Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Site 14: Library at the Bridge

July 22, 2008

Stephen Finnie, librarian at the Bridge, meets us literally at what appears to be a bridge: the library, a sectioned off portion between the wall of a college, dance studio, cafeteria, and pool, is sunk into the ground between two ramps. But this picture just given doesn't do it justice -- it's a beautiful library, certainly.

The architecture, modern and utilitarian, is at the same time very welcoming. A lot of light enters the space through skylights and full picture windows. A part of my mind wonders at the amount of light damage, but pushing that thought aside for a moment, thinking and seeing not as a librarian but a visitor, it's comfortable and informal, a place that I'd like to spend an afternoon. It's a space where children can run around, talk freely, meet with friends -- in a library setting. It challenges our notions of what a library should be; still a place to study and learn, but in a way that is not so separate from play. The noise isn't dampened, which makes for a different library from most, but that's the intent, I think. To reach out and bridge a community means making compromises, being flexible. There's a time for most everyone in the community of their choosing, whether in the morning for relative quiet, or afternoon for more liveliness, and sustaining a feeling of welcome is really the point. They want people in the door, and once in, they want them to enjoy their stay.

This sort of atmosphere is what Stephen, and staff at the Bridge in general, are after. It isn't about a strict sense of what libraries and librarianship should be, by adherence to a firm set of rules, rather pushing the boundaries to meet the community's needs.

Which brings to focus the community in question -- who makes up the community, and to what ends does the Bridge strive to connect? Stephen most helpfully has answers to give, both verbal and written (hand-outs, they are without a doubt, a blessing):

Situated in one of Glasgow's at-risk housing estates, Easterhouse, the Bridge serves at its most basic definition as a community center, but more than that, a starting point for revitalization of the area and the quality of life for its people. A little less than a quarter of all residents can claim ownership of their homes or vehicles, restricting access to what the wider city of Glasgow has to offer, in terms of jobs, education, health facilities -- and simply broadening their everyday resources. The very real issues of combating poor health, not meeting education qualifications, and a high rate of unemployment (one in five residents have never worked) persist.

The library at the Bridge came to be in support from Glasgow City Council, Culture and Sport Glasgow, John Wheatley College, and the Greater Easterhouse Arts Company; it works with the theme the Bridge altogether hopes to accomplish: providing a public space for the community to gather and to learn, for practical training, for leisure, and to take part in art and culture.

Returning to the phrase, "improvement of the quality of life" -- as an American, this notion is repeatedly discussed. We expect a lot across the board, and yet the disparities between what it means to have -- and what it means to have not -- are wide. In Scotland, in Easterhouse, they are working with a much smaller subset. But their vision, and execution of their vision: addressing the needs of their community with an approach that is both innovative and practical, placing the importance of arts along with health, along with education, along with workplace training, is a statement in itself.

I've seen proof of its popularity on the day of our visit, and its library is just as teeming with life as its pool (equipped with water slides, no less!). No small feat, to be sure. Keeping to the vision of the Bridge, in addition to traditional library use (i.e. reference, lending, in-house research), the library holds programs for youths in the community, such as crafts, technology, puppet shows, and various other workshops (I was particularly taken with the animation classes!). Theater, dance, the aforementioned awesome swimming pool, and connection with the college all add to a creative and enriching environment.

Adult classes in a similar vein (well, aside from puppet shows, alas) include parents into the equation, pursuing a great theme of lifelong learning: Support groups promote literacy, for adults as well as children. Health-related workshops improve self-knowledge and ease the process of getting help. On a lighter note, after viewing the television screens outside the pool's windows showcase their classes (belly dancing, duly noted), I kind of want to move to Easterhouse. Or at least, the Bridge. Not quite what the complex is after, I'm sure, but it's a compliment to the quality of their services. It's a compliment to a strategy well drawn up and acted on, and to the people of Easterhouse, who responded in kind.

Library at the Bridge (via Glasgow City Council)

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