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22 Jun, 2009

Ideas from ‘The Ideas Store’

Posted by: admin In: Tate

© Alexey Moskvin

Stepping out of the tube at Whitechapel in East London, you find yourself in a bustling market, selling everything from fruit and veg to saris and CDs of the latest Bangra beats. Above the stalls and Victorian shop-fronts the colourful glass façade of the ‘Ideas Store’ hoves into view, like an inter-stellar spaceship on a mission. Technically, the Ideas Store is a library, but the word ‘library’ doesn’t appear anywhere in its self-consciously styled branding – instead, the ‘Store’ entices you in with offers of DVD rentals, dance classes and even massage therapy alongside the books. Oh, and there’s a cool café with great views (and cheap sandwiches) on the top floor. The library staff walk the floors rather than hiding behind desks, which are deliberately banished. Instead, you can wander in without anyone putting you on the spot by asking what you want, you can use self-service book checkouts, or simply hang out using the free internet -surfing zone. And instead of typically limited library opening hours they’ve matched theirs to the supermarket just behind the building. So now you can drop in while out doing your shopping.

The architect behind the Ideas Store is David Adjaye, who first became known for his work designing studios for a number of prominent young British artists. The sleek, modern appearance of the Ideas Store is a key factor in changing perceptions about what a library can be.

© Alexey Moskvin

One of the smart things is the way the Ideas Store integrates its offer. Books remain at its heart, but there is a plethora of other learning opportunities available, all imaginatively constructed to make them as appealing as nipping out for a spot of retail therapy. One example is ‘Premiership’ after school clubs, where the children get to shoot footballs through inflatable goalposts if they score well in their quizzes. There are also sleepovers, ‘Wii’ gaming competitions, and Bollywood dancing classes. And one of the best innovations, that would have sent shivers down the spines of librarians in the past, is that you can take food and drink anywhere in the building.

There are a few problems of course. The building is so busy being super cool that it’s not all that practical to run and is expensive to maintain. The clever underfloor ventilation system doesn’t work properly; the lighting is beautiful, but changing a bulb is a nightmare; and the ground floor working spaces open straight onto the street, a democratic touch, but one that means it’s freezing in winter (they’re retrofitting an entrance lobby). Still, the Ideas Store’s users are voting with their library cards: a fourfold increase in visitors, and an 86 per cent uptake in book loans. You can’t argue with those numbers.

Read the original post on The Great Tate Mod Blog

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