Coincidences are strange; of course, we have to be thinking about things for them to coincide, but still… Just yesterday I was sitting in the Unlibrary in Crouch End (not to be confused with the UN library, clearly…), with others talking to the unlibrarians Anke and Chris about what the space could be like and how we might want to use it. And then today, I saw this post about libraries and their role in the community, particularly in this time of cuts and “the big society” (no, I don’t know what it means, either!).
The unlibrary is a space – a large room – in Hornsey Library. It was unused – it used to house LearnDirect – and it has been given over to community use. Anke and Chris have a vision to make it somewhere for local people to drop in and work, sometimes collaboratively, and share ideas and support (my words, not theirs!). A bit like a permanent “jelly”, with wifi, coffee, somewhere to sit, somewhere to work and people to chat to.
Anke and Chris’s question – what would be likely to get people to spend time there, and what would make it feel like a community. We came up with various ideas – being able to customise some of the space, having social events (funnily enough, going to the pub was high on the list!), playing music (though the consensus seemed to be that this might disturb some people and put them off).
It is quite hard to say what would make a venture like this work: we all have our own ideas about what would make a space somewhere we want to spend time. For me, having somewhere nearby to drop in and work – when I want to be sociable, collaborative and sharing – is probably enough. (The proximity of a fab bakery is just an added bonus!) Interesting people – like Anke and Chris! – would help, too – but I find most people interesting (“interestingness” something I’ve been meaning to write a post about!), so that isn’t such a hard gig.
I have concerns, too. There are businesses which do this, like the Hub, and there are cafes which people often use in this way, too – I’ve had lots of meetings at Starbucks and Pret a Manger (which beats Starbucks hands down on both coffee and ambience), and I’m sure there are many great cafes near the unlibrary – local businesses serving the community, the kind that the unlibrary is hoping to support. Will the unlibrary compete with these? Will making it somewhere I want to spend time make it somewhere other people don’t? (That music question again…) There is a strong desire to make it a space for local people – really part of the community – and I wondered whether being part of a neighbouring community would make me feel welcome or not.
I am very supportive of their ambitions: I think using a public building like this is a great idea, fostering local businesses and making the most of the space available. I look forward to spending time working and talking in the unlibrary when it is up and running!