Collegiate Cambridge’s Central Library (England)

While the last library I profiled may look like a glitzy mall, Cambridge Central Library actually is part of one.

I’ve always thought that shopping districts are the perfect place to put libraries, so was delighted to find the library right in the hub of this bustling, international university city, on the second floor of the Grand Arcade.

Despite being incredibly busy, there are lots of very helpful, friendly staff available at this three story facility.  It’s really colorful and bright with ten user-friendly touchscreen Infopoint stations strategically placed so it takes only a few steps to reserve a PC, use the catalog/website or obtain community information.  Changing big screen displays similar to billboards are a great way to advertise new materials and are even available for users to promote their events or activities.

Artwork scattered around the building includes a quilt with a quaint depiction of a market scene in old Cambridge and there’s great design and fascinating furniture all over.  Here’s a new look for self check –

– and automated return machines.

With just 145,000 people in their metro area and around 600,000 in the county, Cambridgeshire Libraries has an impressive 47 branches plus a number of access points via their mobile library service.  Text reference is available to all members, and anyone (including tourists!) can join for free.   Interestingly, perhaps because UK libraries having to pay royalties, the library charges a borrowing fee for music CDs, DVDs, CD Roms and adult audio books.  Decreased funding due to the economy might have meant service cuts -this additional revenue prevents that and media borrowers still pay less than they would if they dealt with a for-profit business.  And of course, the British are already used to paying for visual entertainment as a household color TV license costs almost $250 a year.

The system calendar lists a number of events including EngAGE (seniors’ reminiscences etc.), Father’s Story Week and creative writing.   Energy meters are available to borrow and in June, they’ll launch a downloadable e-books program.  Every library computer has MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint and wi-fi is available at four locations.  Central is one of the wi-fi hotspots, but they also have 77 public computers so laptopless users don’t have long to wait. 

Their Teen Area looks trendy enough to satisfy even jaded British youth.

With Manga and graphic novels as well as the connexions & nextsteps career guidance center to help teens with resumes and finding work, the library offers a lot for young adults.  Conveniently, the Cambridgeshire Council’s Jobs Center is located in the same area so as they age out of the program, the new adults just walk a few steps to the left.  With the onslaught of unemployed turning to libraries for assistance, I think most of us would agree that it’s ideal to have the work center in the library, where there are people willing and able to help.

Library Learning Centers have a free information and advice service and work in tandem with the Jobs Center by helping job seekers and career changers update their skills and obtain the proper qualifications.   The Centers also have self study courses and funded ones like digital photography.  And there’s a Council Services desk in the facility which makes it easy to pay parking tickets etc.  These interagency cooperative efforts should save the local government money.

The system has display spaces,  meeting rooms and equipment that can be rented by anyone, even commercial concerns, which is handy for area businesses, artists etc.
Amazingly, all their buildings are completely accessible for the physically challenged, with low counters, handrails, elevators, ramps and adjustable computer screens.  The Central Library and learning centers also offer various kinds of screen readers/magnifiers, adjustable workstations, adaptive technology equipment and scanners. 

A wide array of atypical services and activities are available here – from people watching (the many chairs facing plate glass windows onto the mall makes me assume this is a common occurrence)…

…to watching classic films.

On the third floor, Mediatheque is a “digital jukebox” great for viewing historical footage or just entertainment.   This British Film Institute resource has over sixty collections encompassing more than 2000 titles with a couple of thousand hours of material to browse through.  From very old film footage of the King’s visit to the area to Monty Python shows, with The Knowledge (a prerequisite for London cabbies) and that beloved British soap opera, East Enders, in between, there’s something here for everyone.  Just ask at the desk for a ticket and headphones and you’ll get a two hour session.  Up to four people fit in the booth, so it’s almost like having your own private movie theatre. 

Children are kept busy with frequent story times and storysacks (story/subject specific kits that include a picture book with corresponding audio book, game, discussion/activity suggestions, puppets or toys, props, rhyme cards and a non-fiction book relating to the theme of the story).

Bookstart baby kits help parents get into the habit of sharing books with their infants.  Children’s books in other languages, including Bengali and Chinese, help kids learn a new tongue and teach them about other cultures (or their own).  There are also books for youngsters with special needs, including dyslexic children.

Central also has small collections for adults in about a dozen languages. Using a hire service so they can swap out materials every few months means readers constantly have new choices, without increasing shelf space.

Leaving nothing out to ensure the comfort of patrons, there’s also a cafe on the highest floor.

And a peaceful view of the roofs of the city.


The Cambridgeshire Collection, the local and family history room, is also up here.  Its microfilm, newspapers, maps, photographs, illustrations etc. are used by researchers and genealogists from all over the globe. 

What a modern, vibrant library for the historic city of Cambridge!

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3 Responses to Collegiate Cambridge’s Central Library (England)

  1. E. Wheeler says:

    I am an older student that would like to acheive my MLA. I complete my bachelors in Super. and Mang. in December but am being discouraged in getting my masters in LibraryScience/IT. Our libraries are closing in Jacksonville and reading is not touted as essential and vital in North Florida. Do you have any advice you might share? Do you know of any scholarships for master MLA? thanks so much! Elaine

  2. Pingback: These are a few of our favorite things (at public libraries) | The Librarian is In

  3. Pingback: Fantastic Fukagawa Library – Japan | The Librarian is In

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