Let’s start with the good news. The proposed new library will house the best children's library in the country, according to Jon Collins, leader of Nottingham City Council, who has said: "We want our children to have access to books, learning, imagination and ideas. That’s why we’re ambitious to build Britain’s best children’s library as part of a new Central Library development.”
Addressing poor literacy levels in the city is a priority and promoting early-age reading is of the upmost importance. Libraries play a vital role in this. Last year, nine out of the ten most borrowed books in Notts libraries were children’s books. If the new library is to become the ‘best’ then it will be a destination that parents and children will flock to, an inspirational setting, which in turn will help boost literacy levels and social mobility. But what is the best library we can offer?
Are we aiming to rival the Library of Birmingham?
Not a chance. The Library of Birmingham is Europe's largest: a state-of-the-art venue that attracts 10,000 visitors a day making it England’s most visited tourist attraction outside of London. However, it cost £189m to build and has not been without controversy; they have had to cut library jobs and chucked £1.2m at Capita for website costs.
What about England’s UNESCO cities of literature, how do our plans measure up?
Norwich has a beauty, the Norfolk & Norwich Millennium library, which clocks up well over a million visitors a year. Designed with natural light in mind it’s self-billed as “Britain’s most advanced library” and houses a Heritage Centre.
|Norwich's Millennium Library|
Manchester spent £50m on its central library just to bring the listed building into the 21st century.
|Manchester's Central Library|
So, what are the plans for our City of Lit?
The current six-floor central library on Angel Row would be sold off for office space bringing in much needed money (and hopefully jobs) to the city. This has been in the planning for some time. The only doubt was/is relating to whether or not some of the building is retained for the library. The redevelopment option would be costly so the council has been looking for a suitable alternate for its premier library. That, it seems, is to be the new Broadmarsh area. In particular, the site of the old car park which has been demolished.
The net cost of the new library? £3m.
"The aim is for this to be an impressive building," said Jon Collins.
Words like impressive and best (in reference to it being the best children’s library) are difficult to quantify but for £3m it would be an absolute bargain. The obvious concern is that the new library might fall short. The proposed central library would be smaller than the current one.
A key question is will it be housed in one of the new generic units or become a distinct venue with its own identity?
Like a book by its cover, people often judge a library by its exterior, and here is a chance to make an iconic statement that shouts: ‘Welcome to Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature’. The façade could be an enticing Disneyesque scene that every child wants to enter, or it could be hidden behind modern glass and look like the rest of the new Broadmarsh. The library will face onto a pedestrianised Collin Street and Carrington Street so it would be visible to visitors from the south of the city. How wonderful if it actually looked like Britain’s best children’s library.
It will probably look like this:
But it could look like this:
The new Broadmarsh will need a wow factor, something iconic, an identity. The planned cafés, shops, bowling alleys, cinema (nothing we don't already have), can’t be saved by a modern glass frontage and swanky signage. But a children’s library that’s recognisably the best in Britain might just do it. That would bring families to the new Broadmarsh, and its private owners, Intu, should be digging deep to contribute.
Perhaps an overwhelming public support for the new library could show a demand that might encourage private funding. After all, the better the library, the more visitors to the new Broadmarsh area.
What about those who don’t want a children’s library? Don’t worry. The new library will house the current stock of books and adult services should be maintained. There will be the usual areas of fiction, non-fiction, etc plus much more. A good modern library is a social hub of innovative activity, with a remit for supporting education, employment, culture and health; expect business aid, dementia groups, courses and clubs aplenty. There will also be an area dedicated to local history (and I hope our literary heritage) and there will also be an events’ room.
Does this mean an end to the old Cecil Roberts room, dumping the much-forgotten author for a more suitable name? Probably. May I get an early suggestion in, The Geoffrey Trease Room.
A public consultation into whether the plans should go ahead has now begun. If they receive support the new central library could be here in 2020, if not, it could remain where it is (but reduced in size). Nottingham city council has been hit by huge cuts from central government and their budget is set to further reduce. Can we get the ‘impressive’ library we desire for £3m net? Unlikely, but I’d settle for the best children’s library in the country. It’s a fitting aspiration.
To get you in the mood, here’s 13 of the world’s top libraries, well, we can dream: