Paying a visit to Torquay's outstanding library

Torbay Weekly

As a student of English literature and an avid reader in my free time, it seemed only logical to pay Torquay Library a visit while I’m here to see first-hand what amazing work they’re doing there.

Upon arrival I was greeted by Sarah, who took me on a tour through the library and drew my attention to the stunning art deco details still visible in the 1930’s building. “The building is listed, and one of the very few left with some of the interior features,” she explained to me. In an attempt to bring even more history and character into the library, the staff has begun to display lots of old history books which have previously been confined to the basement. Some of them are even available to lend!

It took very little time for me to realise that the team of six currently working there are constantly coming up with innovative ideas to enhance their customer’s experience and make the library a welcoming and safe space for everyone. Their latest endeavour is the happiness hub, a combination of casual pop-in events such as Yoga or plant-clipping and small tasks people are then asked to complete, all with the goal of increasing happiness. “It’s just a lovely project and we keep coming up with ideas on how to keep doing it,” Sarah told me. In addition to that, the library offers weekly events for toddlers and children, and special ones during school holidays.

As any community-focused institution, Torquay library has been hit hard by the pandemic, with a drastic decrease in footfall at the start of the pandemic. However, that doesn’t mean the team wasn’t busy thinking of ways to keep engaging with the community and to spread the love for reading. I spoke to Carol, who put together the Bay Book Bimble, an adult reading challenge that started a year ago. With the idea of bringing back the fun of reading for adults, the staff think of a different challenge each month and then select a number of books suitable to complete the challenge. As a result, they came in touch with customers they usually don’t communicate with a lot. “We talked to those readers for the first time that usually just come in, get their books and leave again”. It has also made their readers branch out and try new genres.

It has also become apparent that Covid has affected the library’s youngest visitors, as Hazel, who runs the children’s events, told me. “It’s taking longer for the two and three-year olds to start talking to me because they have trouble speaking”. Those old enough to read on their own often struggle to advance to the reading levels they should be on according to their age. One of the ways Hazel and her colleagues try to interest more children in books is the Secret Book Quest, a reading challenge aimed at children from the age of five. Those who read 50 books get entered into a prize draw with the chance of winning a range of exciting prices!

Looking around the lovingly decorated children’s room, it quickly became apparent to me that this is a place where children are truly welcome and can be themselves. “This is their room, so if they’re noisy, they’re noisy,” Hazel simply states, stressing that they want the little ones to feel comfortable. This was a common theme throughout my visit, with all the staff members stressing the important role of the library for the community and that they welcome everyone.

I certainly was made to feel welcome and can’t stress enough what a wonderful place the library is. Torquay can indeed count itself lucky to be having such enthusiastic and proactive librarians. With funding for libraries having been cut drastically within the last decade, it is even more remarkable that their services continue to be completely free. This is not the case in Germany, and I hope it won’t change here anytime soon, so that Torquay library can continue to be a safe and open place for the whole community.