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Libraries services – use them or lose them!

East Sussex County Council is at an advanced consultation stage for its project to improve library services in Hastings by means of a major refurbishment of the existing central library at the Brassey Institute and the next door premises at 12 Claremont which would bring together the children’s and adult library under one roof. With falling library visitors seemingly a long term trend, it is important that Hastings people focus on why they need library services in the 21st century and express their views as to how these facilities may be used more effectively – use them (or lose them!). The Music Libraries Action Group (MULAG) has a vision that deserves consideration, thinks Chris Cormack.

The Brassey Institute is a handsome building which has been dedicated to public access since its opening in 1880. This development aims to increase the available space by opening up areas that have have not been accessible for many years. By incorporating the next door premises at No 12,  common lifts and stairways can be fitted next door to open up larger modern flexible space in the main building

The design reinstates original features and repairs the historic fabric of this grade 2 listed building. For example, an original rooflight reappears over the first floor allowing greater natural light into the building. The building was originally designed to be naturally ventilated, and to maximise the use of natural daylight. Where possible the new design will recreate the natural ventilation. The reinstatement of rooflight and some of the rear windows will help improve both natural ventilation and daylight.

Lewes, Eastbourne and Hastings, up until the beginning of the new millenium, enjoyed a quality music library service, staffed by knowledgable professionals, enabling music lovers to browse; it was a separate room well stocked with music for all manner of instruments, vocal scores for many types of music (classical, musicals, folk, pop, etc) and a wide range of CDs. These were suddenly withdrawn; a lot of stock was sold off and the residue sent to a central depository requiring materials to be ordered rather than browsed.

This gave rise to Mulag, the Music Libraries Action Group, which had limited success in reversing the process.  Music libraries were reinstated in Lewes and Eastbourne, but the people of Hastings must wait until ‘a new library’ was built enabling library services in Hastings to be reviewed as a whole. Now we face a refurbished and extended library rather than new one, consultations are in process as to the nature of this review of services and we are invited to view the details and comment on the New Hastings Library and Register Office.

Many musicians in Hastings are envious of the ‘Underground Theatre’ in Eastbourne library, which is ideal for small-scale concerts and meetings of local societies. In central Hastings there is a lack of venue space seating say 50 to 100 people and the redesign of the library is an ideal opportunity to remedy this. It has been suggested that meeting space can be created by rolling back bookstacks on runners, but is this adequate or practical?  The availability of space for the previous music library service is questionable because the present plans require space for the birth, marriage and death registers and sub-letting space to Learn Direct (which previously took over music library space). MULAG contends that there is not sufficient space for the library services for adults and children while space has to be found for the Registration Service and Learn Direct.

Mulag proposes that the Registration Service could usefully be relocated elsewhere in town (possibly in the town hall where the information bureau mostly duplicates library functions and could be relocated to Claremont) and that a rolling series of weddings ceremonies at Claremont could be a nightmare of extra traffic in the narrow lane. The Learn Direct facility might be more logically located in rooms connected with Sussex Coast College or the University of Brighton in Hastings.

Until these issues are resolved, Mulag recommends that the present planning applications for the library in Claremont be put on hold. If you are interested in joining in Mulag’s deliberations, please comment below and/or join the Hastings Classical Music Community.
Please also consider commenting direct to East Sussex County Council by email: new.hastings@eastsussex.gov.uk or telephone 01273 335551 and writing to your County Councillor.

Posted 18:31 Tuesday, Mar 12, 2013 In: Campaigns

1 Comment


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  1. Chris Lewcock

    The refurbishment of the present Library is welcome in principle. This potentially very fine and focal building has been badly “improved” but otherwise neglected over the years. It is currently cramped (and has a surprisingly limited stock for a major town).

    However!

    1. The current proposals will actually result in only limited increased useable Library space. Putting the Register Office here won’t help!!;

    2. The displayed plans are very very vague for a Grade 2 Listed building. It is not clear, as it should be at this stage of planning, that the various works can be carried out with a view to careful restoration, replication or other respect for the original building. These will be unavoidably costly, once a general approval has been granted will the County try to scrimp on the details? The damaging impacts of past “improvement” efforts are clear to see – just walk up the Library stairwell and see where details and proportions have been damaged or completely destroyed and quickie paint jobs done – and don’t bode well for future works;

    3. Some aspects of the layout don’t seem to have been fully thought through, e.g arbitrary location of toilets, the rooftop smoking (?) balcony next to an area for quiet study etc.;

    4. Thought should be given to how a hub of cultural activities (however defined) focused on the Brassey Institute and Reading Rooms could expand with whatever might come forward for the Observer Building. A Register Office is not an appropriate complement to such activities – what is proposed is a bureaucrat’s cut and paste gross floorspace solution!! A more imaginative approach could be for the County to talk to the Borough Council about making more intensive use of the Durbar Hall for its proper function as a hall – for public registration and celebrations of weddings and small concerts etc – rather than just as a (pleasant!) place to put up museum display shelves and the occasional concert. Some of the current museum activities, eg the art galley could perhaps be moved down to a growing Claremont cultural hub?

    Just a few thoughts to throw into the pot.

    Chris Lewcock

    Comment by Chris Lewcock — Monday, Mar 18, 2013 @ 12:07

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