Library buildings for everyone
by Paul Fusco and Emma Kelly
Design can often have one purpose and many effects. Compliance with accessibility guidelines can mean a ramp and an institutional handrail or two. Renovations can awaken fears that the look and ambience of a beloved building will be destroyed. However, when recent accessibility led renovations in libraries were planned and carried out by the City Architect’s Division with high standards of inclusive design the result was engaging and multi-functional public spaces, designed to keep everyone happy – and nothing institutional about it! Librarians Paul Fusco and Emma Kelly explain further…
Since it opened in 1937, Drumcondra Library had fulfilled its original design brief: a building simple in form and pleasing in design, which would be easy to maintain. The same could be said of Pembroke Library, the last of Dublin City’s Carnegie libraries, opened 9 years before. Rathmines Library with its classical façade, complete with William Morris stained glass window had, since its opening in 1913, been as recognisable a feature of the local streetscape as the Town Hall opposite.
However, the three buildings had an unfortunate feature in common: they were all inaccessible to wheelchair users and parents with prams or buggies.
Funding made available by the Dept. of Environment, Heritage & Local Govt. under the Disability Act, 2005 allowed Dublin City Public Libraries to address this issue, and with matched funding from Dublin City Council, much more besides:
• New signage designed to be more visible to people with visual impairments making use of contrasting colours, Braille and pictograms
• Complete redecoration, again carefully choosing colours to provide contrast
• New shelving and soft seating designed with best practice principles of universal access in mind
• New public counters with varying heights to accommodate both customers and staff either standing or seated
Although, not mutually exclusive to these practical considerations, it was our aim to transform these libraries not just into accessible buildings, but also modern, interesting, vibrant, 21st century libraries, without alienating those who were familiar with the buildings as they were. To this end we incorporated elements of restoration into the redesigns. Some of the features restored would have been familiar to customers, such as reading desks in Rathmines, while others had been obscured, such as the circular window above the door in Pembroke which had previously only lit a store room but which now illuminates the new study area on the first floor. Other examples are:
• In Drumcondra the original wall shelving was retained, glass in the original windows was replaced and the art deco entrance cleared of clutter and repainted.
• In Pembroke we again retained the original wall shelving in addition to restoring the pine floorboards in the Children’s library, which had for many years been buried under layers of lino and carpet.
• In Rathmines the original floors throughout the building were restored: the oak parquet on the ground floor, the solid pine on the first floor and the teak staircase.
Striking the balance between accessibility and modernity without alienating our established customers was perhaps most challenging in the area of providing self-service in both Pembroke and Rathmines.
When tendering for the systems it was a condition that the self service kiosks to be universally accessible. The ledge and the screen are within the guidelines given in Building for Everyone: “The ledge should be no higher than 900mm, and the controls between 900mm and 1200mm.” The ledge is at 810mm and the lowest point on the screen is 1000mm. The highest point is 1350mm, but the top part of the screen does not have any controls, and is made up for the most part of a header, with the controls falling between 1100mm and 1200mm. Some controls may fall slightly outside that, but of the kiosks we saw, this was the best.
We are glad to report that the good work has not slowed down, and that a large-scale refurbishment is currently underway in Ballyfermot Library, which has so far seen the entire roof replaced (all 2,000 Sq. metres of it) and the installation of power assisted doors and ramps which adhere to best practice standards. Refurbishment of the interior should be completed in time for reopening later this year. As well as supervising this project on our behalf, City Architect’s Division are also working on designs for a full refurbishment of Kevin St. Library and proposals for a new City Library to replace the Central Library in the ILAC Centre.
Access Works – Drumcondra Library
Drumcondra Library is a small Dublin City Council public library which has served the north city area of Dublin 9 and it’s surrounds since the late 1930’s. The library is a handsome art deco red brick building with a bordering garden situated beside Griffith Park on Millmount Avenue Drumcondra.
In 2010 Drumcondra Library was one of three Dublin City Public Libraries buildings chosen for scheduled access works as part of Dublin City Council’s commitment to making Dublin city accessible for all. In fact Drumcondra Library was the first library to have works undertaken and completed under this programme.
Drumcondra Library closed its doors on Saturday 21st November 2009 for the commencement of access works. Library customers and staff alike were quite anxious as to what might happen to what is a handsome building and much loved local resource.
Through the access works Drumcondra Library benefited from a new access ramp, automatic entrance doors, improved signage, an accessible reception desk, a wheelchair accessible public toilet, new library shelving and furniture, upgraded lighting and heating, and a full repaint. Photographs of the improvements can be viewed here: http://www.librarybuildings.ie/Focus.aspx
Drumcondra Library entrance before and after the completion of access improvement works, wth a discreet ramp integrated into the front facade. The opportunity was also taken to restore original signage and highlight the Art Deco doorway by relocating other accumulated signage.
Interior before and after the work. The redesigned public counter includes varied heights to accommodate different users. The library shelving is kept to a maximum height with angled lower shelves in line with the NDA Building for Everyone guidelines. New interior signage has been used with high contrast pictograms.
During the library closure service continuity was provided by a temporary mobile service on Millmount Avenue offering 19.5 hours per week to the community. Drumcondra Library customers were kept abreast of access works progress during the branch closure. The refrain ‘when will the library re-open?’ was a common one on the mobile library. Customers were offered every available morsel of information by means of update.
Drumcondra Library re-opened Monday 24th May 2010. We saw many of our regular customers and many new faces visit in the first week curious to see the changes made to Drumcondra Library. Customer feedback on the changes to the library’s fabric has been extremely positive. One of our regular mothers with baby commented:
‘Wonderful, airy bright space, inclusive of all! Adult and baby’
Some of our junior customers told us:
‘Love the new design. Lots more space. Way better laid out!’
‘Brilliant. Best books and library. Never close down.’
A number of our visiting local schools remarked:
‘Great to have the library opened again! The children are delighted to be able to borrow books again. The library is very bright and colourful but still as homely and friendly as before. Congrats to all concerned’.
‘Super! Maith thu! What a wonderful local resource.’
‘The building is nice, bright, airy and spacious, the staff are the same as ever, kind helpful caring and wonderful.’
From some of our adult customers:
‘Great to get our beautiful library back!’
‘I love our library and it is great getting it back!’
‘Welcome back! The place looks fabulous.’
And some of our active retired customers commented:
‘Light and airy, always welcoming and staff so friendly and helpful.’
‘Looks bigger, brighter, everyone is glad it’s back’
‘A great job well done worth waiting for.’
Emer Costello then Lord Mayor of Dublin officially opened Drumcondra Library on a gloriously sunny 3rd June 2010. Also in attendance were Margaret Hayes City Librarian, local representatives, community leaders, and our most regular customers. The guests reviewed the improvements enjoying refreshments, musical entertainment was provided, and old fashioned street games were played with the younger children present. Bunting bedecked the gates and railings, balloons bounced about on the floor, bubbles danced in the summer breeze. Photographs of the re-opening event can be viewed here.
Since Drumcondra Library re-opened post access works we have witnessed increasing visitor numbers. Our footfall in 2011 has reached a record high. Customers continue to comment on the changes to the fabric of the building mostly in relation to ease of access, or how bright and airy the building now is. The common refrain from customers now is: ‘They did a great job here didn’t they’.
The staff at Drumcondra Library would like to take this opportunity to thank all our colleagues who worked on Drumcondra Library’s behalf during the access works initiative.