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Newcastle City Library membership soars after re-opening

NEWCASTLE City Library's first-year story makes impressive reading.

Newcastle City Library
Newcastle City Library

IF statistics are to be believed, Newcastle is not a romantic city. Paris it is not.

Apparently, books of an amorous nature come far down the list of the most-borrowed titles from Newcastle City Library, with more people preferring horror tales, teenage fiction and science fiction to Love Story. We’d much rather look at books with pictures, too, according to figures released by library number-crunchers.

What else they disclose is, since it opened a year ago on June 7, 2009 following a £24m two-year construction, the City Library has seen an increase of nearly 400% in new members.

Customer visits are well past the million mark, up 200% on previous figures.

It has had an impressive first year with awards presented for architecture, community involvement and engineering.

The Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals also recognised its significance and a recent award from the Royal Institute of British Architects means it will be considered for the coveted Stirling Prize later this year. And, of course, there was the official opening by Her Majesty the Queen last November.

In its first 12 months, the library, named Charles Avison Building after the 18th century Newcastle composer, has hosted visits from blockbuster authors such as Joanna Trollope, Chris Ryan, Wire in the Blood creator Val McDermid and journalist and former MP Martin Bell.

The most popular area is the children’s section, but the computer suite, fiction floor, and local studies department are also well trodden paths.

“The library is the city’s living room,” says Angela Forster, library development manager.

“People come in to read, to meet up or just to sit.

“At the old building a lot of people never went past the first level but the architects took things like that into consideration and designed a building that draws people to different levels and to keep them coming back.”

Community groups were involved at the drawing board stage with input from local schools and diverse groups such as the Chinese community and Newcastle Elders Council who were all asked what they wanted from their library.

“They were even involved in the choice of furniture when we had different types of seating laid out at the Civic Centre for them to try,” says Angela.

To mark its birthday on Monday the library has produced an enormous card where visitors can add their names, comments or drawings.

Workshops led by Newcastle-based artist Bethan Laker will continue today and tomorrow (12pm to 2pm) to get impressions of what the library means to people.

Coun Pauline Allen, Newcastle City Council’s executive member for culture, leisure and customer service says: “This has been an amazing first year and I would like to invite the whole of Newcastle to join us in celebrating this important birthday.”

The library cafe, another key element in the building’s success, run by Jesmond-based Stewart & Co, has also posted impressive first-year figures, selling 62,865 fresh cups of tea and coffee from local suppliers Ringtons which, stacked on top of one another, would form a crockery tower nearly three miles high.

“We’ve also sold 3,985 chip butties and had to put them on the menu every day to meet the demand,” says cafe manager Sarah Nicholls. “We’re offering a free cake with each cup of tea or coffee – customers only have to quote ‘Happy Birthday’.”

Throughout the rest of the building an ambitious programme of events has been set up with young musicians, school groups and the British Library to allow Newcastle to share some of the nation’s treasures.

The first of those features Earl Grey’s 1832 Great Reform Act where civil rights as we understand them today were first formulated.

Material borrowed will be of such value that items will arrive under police escort to be displayed in the light, humidity and temperature-controlled display unit specially installed for the purpose.

The most borrowed title from Newcastle City Library is appropriately enough Spot’s Birthday Party. But there’s more than one way to look at library lending statistics.

Romantic titles may be low priority for Newcastle folks but it does mean they’d rather show their affection rather than read about it. Paris had definitely better watch out.

:: For details visit www.newcastle.gov.uk/libraries

:: The cafe also wants to hear what visitors’ favourite meal has been over the year – winners will receive a free one. For details CLICK HERE.

 

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