This week I have been in Sandwell, west of Birmingham, in the West Midlands. Also known as the Black Country, because it was the heart of the industrial revolution with foundries and smoke everywhere, making stuff for the British Empire.
Several of the libraries are Carnegie Libraries. Andrew Carnegie was once the richest man in the world. He sold his steel empire and spent the rest of his days giving money for libraries and learning institutions around the world. Carnegie Libraries have a feel about them. They are usually quite ornate in a Art Nouveau/Arts and crafts style. Many libraries retain original features. I used to love the old toilets that would have mahogany seats and giant wooden cisterns and sometimes floral paired bowls! They all seem to have been replaced with modern systems now but often the brass looks and door fittings remain.
Sandwell in the West Midlands is one of the few authorities still trying to keep up their Libraries. As they keep stocking them with new books, so new subscribers come from adjoining authorities who are cutting back, which goes to show that if you provide the books, people will come. Library usage statistics are so easily distorted – if there are no books, obviously no one will visit the library, giving evidence and support to those wishing to close them down!
Thimblewell Library, run by Julie who looked after me this week, is thriving with music events and all sorts of community groups meeting and using the most adaptable and wonderful art deco building.