#Mondayblogs Beautiful Libraries: Municipal Library Central Santa Cruz de Tenerife


Santa Cruz is absolutely gorgeous; brimming with tapas bars and city parks, it’s an urban delight that feels like real Spain. It’s in stark contrast to Los Cristianos in the south, the Wetherspoons of Tenerife. But my reason for visiting the joint capital of the Canary Islands was to see the Municipal Central Library.

There’s two ways I would recommend accessing it. If you walk along the Puente Serrador Bridge you’ll be treated to spectacular views of the city and the North Atlantic Sea. Eventually you’ll see an orange coloured building whose architecture harks back to colonial rule. This is the Mercado Municipal Nuestra Senora de Africa. Inside is a bustling market, the hub of the city, where the locals come to grab food from various stalls and kiosks before relaxing with a Barraquito Especial (coffee, condensed milk, milk, cinnamon, lemon and liquor). The library is before the Senora de Africa, on the left as you pass over the bridge.  Viewing it from this vantage point enables you to appreciate the simplicity of the architecture, the way it blends into the environment, and the sheer scale and sleekness of this magnificent design.

orange blog

At the end of the Puente Serrador Bridge you’ll see the Mercado Municipal Nuestra Senora de Africa. The photo on the right with the curling sculpture is taken outside the library.

The other option is to head below the bridge and aim for the Museo de la Naturaleza y el Hombre on Calle Fuente Morales. A quick right turn reveals the front of the library and trees shading the beginning of a path that runs between the adjoining buildings, connecting the old quarter of the city with the modern zone. If you want a library to be a focal point of the community then location is everything. This ticks every box.

outside path blog

You can see the bridge in the bottom right image.

The building was designed by the architects Herzog & de Meuron in cooperation with the Spanish architect Virgilio Gutierrez, and aspires to be a reflection of contemporary art, influenced by new technologies. The exterior is thick minimalist concrete, reminiscent of the interior of the Nottingham Contemporary, with high glass panels flooding light into the large diaphanous spaces. The walls are patterned with long thin cut out shapes, like someone has blasted a row of Space Invaders, neatly scattering pixels along the surface.

Light is absolutely central to this design, making it such a tranquil space to work in. The ceilings are so high it’s easy to feel like you’re outside while inside. Dripping down from the ceilings are lights in glass baubles. The delicacy of the design makes them feel like a work of art in their own right, offsetting the neat symmetrical rows of the Opal Shelving System below. These shelves are painted white and without end panels to allow light to flow through them. Needless to say every table is occupied, with people reading, working on laptops, or filling tables with scatterings of documents. I suspect as many people are here for the tranquillity as they are for the books. Disability access is excellent as is the WI-Fi.

white desks

The library occupies an area of ​​6470 m2, of which 4670 are for public use and the rest corresponds to the office area and warehouses. On the ground floor are 36 computers, 300 reading posts and shelves that accommodate about 100,000 volumes of books. There’s plenty of CDs and DVDs too. The first floor is dedicated to children and youth studies, with playgrounds and activity areas, 6 computers, 150 reading posts and 20,000 books to choose from.

The Library has a long history, having been inaugurated on April 2, 1888. The 7,000 books it housed back then were mainly from the Economic Society of Friends of the Country and from the private library of Francisco de León Morales, who was the first municipal librarian. It started off life in the premises of the former convent of San Francisco, then in 1932 moved to José Murphy Street. By 1999 it grew in size by swallowing up the buildings of the old courts. In 2008 the library moved to its present location, joining forces with the headquarters of TEA-Tenerife Space of the Arts. TEA is a multi functional exhibitions centre which combines different spaces and activities for social interaction and aims to promote artistic creation and thought on contemporary forms of art and culture, mainly by housing the museum of modern art. There’s a great little shop at the top entrance, selling arty clothing and jewellery, and a well stocked café downstairs.

me at wall

I can’t contain my grin on discovering such a beautiful library.

I’m always interested to see what kind of events libraries put on as one question we asked in Dawn of the Unread was ‘how can libraries become a focal point of the community?’ Santa Cruz is doing this through a diverse range of workshops. During my visit there was a comics’ book making workshop in the Children’s Room with Carlos Miranda for 7 -14 year-olds. Fabio González held an illustration workshop that explored basic concepts of illustration and visual language with games that put these concepts into practice. There were sessions for adults, such as the ‘Naked words’ project, as well as an annual programme of oral narration sessions held on the last Thursday of each month. The library also hosts a reading club that’s been running weekly since 2012. But most intriguing for me were adverts calling for submissions to the Julio Tovar Poetry Prize, thereby making the library a regular point of call for those feeling inspired to write after attending various events.

DOTU Round logoDawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.




#Monday Blogs: The Sir Duncan Rice Library, Aberdeen University

Aberdeen-University-Library-Schmidt-Hammer-Lassen-leadLibraries come in all shapes and sizes and I’m a firm believer that the architecture sends out a clear message of intent, at least with regards to how we value knowledge. The Vancouver Public Library resembles the Amphitheatrum Flavium in Rome whereas the National Library of Latvia in Riga is like a giant swaying Orca fin, cutting through the landscape and towering over the Daugava River. However it is worth noting that when an entire budget is ploughed into a grand building it can come with consequences. The City of Birmingham Library cost 189 million to build and now can’t afford to stock new books!

One library I’ve been desperate to see since it opened on 24 September 2012 is the Sir Duncan Rice Library at Aberdeen University. You don’t get more rotund than this large modernist rectangle. It’s like the Gods have been playing Tetris and a block has fallen from the skies and landed in the grounds of this ancient 15th century university.

library planHere’s the vital statistics: It’s comprised of 22,000 tonnes of concrete, 2,200 tonnes of steel, 760 glass panels, 4,700 lights and 24 kilometres of shelving. You can huff and you can puff, but no budgetary cuts will blow this beast down.

When I arrived there was some work going on at the entrance and I got chatting to some students. One of them told me that the work had been going on for a long time and this was because the architect had not factored in the weight of books when designing it and so it was sinking. This of course is an urban myth, although I loved the idea of a building collapsing due to the weight of ideas.

I spoke to Ewan Grant, one of the library staff at the Sir Duncan Rice Library (TSDRL), which is just one part of what is known as Library, Special Collections and Museums.

“Across all three divisions of LSC&M we have over 1 million items, from books, to ancient manuscripts, to a collection of museum artefacts spanning the centuries and the globe. In terms of materials within the Modern Collections of TSDRL we have over 400,000 books shelved across over 15 miles of shelving, with material ranging across the arts, humanities, and the sciences. We even have what at first glance may appear to be a children’s library, a strange collection some may think for a University library. However, these materials are for the use of Education students to use when out on placement within schools. We even have toys within that collection, although strictly speaking they are “educational resources”, not toys!”

Aberdeen-University-Library-Schmidt-Hammer-Lassen-10The collections of a modern academic library, however, stretch way beyond the physical materials on the shelves. Therefore they have embraced digital to adapt to the needs of the modern student with over half a million e-books as well as access to thousands of scholarly articles. As a student, many moons ago, I remember reading that the average journal article was read by around 2 people. Digitisation puts an end to that by making niche work accessible.

Digitisation has therefore had an impact on the role of the academic librarian as “a lot of these materials are not freely available by searching with Google and therefore a lot of staff expertise and time is used instructing our students in the best ways to navigate these materials, the quantity of which can be daunting to trawl through in an efficient and smart way.”

In the public sector many librarians have lost jobs due to government cuts and what can only be deemed a depreciation of the role of the librarian, with some councils advocating ‘voluntary’ helpers as a means of plugging the gap. Although this is unlikely to ever happen to a university, particularly now that students are paying full whack for their education, Ewan and his team are a prescient reminder that librarians are skilled members of staff.

Libraries can clearly no longer function as warehouses for books if they are to remain hubs of the community in our digitally driven present and so TSDRL provides a variety of services to keep punters interested. This includes the obligatory café, an events area for school visits and a gallery on the ground floor.

The gallery is superb and a simple means of drawing attention to the university’s Special Collections via a programme of exhibitions. During my visit the theme was The Far North: Frozen Stars, Shifting Ice & the Silence Beyond and included Innuit artefacts, diaries from explorers and contemporary art from the likes of Reinhard Behrens, Pat Law and Briony Anderson. The effect was simple: I wanted to go and find books to learn more.

The ice and light of the north was also instrumental in informing the building design by Danish architects Schmidt Hammer Lassen. The exterior of the building has white lines dripping down what appears to be an off blue glass. It’s like the building is melting before your eyes. It has since gone on to win an RIAS and RIBA Award.

screenWhen you enter the building you’re greeted by a large interactive screen which lists the names of benefactors as well as general information. One thing I was particularly impressed by was a note stating that 3 day loan books would be automatically renewed if they weren’t on order, thereby saving students a lot of money in fines. Other university libraries take note.

The seven floors of the building are partitioned via swooping contours and decorated in a minimalist white. This enables light to run through the building while also creating different perspectives, depending on whether you are stood at the top looking down or the bottom looking up. “It is a truly beautiful and pleasant building to study and work in” says Ewan.

The library was designed and planned in consultation with students so that they, as the primary users, remained the focus throughout. This perhaps explains why on the opening one student commented “if Apple designed libraries they would look, and work, like TSDRL – shiny, white and intuitive to use.”

“Nice, nice baby…”

It’s also had a couple of nicknames over the years too. “These include The Zebra, The Borg Cube and the Ricicle. The last one because of the icy nature of the design, to reflect our northern latitude, and also because of the former University of Aberdeen Principal after whom the building has been named, Sir Duncan Rice. He was the University Principal that took the decision to build a new library and drove the process to make it a reality.”

AST Booth

Assistive Technology Booth (ATBs)

There are many ways in which you can experience the space of a library this vast. But one thing in particular that caught my eye was a kind of reading cell that I presumed you could rent out and use without fear of being distracted. However, Ewan explains that these are Assistive Technology Booths (ATBs) which “are for use by students with disabilities, specific learning difficulties or medical condition and provide a selection of assistive software and hardware that couldn’t practically be provided on the regular Classroom Computers”.

sunset libraryAlthough there are many beautiful things to love about this library I ask Ewan if he has one favourite spot. Other than his office with its glorious panoramic views over the North Sea “it has to be the main open space out on the library floors, and especially during sunsets over winter, late in the afternoon at Aberdeen’s latitude, as the whole inside of the building, the books and the visitors are bathed in the orange light of the setting sun. It really is a bit special. I am often reminded while working in this library just how much of a privilege it is to work here”.

The Sir Duncan Rice Library, University of Aberdeen, Bedford Rd, Aberdeen AB24 3AA

DOTU Round logoDawn of the Unread is a graphic novel celebrating Nottingham’s literary history. It was created to support libraries and bookshops. It began life online and won the Teaching Excellence Award at the Guardian Education Awards in 2015 and has since been published by Spokesman Books (2017). All profits go towards UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature.


Gunnar Birkerts’ National Library of Riga

national library of riga

When I told my son we were going away for his birthday his face lit up, probably imagining a sunny beach somewhere with Premier League football beaming 24/7 from large flat screen TVs. Not quite. Our destination was Riga to see the incredible National Library of Latvia, soon to be home to 8 million printed titles. ‘But Dad you won’t be able to read any,’ he reasoned. ‘Not true, boy. They have publications in over 50 languages.’

The library began life in 1919, a year after the Baltic country became the independent Republic of Latvia. The first supervisor of the Library was Jānis Misiņš, who was also the founder of the Latvian scientific bibliography (1862–1945). On May 15, 2008 the state agency Three New Brothers and The Union of National Construction Companies agreed on the construction of the new National Library of Latvia at an estimated cost of 114.6 million LVL which officially opens in 2014. ‘So we can’t actually go in,’ quips the boy. ‘No. But we can visit and imagine what magic exists inside. Bit like when we went to see the new Wembley being built.’ ‘I remember’ he says. ‘They wouldn’t let us inside and you swore at the security guard.’

I persevere, as parents are want to do. ‘Riga officially becomes the European Capital of Culture on January 17 to 19, 2014.’ ‘Does that mean we have to come back?’ ‘Well if we do we can watch a human chain transferring books from hand to hand, from the old National Library of Latvia Building to the new “Gaismas Pils” (Palace of Light) National Library Building on January 18. There will also be an exhibition inside the library called the Second Coming of Gutenberg: The Book. 1514-2014. ‘Why 1514?’ Now I have his interest. ‘That was when the first book was printed in Arabic script as well as the first Jewish printing-house established. The first Latvian book was published a few years later.’ He grunts and plugs in the earphones to his phone. Fair enough.

palace of lightThe first discussions about the need for a new National Library started in 1928, which just goes to show patience is a virtue. And boy was it worth the wait. Although it does look a little like the top deck of a cruise liner it’s yet another example of how magnificent architecture can create a thirst for knowledge and transform libraries into desirable spaces. The man to thank is Latvia’s most famous architect, Gunnar Birkerts.

Birkerts has an impressive 18 library projects on his CV. Each is ergonomic in operation with novel uses of light. Light is of particular significance to this design as it is linked to the independence of the nation and the mythical “castle of light” which is a part of Latvian folklore. There are also plans to link together Latvia’s 2,000 public libraries and create a unified information system known as the Network of Light. This will enable anyone, anywhere to access information across databases and resources and have books delivered to their local library. But let’s not get over excited with the symbolism. Natural light brings life to a building and also makes economic sense.

Sceptics may argue that saving on a few light bulbs does not justify such a mammoth outlay but it’s a start at sustainability, as is the use of the library for conference halls and dining facilities. It also means that a less popular part of the city gets some much needed regeneration as well as visits from tourists such as myself and the boy. If you make it over in January swing by Tejas Un Sarunas, probably the funkiest teashop on the planet and a five minute walk from the library. If you’re after a bit of Latvian literature then find the sculptures of Zanis Griva and Egons Livs back in the Old City and then get their books out.