Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I am an old fashioned grumpy, and I like my libraries to look like a library, and not to be used for other purposes. A library should be a place that raises the human spirit, and gives a feeling of well being and contentment.
Last month I went to a Christie conversation at Paignton Library and Community Hub.

Some of the overseas visitors had just been to Agatha Christie's beautiful home at Greenway, and coming on to the library must have been an interesting contrast.

Greenway is situated at an idyllic location on the River Dart, Paignton's £6.5 million lottery funded library is not.
The traffic roars past the library, and the surrounding area must be one of the bleakest places in what is one of England's loveliest counties. I think libraries should be places to seek enlightenment and to have moments of quiet reflection reading a newspaper, or a book, or looking up facts in reference books or even on a computer.
I am sorry to say Paignton's library is like a busy train station that seems to have been designed by Albert Speer, and Wayne Rooney after a night out on the tiles. The upper floor was being advertised for rent at £17,000 a year, which would leave the train station downstairs on its own.
The library is also a community hub with offices for the police, a benefits office, and a small cafe. The toilet facilities were clearly inadequate for use by large numbers of visitors; and this had been recognised because the staff had their own facility protected by a code entry system.
But my main criticism is that the library/hub is situated on a site which is isolated by a stream of fast traffic. The pedestrian crossing is situated at the point where the vehicles reach maximum speed, and an elderly person weighed down by a few books would need to be fairly nifty on their feet to get across.
I suppose after the pending budget cuts we will be lucky to keep any of our libraries in any form, so perhaps I should not complain.
[The three photos of the library, and one of Greenway, don't actually convey the cheerlessness of one, and the beauty of the other.]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman - Your post is such an eloquent reminder of what a library can be. As you say, budget cuts changed many people's perspectives on the value of the library, and it is such a shame. Libraries are (or should be) also places where young people can "meet" millions of fictional folk, get schoolwork accomplished, and be introduced to the world of thought. A library that's a community hub as you describe strikes me as being much less of a safe place for young people to learn to think. A pity...

12:13 PM  
Blogger Dorte H said...


Our library is not that old, but the oldest part is a nice, red-brick building - best of Danish architecture - and they have tried to add new wings that are not too conspicuous.

Besides, we have the most helpful librarians in the world. So the only reason why I don´t hang out there every week is that I own more crime novels than they do, even in Danish ;D

12:30 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Margot-you wisely pointed out the safety factor for children, and there did not seem to be a separate children's area. "Get schoolwork accomplished" Margot that indeed should be possible in a sensible library, but the noise in there was incredible.
These modern wood framed eco-buildings may work in Scandinavia and North Germany where the climate is cold, but a dry cold. In Devon [ it seems like 10 below at 10 above] where it is damp and rains 360 days of the year I wonder if they will last.

1:32 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Dorte- we agree "yuck" but a lot of the new developments in England are modern wood framed eco-buildings. It is nice to know you are sticking to brick.
I can believe that you have more crime novels than they do in both English and Danish.
Unfortunately we were put off our own library when it was used for political posters and petitions, and became a slightly frightening place. I may return to check it out again.

1:42 PM  
Blogger Bernadette said...

I must admit that our libraries have become a bit too modern for my liking. All those glass bricks are utterly ridiculous in this climate which is basically re-claimed desert but at least my 'go-to' libraries have resisted the drive to be part of the godawful 'community hub' that you describe. That seems to happen more in the outer suburbs when newer buildings have been used but where I live which is closer to the CBD they've just put glass brick walls in the older buildings which happily aren't big enough to house every government service under the one roof. Though the main library I use which is in the heart of the CBD is hardly the restful place I remember as a kid - everyone talks in their normal voice (no such thing as library whisper anymore apparently) and kids scream and run around and people's mobile phones are constantly ringing and then people have to shout into them of course - we might not have the roar of traffic going by but it's not a heck of a lot quieter than reading in the middle of a 4-lane highway. I tend to reserve my books on line and only visit the library to quickly grab my books and get out - fortunately we have lots of parks and a river walk nearby where I can get away from the noise.

7:54 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Bernadette, I think it is the contrast that shook me. Although most of the coast along the English Riviera is built up you do have the lovely views out to sea, but the library is positioned on a bit of what was obviously a brown field semi-industrial site between the railway line, and shopping parades that exhibit some of the worst features of an English seaside resort, such as a proliferation of kebab takeaways and burger bars.
I was frankly embarrassed that visitors had been brought from lovely Greenway to central Paignton for this event.

10:58 AM  

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