Libraries have had a lot of bad press in the last few years. Local authorities all over the country are closing branches and slashing opening hours. Close to home, our own Gosforth library has seen opening times reduced, despite the protests of the local community. In tough economic times big decisions have to be made and libraries are seen as a luxury.
The press are quick to report the booming sales of cheap online booksellers such as Amazon. In this day and age books can be instantly be download directly onto Kindles. The value of a library book is scrutinised as a quick google can now instantly bring up the answer. No need to spend hours looking for an answer in books and encyclopaedias. With all of this in mind I was surprised to see South Tyneside building The Word, South Shields. A new library at the centre of it’s £110 million regeneration for the town.
The Word, South Shields
The Word is billed as being
“South Tyneside’s new state-of-the-art cultural venue, situated in the heart of South Shields, brimming with exciting new experiences, activities and facilities for people of all ages to enjoy”.
We decided to pop by on the way to my parents house to see if it could live up to the blurb. Was it worthy of it’s title of “The National Centre for the Written Word”? The Centre was closing at 4pm and as it was nearly 3pm, we didn’t have too long to spend there. Best get our culture on quick!
The Word is very easy to locate. Just up from the Customs House and the South Shields Ferry landing facing the River Tyne. Parking is located across the road and is free for 2 hours. The Word is an impressive building from the outside. The design is imposing, modern and really stands out amongst the historic market square. From the front entrance you are led to a large airy atrium with a circular set of stairs, lots of light and an impressive light installation.
Here are some of our favourite features:
Lost Dialects Exhibit
Inside of The Word there are little pod rooms which play host to small exhibits. The Lost Dialects was our favourite. An interactive TV with a Geordie folk singer lets you pick between ‘The Lampton Worm’, ‘The Blaydon Races’. There were some other regional songs too that I’ve never heard of in the choices! A multiple choice quiz matching the Geordie word to the correct term was fun and Imogen with her competitive streak wouldn’t let us leave till we got 10 out of 10. The exhibition brings home that so many of Geordie words are on the verge of extinction. Partly due to the world becoming more globalised and the loss of traditional industries such as coal mining and ship building. I solemly promise to use spelk (splinter), hyem (home) and marra (pal) more frequently to keep these great Geordie words going!
The Word makes the most of it’s impressive views of the Tyne. At the viewing platform you can look through the telescopes and see river life. A large interactive computer lets you look at names of the boats currently out in the tyne and out to the North Sea. It’s a nice place to stop and relax with a book on the comfy seats and despite it being January the sun was pouring in.
Sir Ridley Scott, Past, Present and Future Visionary
Sir Ridley Scott has connections to the town as he was born in South Shields and grew up in the region. I knew all about his blockbusters such as ‘Thelma and Louise’, ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Alien’. But it was interesting to see how he started to learn his craft in advertising. The Hovis advert he produced in the 1970’s was voted the best advert ever in a recent poll. The exhibit is a mix of displays, replica models, quizzes and facts. I really want to watch The Martian now, which was Ridley’s newest blockbuster!
The library as you would expect is host to over 70,000 books and they are displayed in a thoughtful way. The children’s section has a cool little lego play area and there is tons of comfy seats. The books are spaced out and not crammed in together which makes picking them out easier.
Children’s Media Wall
The girls had a fun time using the media wall. They could design their own pictures using the large touch pads. Then see them brought to life on the large screens above. The Word embraces the new technology and is full of computers. They were all pretty much in use when we popped in.
Alan was expecting something more like Seven Stories, but I knew that it was leaning more towards a library before hand. As a new place to visit, I could imagine you spending up to 2 hours exploring the features, but until the exhibits change a second visit would be just for books. we did get chased out at closing time, so know there is a little more left for us to see. Maybe next time we’re in Shields, Ganning ta see me Mam.