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Bringing a Buzz Back to Libraries

Standing outside The Hive you could easily believe that here is a major European icon, as the Guggenheim in Bilbao or Philharmonie in Berlin. Once inside, you could be in a railway terminus or airport. It is busy, it is bright, it is welcoming, it is alive; it is a library.

The architect, Iain Paul, who recently retired from Worcestershire County Council, has been as bold as Jean Nouvel or Frank Gehry while paying homage to his native landscape: the roof of The Hive, rising in gold, flat-topped peaks, mirrors the Malvern Hills that have imprinted themselves on Worcester throughout the city’s long and fascinating history.

Worcester, a city of nearly 100,000 inhabitants, is not only the origin of the eponymous sauce, it is also the burial place of King John and Henry VIII’s elder brother, Prince Arthur both of whom had a profound effect on English history. It is the site of a famous battle that toppled Charles I and ushered in Oliver Cromwell’s stewardship over England. It is the birthplace of Edward Elgar, arguably Britain’s greatest composer and of novelist Fay Weldon. It is also home to one of this country’s fastest growing universities.

It is this rapid growth of Worcester University, coupled with a visionary local authority that was the launchpad for The Hive, a project that was nine years in the planning, two years in consultation and agreement and took two years to build. Worcestershire Libraries needed new premises, the university library was bursting at the seams; the result is something new, a hybrid public-academic library that has opened new areas of discovery for both students and members of the public.

“We think it is the first fully shared and integrated library in Europe, maybe the world,” says David Pearson, Stock Manager for Worcestershire Libraries, “but we succeeded only after addressing huge technical, practical and personnel questions.”

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If the new vision was to be achieved three collections and two library catalogues had to be amalgamated. The resulting catalogue had to work with all Worcestershire library holdings and not simply books held in The Hive. The availability of shelf space needed to be future-proofed against the expansion of local authority stock and the growing university collection. As books on the shelves were available to everyone, a new method of lending had to be created to ensure essential course-related material wasn’t taken for long periods by members of the public.

“We were fortunate as both the Worcestershire and the university catalogues used Capita Prism that employs BDS data as the source for their catalogue data. The university used Dewey to a higher decimal place than the local authority but with dedicated work, natural attrition of both collections over time and the harmonised addition of new stock, the combining of collections has gone smoothly,” comments David.

Further challenges presented themselves, such as differing financial years – the local authority working April to March and the university over an academic year – or the anticipated but somewhat unpredictable increase in borrowing and changes in borrowing patterns now that two collections and institutions and their readerships have combined.

“We had funds for new stock,” continues David, “and we kept some back to respond to changing demand once the library had opened. Exposing the public to new books has certainly changed people’s reading habits. We have worked closely with our supplier Bertram’s who have taken a very close interest in The Hive’s development.”

The old library in central Worcester would see nine hundred loans per day; The Hive is currently running at two thousand five hundred loans per day. The library holds 260,000 items while in another adventurous leap of faith, the building remains open to the public seven days a week from 8.30 in the morning until 10 in the evening. The library’s five floors built around a central atrium with wide staircase offer a hub for local information, a café, a special area for promotions and exhibitions, two hundred and fifty workstations and Wi-Fi throughout the building, study areas and relaxation areas.

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Between 3rd and 27th October, ‘Beeline’, the University of Worcester Storytelling Festival for Children saw children’s authors and theatre visit The Hive, including Morris Gleitzman, Jacqueline Wilson, Story Hunter , Red Dress, and Fetch Theatre Companies and former Children’s Laureate, Michael Rosen.

“The building is always heaving; the people of Worcester and the students have really taken The Hive to their hearts. Even as I speak there are currently ninety mums and babies enjoying a Bounce and Rhyme session in the children’s area,” says David, who is clearly proud of what The Hive project is achieving. “We even have enough room for the buggies, and afterwards the mums can have a coffee and chat in the café near the entrance.”

Meanwhile upstairs, students are hard at work surfing the Internet, poring over books and making notes as members of the public are browsing collections that would traditionally be denied them and taking books to tables and chairs next to panoramic windows that overlook the wide Worcestershire countryside and the magical Malvern Hills.

“I like the name The Hive,” says David who admits that he doesn’t know how the name first came about, “it is certainly a good metaphor. The Hive is busy, industrious and people make straight for it from all over the city. I like to think that The Hive has opened the door onto the library of the future. The Hive is a great library, a library loved by its users.”