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First “Teenagers Only” Library in Westminster Opens!

Published 20 August 2010

When you think of libraries what sort of images appear in your mind? Old musty-smelling buildings? Rows and rows of dust-covered books? Stern librarians telling you to “Be quiet”? Church Street Library in Westminster aims to break free of this stereotype by adding a special teenagers-only area called the “13-19 zone” which has been especially created to cater for the needs of young adults, to its existing library.

On Monday 9th August, Church Street Library re-opened its doors to the public after a lengthy 20 month closure and a £2.5 million expansion and revamp. The majority of the improvements and renovations carried in this project have been done so after direct public consultation with the local community including local teenagers, and in order to celebrate its completion the library will be a hosting a number of free events (held until the 22nd August) including talks from authors and a visit from the English National Opera.

New and Improved

A large amount of the funding for this scheme, £1.4 million to be exact, was provided by Westminster Council and another £1 million was secured from the Big Lottery Fund. The biggest change brought about with this money is the new 13-19 zone.

This impressive area is believed to be the biggest library youth “zone” in the capital. It has its own “chill-out” area with comfortable seating, an area designated to doing homework and a number of computer terminals for use, but more importantly it has its own gaming room, with flat screen TVs, a Nintendo Wii, Playstation and an X-box 360 which teenagers can use for up to two hours on certain days under supervision. The gaming room is still in the process of being set up and it is estimated that it may take a few months for it becomes fully-functional. A special Westminster Library “loyalty card” has been introduced, allowing 13 to 19 year olds to borrow console games for a small fee.

Other changes to the library include the expansion of the existing adults and children’s and libraries. The children’s library now contains amphitheatre-style seating or “the story-telling nest” and adjustable lighting to enhance the story-time experience for young children. The adult library has a large study area, lots of comfortable seating and a “Community Languages” section which contains a large amount of literature written in the languages spoken by the local residents, the films that can be hired also reflect the multiculturalism of the community.

As well as that the library now has air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi throughout the  building, contains two small meeting rooms as well as a community room (where community events will be held), an outdoor garden, and a learning resource centre with 20 computers that can be used for up to an hour a day for free. The library counter has been taken out and replaced with self-service machines.

The library aims to be environmentally friendly by using energy efficient glazing and adding a grass “sedum” roof. It also seeks to make the library accessible to all by having a ramped access, the rooms have been designed so that there are no narrow gaps where wheelchairs will not be able to pass through, and there is a lift which is useful as all the toilets (including the disabled ones) are two levels below the ground floor.

Combating the Declining Numbers Visiting Libraries

For the last few years libraries across London have noticed a worrying trend. The number of people visiting their libraries are decreasing, especially within the in-the-teens category.

Vic Stewart, in addition to being the Site Manager at Church Street Library is someone who has experience with working at various libraries within the City of Westminster and he believes that libraries in Westminster have been relatively lucky in regards to library visiting numbers; in his experience they have always increased their visitor numbers year on year. The key to their success in his opinion is that they always aim to engage the local community with what is going on

“The approach we have is that we want people moving into this area to sign up with their local libraries as one of the first things they do” he states. He explains that their aim is to make the library an integral part of the community.

Later on Mr. Stewart does go on to admit, however, that getting secondary school aged children to visit libraries has been a bit of a problem area and they had this in mind during the revamp. With their new 13-19 zone they now hope to attract a much larger number of teenagers to Church Street Library (it is predicted that they will have an additional 60,000 visitors after re-opening).

It is important to note that despite the “Teen zone” being a fairly new concept it is not the first of its kind in London as other libraries have implemented similar strategies to attract youths.

I think the way the local community has been involved and catered for in this project is really good, and the 13-19 zone is a fabulous way of getting youths back into the library.

To visit the library:
Address: 67-69 Church Street, London NW8 8EU
Nearest Tube station: Edgware Road (Bakerloo line)
For more information: www.westminster.gov.uk/churchstreetlibrary

  • Rick

    Interesting! a great place for the book lovers….