diamond geezer

 Sunday, December 04, 2011

Canada Water Library: It might seem somewhat unwise, even downright risky, to open a library in an age of public sector cutbacks. But that's what Southwark council have done this week, opening a so-called super library on the waterside by Canada Water tube station. It's been designed to do so much more than just lend out books, and replaces Rotherhithe Library which was closed to make way last month. The new building has been designed as an inverted pyramid, with four mesh-covered storeys rising from a minimal footprint. You can no doubt guess what's on the ground floor - it's a cafe. The Water's Edge is a proper pastry and caffeine dispensary with chalkboard menu - none of your usual push-button granules here. But you'd probably not guess what else is on the ground floor - it's a theatre. This community-based performance space will host authors and other cultural phenomena, for example Ben Fogle's speaking on Tuesday and a quartet of women writers are in conversation on Wednesday. As for the library itself, that's on the top two floors, accessed either by lift or a gorgeous wood-panelled curving staircase. Borrowers emerge into an airy chamber carpeted in Harlequin-coloured tiles, with bookshelves all around and a gallery above. Children get one corner, teenagers another (between music and graphic novels), and the adults get the big end. The bookshelves have very appealing content, because almost all of the books are freshly acquired. It's a joy to peruse their pristine covers, rather like browsing in your local Waterstones except that every single book can be taken away for free. Three whole shelves of James Pattersons, some morally suspect manga, even two copies of that new book of Londoners everyone's been raving about. The building may have reminded me architecturally of a Tower Hamlets Idea Store, but Canada Water's lending catalogue struck me as vastly superior. All the non-fiction is splayed out around the rim of the gallery, along with rows of angled wooden desks for local learners. All 41 spaces were filled yesterday by note-taking paper-reading water-swilling students and their flipped-up laptops. These are the prize seats, with a wholly distracting view down across the main atrium of the library, and I fear there aren't enough of them for future-proofing purposes. But it's genuinely one in the eye for the Big Society, is Canada Water Library. And your local library isn't as nice (sorry, but I bet it isn't). [exterior photo]

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