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A new chapter for Havering libraries - which are now technology driven community hubs

17:17 17 February 2014

What Rainham Library will look like.

What Rainham Library will look like.

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Shout it from the rooftops - libraries are no longer a place for you to fear a telling off for simply talking.

Some familiar faces to have given talks in Havering’s libraries

High profile authors have visited libraries across the borough over the last few years. They include:

Jo Brand - Jo visited Hornchurch Library in 2009 to discuss her novel The More You Ignore Me.

Bill Turnbull - Bill turned up at Rainham library in 2012 to discuss his book The Bad Beekepers Club.

Mary Berry - The Great British Bake Off judge gave a talk at Rainham library in 2012.

Andy McNab - Andy dropped in to Rainham library in 2010 to discuss his book Zero Hour.

Anne Widdecombe - Also gave a talk at Rainham library in 2009 as part of the Havering Book Festival.

The days of countless warnings from stern-faced women are a thing of the past, as Havering’s book-bases are now valuable community hubs hosting everything from cooking classes to language courses.

To celebrate National Libraries Day, the Recorder spoke to members of staff at Havering’s libraries to find out about the new kinds of learning that can be done in the centres.

At a time when libraries across the country are being disgarded and shut down, Havering Council has spent a lot of time and money refurbishing theirs - resulting in a borough-wide increase in members.

Karen Jordan has worked at Romford Central Library for 10 years and is “privileged” to work for a council that invests in culture.

A customer demonstrating how the SMART Table at Romford Central Library works with 3D imaging.A customer demonstrating how the SMART Table at Romford Central Library works with 3D imaging.

She said: “Libraries are no longer a quiet place. Now they are more of a community space with all the events and activities – you find all manor of things.”

Not least of which is a device called a SMART Table, which has pride of place in the St Edwards Way centre.

“It looks like a giant iPad,” explained Karen.

“Kids love it. You can hold an iPad or smartphone over it and see an image in 3D. You can play educational games on it too. Schools are using them more and more.” And older people? “Not at the moment!”

The table also has applications that are specifically designed to support children with Autism, as it helps them to predict and control their environment with games that include repetition, pattern and similarity.

Collier Row library underwent refurbishment in September, and librarian Ella Rayment believes it has attracted members that might not have come otherwise.

“People come for an event and are amazed at how much libraries have changed. It’s not just books and silence anymore.”

Another centre that will benefit from a SMART Table (or two) is the yet-to-open Rainham new build, hailed by Cllr Andrew Curtin, cabinet member for culture, towns and communities, as the “most beautiful building in Havering.”

The modern structure with solar panels and asymmetric ceilings is near completion and set to open in May.

It will hold about 3,000 more books and feature purpose-built meeting rooms and more computers, in addition to the two SMART tables and more study space.

In total, it will provide a total of 2,782 square metres of new educational and community space.

But members can also access the library facilities from their own computers on the online virtual library. Free downloads for audio and e-books are also available, as well as free access to newspapers, magazines and legal and business information.

There are also a number of free online courses from languages to baking - which members can do from home.

And Cllr Curtin, who volunteers at libraries during the council’s summer reading scheme, said libraries are the “linchpins of society.”

“What we got from our library is a big influence on our lives,” he said.

Though membership numbers are falling nationally, Havering library service still boasts nearly 147,000 members, with more joining each month.

Cllr Curtin said the strong membership numbers show the “quality of work that the team do.”

The virtual library can be accessed by members at havering.anywhere.me.

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