come and get information and support, but also a brilliant place to bring children and introduce them into the magical world of books.

Peter Kay
Well done!

Andy McNab
Fantastic to hear that a new library is opening in Portsmouth. I can’t think of a better way to escape the gloom of the recession than getting lost in a good book. Preferably one of mine!

Michelle Magorian
I was recently standing on a stage in a very large tent in front of 1500 people at the Hay Festival and mentioned a book in the question and answer session that had made an impression on me as a child.

The reason I came to read it was because a young librarian at the Elm Grove Branch library in Southsea encouraged me to broaden my reading. (I was fixated on Enid Blyton and couldn’t find anything I hadn’t read by her.) He had obviously spotted me searching fruitlessly and came over to see if he could help me. He recommended Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. He had obviously spotted that I was a tomboy. It took me a while to get into the slower pace of Arthur Ransome but it not only led me to his other books but it also led me to camping. If I hadn’t read that book I would not, later in life, slept on Mount Snowden in the snow, walked with two other students in the Scottish mountains and lived under canvas in a grapefruit orchard in Israel while helping out on a chicken farm and acting in a television studio in Tel Aviv.

I loved that little library. It was a warm quiet friendly place. I can’t begin to tell you what I owe to the Southsea Library. I hope that the new library will have some of the warmth of the Elm Grove one and that there will be friendly librarians with a wealth of knowledge as well as computers.

I often wonder who that librarian was and if he is still alive. If it hadn’t been for him, I probably wouldn’t have been giving a talk in the big tent in Hay!”

Yann Martel
A new library in 2011 in the UK! That is indeed cause for celebration. In times of turmoil and uncertainty, what better refuge than a place where one can read, meet, talk, think, rethink, explore, imagine, renew? These are essential activities in any dynamic society and they are best fostered by open civic institutions such as public libraries. I congratulate Portsmouth City Council on this wise investment in its own people.

Tom Palmer
I think it’s great that you are opening a library in Southsea. I’ve worked in schools around that part of town and I know there is a huge appetite for books. It’s great to see the Portsmouth City Council giving the people what they want. I also think it’s great that the library is being run by the librarians of Portsmouth, who are among the very best librarians in the country.

Jodi Picoult
It is always a joy to see reading being celebrated, instead of being threatened. Best wishes to the new Southsea Library; may you provide years of reading pleasure.

DBC Pierre
Portsmouth is moving forward against the stream, it’s fantastic to hear; and you’ve divined that libraries are much more than mere collections of books. In times when all focus is on economic supply and demand it’s heartening to know that at least one council remembers what makes a community – a heart, mind and soul, somewhere to truly sit among giants and gain perspective. All congratulations to you, and many thanks.

Ruth Rendell
I was delighted to hear that Portsmouth is opening a new library. That is such heartening news in these discouraging times when some county councils are reducing their library numbers by half or more. I am sure Portsmouth will find it has done absolutely the right thing and it will be enormously appreciated by those who rely on their public library for their reading matter. A new library with enthusiastic readers won’t need an accolade from me but still it’s a pleasure to give it. I wish the library every success.

Salman Rushdie
“The opening of this library is terrific news. Many congratulations.”

Nick Sharratt
In this period of shortsighted and hugely damaging forced library closures huge congratulations are due to Portsmouth City Council on the opening of the Southsea library, with all the fantastic benefits it will bring to the local community.

Francesca Simon
It’s always wonderful to hear about a library opening. Libraries are at the heart of any civilized and humane society, and the centre of community life. Everyone, and especially children, deserves free and informed access to books – well done to Portsmouth and congratulations.

Delia Smith
I want to wish you all the best for the new library. Hope you all have a splendid day and issue large numbers of new library cards.

Andy Stanton
Many congratulations on the opening of Southsea library. See you in there sometime, in paper form at least!

Ian Whybrow
Played. Portsmouth!

Here’s a boost for Pompey Pride:
One moment, Woolworths crashes
Next thing – up pops a library –
A phoenix from the ashes!

Three Raaaahs for positive thinking!
And Little Wolf says Arrroooo!
Harry and the Dees love libraries
And that goes for me, too!

Jacqueline Wilson
I’m so thrilled that Southsea is having a splendid new library – especially when so many existing libraries are being closed down. I think libraries are the most important buildings in any community, a source of immense pleasure and learning. Books are always a joyful diversion, a magical way of enriching your life and increasing your knowledge, and a failsafe way of beating boredom. I know that this library will be a warm and welcoming haven and will be excellently and efficiently organised. I hope you all enjoy using it – and the next time I’m near Southsea I shall come and see it for myself.

For more information call 023 9268 8999 or visit www.portsmouth.gov.uk/learning/libraries.html

Common Knowledge

Sibyl Ruth is a freelance writer based in Birmingham.  She recently wrote ‘Bodies in the Library,’ an audio drama about John Madin’s Central Library.

My local library currently displays signs saying, ‘Knowledge is King’. But last winter there were different placards on display. They hung from metal barriers and read, ‘Danger! Keep Out!’  The hundred year old skylights in the roof were at risk of falling in.

Kings Heath Library is a listed building.  English Heritage describes it as having ‘an accomplished Baroque facade’ and giving ‘a powerful impression of classical learning.’  It also contains ‘a series of internal spaces which are well handled.’

Unfortunately Birmingham, a city whose motto is ‘Forward’, has a mixed record when it comes to historic buildings. Some places remain shut for years, deteriorating further. Happily, £75,000 was found to pay for the installation of permanent internal scaffolding at Kings Heath.  After a mere three months the library reopened.

But those ‘well-handled internal spaces’ now look decidedly unattractive. Effectively the ceiling’s been lowered, making the library appear dark.  Boxed-in pillars of metalwork diminish the available floor space.

Potential users could be put it off.  Regulars are less likely to linger.  However it would cost £300,000 to replace skylights fully with exact replicas.  And the Council does not have the funding ‘at this stage.’

The library continues to be well used by community groups.  But the building doesn’t open on Wednesdays any more.  And the range of books is not what it used to be. (£200,000 has been cut from the city’s £1.3 million books fund.)

Though a citywide Library Services Review was announced back in September, nobody knows when the findings will get shared.  Meanwhile the Council’s Cabinet Member for Leisure suggests there doesn’t need ‘to be a librarian to open and close libraries each day.’

If you depend on the national press, you might think Birmingham was a great place for libraries.  Won’t we get our new £193 million Library of Birmingham soon?  Some of us though, would prefer to keep the existing Central Library.  Back in the 1960s its architect, John Madin, was aware that new technology would alter how we access information.  His design took into account that library services would evolve.    Madin gave Birmingham an iconic Modernist building that was the finest provincial library in Europe.

During an economic boom, perhaps there was some excuse for bulldozing a masterpiece.  Like the belief that the concrete of Madin’s library was starting to crumble.  A prime site at the heart of the city could be sold, a new library put up elsewhere, and (almost) everyone would profit.

But as the recession started to bite, enthusiasm waned.  The words ‘vanity project’ were muttered.  Other suspicions took hold.  Whenever the new Library of Birmingham got discussed, it was in terms of providing leisure activities. Shouldn’t there be a few mentions of reading? And study?

When people are not ‘on message’, publicity can be brought in.  Rather than relying on its in-house marketing team, Birmingham City Council has hired external consultants to sell its pet project. There are promotional events, glossy videos, Community Engagement Officers. All labouring to convince us the new Library is a Good Thing.

The PR posse aren’t quite so helpful if we persist in asking the ‘wrong’ questions. Awkward journalists and campaigners have been forced to use Freedom of Information legislation to get at facts.  (Yes, that launch for the London media cost £135,000.  No, Central Library doesn’t have ‘concrete cancer’. It’s perfectly sound.)

Another method of persuasion is to let Central Library run down. Then we’ll be sure to welcome change.  This could explain why, in the Lending library so many self-service machines are now out of order.  Shelves are half-empty, though the area’s cluttered with stands.  Lots of the books are tatty.  And it’s a red letter day if all of the escalators function.

Central Library also has four Reference floors.  They have what – in the 60s and 70s – was an innovative open plan, which allows for the fact that study is often an interdisciplinary affair.   Some of the most frequent users of the Reference library are historians.  They base themselves in the sixth floor Archives section, but changes to the service anywhere else impact on them.  Buildings historian Andy Foster was dismayed when individual subject desks (Science and Technology, Arts etc.) were removed. The librarians who staffed them gave him significant help when he wrote the Pevsner guide to Birmingham. ‘Now,’ he says. ‘All that expertise has gone.’

There’s been a further body blow to Reference users – not that you’d know that from glancing at the Council’s website. This boasts, ‘We’ve found a way to keep the Central Library OPEN.’  Only when you reach the small print does it mention, ‘The top three floors of the library will close to the public so that we can prepare the stock for the move.’

Some might think two years is a generous time allocation.  Last time Birmingham moved main libraries, the job got done in a few months. Yet though the closures don’t officially start till July, some holdings are already being put into store.

You might assume such a long period of ‘stock preparing’ would guarantee the careful transportation of each item. Sadly there are echoes of a different kind of transport.  One user confides, ‘Books are being sold. We don’t know what and how many: we just know it’s happening.’

People wanting the Archives have been warned of ‘a limited service’.  Again detailed information is scarce.  But researchers fear their work will become impossible.  Andy Foster explains, ‘The latest rumour is that you will have to make an appointment to visit and pre-order everything you want. This is disastrous for me… I’m trying to attribute buildings and often need many building plans for a short period of time each.’

It’s not just the specialists who will suffer.  Central Library is one of the busiest libraries in England.  Sometimes every seat in the Reference floors is taken.  But the tower blocks of nearby Ladywood are more crowded still. Few young people there have a quiet place at home in which to prepare for exams. The Reference library has offered them a lifeline. How will their futures be affected, when four floors of study space are reduced to one?

Knowledge could be King. Libraries should be places where information is for sharing.  Only I keep thinking about those metal barriers. The ‘Keep Out’ signs. Maybe our civic leaders are in the know.  We are being kept in the dark…