I am a proud Mancunian and as such, I feel it is my duty to hold all other UK cities in direct comparison. When I was invited along to visit the newly opened Laidlaw Library at the University of Leeds as part of the Main Library Redevelopment Champions Group, I felt this instinct kick in the moment myself and Mike Kelly (Library Space Project Manager) stepped off the train. Although the fact that it is home to 50,000 bees (the motif of Manchester) did stand it in good stead, there were plenty of other reasons why the Laidlaw Library soon made me feel as proud of Leeds as I do of my home city.
The Laidlaw Library is a new build and was constructed as the fourth site library for the University of Leeds, opening in May 2015. Nestled between two old church buildings, upon arrival the building stands out in its surroundings whilst at the same time seeming to belong there.
After nosing about in the foyer for a while, Mike and I were let through some very familiar Telepen gates and headed upstairs to the Footsteps Fund Room. Here, we were told all about the Library and its creation in talks delivered by Stella Butler (University Librarian), Jane Saunders (Head of Access and Operations), and Brian Ford (Head of Capital Developments). Each speaker provided a different viewpoint on the development of the Laidlaw Library and they were all honest about any problems encountered along the way. The Library was constructed to create better quality and more flexible study spaces whilst also having a sense of place, something which I think Leeds certainly achieved.
We were then taken on a tour of the building. Being based at the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons, I’ve delivered many tours to visitors from other universities looking for inspiration for their own developments. It was therefore a novel experience for me to be the guest for a change, poking at all the surfaces and asking unnecessarily specific questions about group room provisions. Our tour was delivered by Anna, a 4th year Biology student whose enthusiasm for the Library didn’t stop her being honest about the realities, but thankfully also helped her survive our avalanche of questions.
One of my favourite features was the use of colour to designate different areas as either silent or speaking, identifying spaces without the need for excessive signage. And of course, I was also fond of the two beehives based on the roof garden. It may be a result of both buildings having used the same provider for furniture (Southerns Interiors), but I found the similarities between the Laidlaw Library and the Alan Gilbert Learning Commons striking (although Leeds’ site differs in housing those wonderful items called ‘books’).
Whilst the issues and scenarios faced in the building’s development and construction were interesting, I felt there was a certain limit to their relevance to the Main Library Redevelopment, with the Laidlaw Library constructed as a new build and an additional library site as opposed to being a redevelopment. It was still an eye-opening experience to see how another university library has catered for their users however, and proof of the Library’s success was evident in the lack of empty seats as we walked around the building. When asked what one thing they would change about the building, Stella Butler’s immediate response was ‘make it bigger’.
As the famous line (almost) goes, ‘if you build it, they will come’, and if you build it with bee hives, they’ll maybe stay a little longer.
Fiona Doran, Customer Services Assistant