Following on from my visit to the “super library” in Canada Water, it was great to go to the Idea Store in Tower Hamlets. It is a fantastic example of a library which is truly about learning, ideas and interaction in the community.
I met with Asab Ali, the Manager, to discuss the work of the library. It was clear within a few minutes that an hour was not long enough to appreciate all the services which they offer to the Community.
The Idea Store was created during the drive for more libraries during the ‘90s as Tower Hamlets was struggling to get people signed up. The local population is diverse with 33% of the borough from the Bangladeshi community. The services libraries provide are vital for diverse communities as they offer areas to meet new people, spaces to learn new skills and languages and essential IT facilities.
As a result the Idea Store was created and there are now a number across the Borough with plans to build more. Nowadays 2,500 people visit the Whitechapel library alone each day.
Whilst wandering around the library you are struck by just how important all of its facilities are to the community. There are, of course, books with reading groups for children, and shelves reserved for book recommendations. But there are also book clubs (which I was able to join in on), numerous classes, sports facilities and a cafe.
Places like the Idea Store demonstrate that libraries still serve a crucial role in our lives, but the success of them lies in diversifying the services on offer.
The Idea Store has partnerships with health centres, Careers London, the University, Crossrail and Job Centre Plus to name but a few. Whether you’re looking for a book to read, to learn new skills, to get advice on jobs, learn a new language, or meet with your friends, it provides a one stop shop which really is the heart of the community.
On Friday, I paid a visit to my own library at home in Barnsley. The Head Librarian, Jill Craven, had come up with the great idea of putting human books on the shelves for the day. This meant that I was able to “borrow” a human book and sit down and walk to a real person about the issues which matter to them.
This is an innovative idea which stimulated knowledge and discussion about the issues which people care about in their own town, and where better to do it than a library.
Every time I go into Barnsley Library I pause to read Obama’s quote which states, “At the moment we persuade a child, any child, to cross that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better”. This is a brilliant illustration of the power of libraries.
Next stop on the tour, the British Library...