Big changes proposed for the layout of the library: Friends committee is not happy

The library service is proposing a  redesign of the interior of Tate South Lambeth Library, including the replacement of furniture there. It wants to hear the views of local people on the  changes proposed.

library-redesignThe design is on display at the library– along with a depiction of the exterior signage planned. You can see the design document here.

So drop off your comments at the library by the deadline – November 30th.

The committee of Friends has long urged that the interior of the library be refreshed – with new shelving (to replace the current jumble of cast-offs), more tables, additional chairs for events, new carpeting, repainting of the walls, new signage. So we should be delighted that Lambeth Libraries is now proposing a comprehensive renovation. Unfortunately the design that has now been put out for public consultation is not one that we welcome. We are concerned that public funds are being misdirected and existing resources wasted.

Friends committee has  objections to:

  • changes in layout which produce poor zoning of activities
  • the inappropriateness and poor quality of the furniture

Here are our views in detail.

Our criticism of the layout –

The single desk that will be attended by a member of staff is not immediately visible as you enter the library, but is tucked around the corner in the other room. At Clapham Library there is a desk a few feet from the entrance where you can immediately have any query or needs addressed. Ours needs to be in the first room, clearly visible to all as they enter.

The children’s area is only around half that we have at present, yet the various children’s activities at the library already fill – sometimes to overflowing – the space there now. There has been strong growth recently in the number of whole class visits from local primary schools. This space could not accommodate them.

By relocating the children’s space into the centre of the room, the design will ensure that any – inevitable – noise spreads throughout the whole area, disturbing those who have come for a quiet read or study. One major criticism of the glossy new library at Clapham is that it is very noisy – our library has received “refugees” from Clapham on that basis. At present the children’s area is at the rear of the room, behind a wall of bookshelves and clearly separated from other areas, and far away from the entrance to reduce the opportunity for wandering off out of the library.

There are no computers located in the children’s area and no tables. This may be because of the very limited space available there. It is a regrettable absence.

Where are the places that people can peacefully settle down to quiet study other than in front of the computers? A notable feature of our library is the number of people who are engaged in study, instruction or reading at the numerous tables distributed throughout the library.

The layout provides for a reduction of around one third in the area available for art exhibitions, which means that we will be able to display far less art from local schools, groups and individual artists. Will there be compensatory hanging areas? Will space remain available on the walls for artwork that is currently on permanent display – from recognised professional artists (Ian Montgomerie and Aldous Eveleigh) or donated by Studio Voltaire in Clapham and Herbert Morrison Primary School – or will this be jettisoned?

– and the furniture

We do not consider the furniture as proposed – in either style or material – as in keeping with the existing fabric of this landmark Victorian building. In the very recent past the shabby and rather random collection of chairs has been replaced by wooden ones (from the old Clapham library) while Friends have donated three premium-quality wooden tables and a set of ten wooden chairs for small children. Separately it was agreed earlier this year that Section 106 money be used to buy additional chairs for events, with more comfortable seating than that in the standard chairs. All of these are “modern” but do not jar with the personality of the building, while they are sturdy and easy to maintain – qualities that seem lacking in the proposed new furniture. What is to happen to these?

The tables for general use are reduced in number and are mostly circular, which is not a good configuration either for people who want to work, do homework etc and need space for their papers, or to bring together for meetings or classes (such as the very well-attended English sessions on Saturdays).

It is proposed that benches be placed under the front windows and between the shelves, for people to use while perusing books. While there is a case from some benches, they are not a satisfactory substitute for tables and comfortable chairs.

Do the designers understand our library?

Reviewing the design layout we are struck by an evident lack of knowledge of what actually goes on in this library – the activities that take place there and how and why it is used and treasured by local people. This is despite the designers having visited the library. We get the impression than we are being offered an off-the-shelf standardised design that denies our library’s roots, history and personality.

Tate South Lambeth is not a standard library. It has many special features. This design does not take them on board.

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