From the first time I saw a plan of what The Word would look like I knew it would be a success for South Tyneside Libraries.
In our old home at Central Library we provided a fantastic service, with vibrant groups and loyal users so moving to such a beautiful, light and welcoming building could only be a good thing. Since moving, I have been surprised by two things, firstly the attitude of South Tyneside Libraries staff and secondly the interest shown in us by Libraries and other cultural venues around the world.
Moving from the old to the new was a huge undertaking and looking back at the work involved now makes my eyes water – we had over 70,000 items to pack and unpack, and on top of that we had to adopt a whole new way of working. Opening hours have been extended to include 4 late nights and Sundays, staff no longer work behind desks and they now wear uniforms. I am incredibly proud of how well they have all adapted, and how they have embraced working at The Word – I have to say that most of us live locally and we are all really pleased to work in such a fantastic place.
I have been overwhelmed by the interest in us from other Librarians; this year I have spoken about us at conferences including the Society of Chief Librarians Conference in Warwick and the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals Conference in Manchester. We have had visits from Librarians and other library staff from all over the UK, including Jersey and London, perhaps more surprisingly we have also had visitors from the National Library of the Netherlands and from Auckland, New Zealand. I am always happy to accommodate people for visits and tours and to share our experiences, firstly because I like showing off but secondly, because so many people helped us and offered us advice in the lead up to our move.
The challenge now is to keep moving and improving, and to share the good practice and ideas we have here at The Word with the other branches in South Tyneside, for example we have recently started an ArtyTots groups with painting for under 5’s (the luxury of a sink in the children’s area was too hard to resist).
My favourite moments of the year? Firstly when I was standing at the front door of The Word watching multi-billion, globally recognised author David Baldacci walking across South Shields market square towards us. Secondly when one of our customers moved a table, set out a chess board and made a little sign which said “Fancy a Game?”, that was the moment when it really felt like the building belonged to the community, and also when we decided to start a chess club.