The opening of The Word, the National Centre for the Written Word, was a welcome fillip to the UK public library sector after years of underinvestment. Is South Tyneside Council’s new cultural centre a sign of things to come?
Key to the success of the new library is its design concept, conceived by Newcastle-based architects FaulknerBrowns.
“What was profoundly interesting about this project was the ambition of the council to push the boundaries of what is relevant for a library, and how you attract all groups in society,” said Steve Dickson of FaulknerBrowns.
“We used the shelving to divide these two attitudes,” said Dickson. “Bruynzeel supported us with an efficient, effective steel solution for the shelving, with a clean and simple aesthetic.”
Whatever they did, it worked. Visitor numbers have quadrupled. Engagement is off the charts: teenage loans are up 800%; dwell time is up 300%.
Could The Word mark a turning point for public libraries? Dickson is convinced. “I believe we have reinvented the model. We have put in facilities for people who would not normally use the space. We’ve created a democratic form to match the last democratic building in our towns and cities.”