News Monday, January 18th Words by: Bill Tanner

Open book: Radical plan for a new Hereford library

News Monday, January 18th

Open book: Radical plan for a new Hereford library

A radical plan pitched for Hereford’s long over-due new library is seeking a stamp of approval.

Hereford Library Users Group (HLUG) believes the closure of the current library in Broad Street over an asbestos find presents the city and county with a “unique” opportunity.

Herefordshire Council has called for ideas as to what a future central county library can be.

HLUG says The Rankin Centre, a hi-tech cultural and community hub at a ripped out and renovated Broad Street, is the answer.

“With radical thinking and the employment of the full resources of the digital age, it will be possible for this building to take on an entirely new lease of life - a major attraction for residents and tourists alike, worthy of Hereford and Herefordshire,” said HLUG secretary John Hitchin.

The Rankin name recognises James Rankin, the founder of the building.

He wanted to secure a centre home for The Woolhope Club of which he was a founder member.

"So we felt that it was a good idea to reflect that and come up with a distinctive name with strong local connections for what we conceive as ‘more than just a library.

"It also makes it easier to raise funds since possible sources of cash are not prepared, on the whole, to fund a council statutory body," said Mr Hitchin.

The plan, outlined in a 16-page document now doing the rounds, retains the Broad Street site of the present library, museum and art gallery – long accepted as unsuited to the 21st century function of cultural, educational and information seeking activities.

HLUG is proposing a few distinctive innovations to integrate the library and museum offers and improve access to library resources by introducing the concept of ‘discoverability’, essentially making the whole thing easier for people to search and use.

It’s a plan pitched with the new university in mind, but also in the background is Hereford's (currently very quiet) bid to be 2021 UK City of Culture.

The “poor quality” of the present library offer would “almost certainly” disqualify any bid, said Mr Hitchin.

HLUG’s plan, then acknowledges Broad street as an “excellent location” in calling for a complete re-development of its interior - and retaining its listed and striking Victorian Italianate façade.

“The inner structure of the library needs to be torn out and a completely new arrangement of floors and access between them set in place. Library 2single

“Although the frontage, the Woolhope Room and the staircase leading up to it are listed, the rest of the interior is not. The conversion of the building should provide much more than just a modernised library and museum,” said Mr Hitchin.

It’s also seen as a superfast broadband hub, while the whole site could offer access to social support services alongside access to the county’s rich heritage collection.

"In sum, this would be a place that provides a full modern library service, access to the museum collection and a gateway to the burgeoning range of digital records.

"It would become a valued learning and meeting space for the local community, visitors and tourists alike," said Mr Hitchin.

HLUG is now looking to put a project team in place that represents all interested parties.

Mr Hitchin stressed, however, that any project would need maintain “independence” in assessing the uses of the building and how the new ideas can be introduced, find the necessary funding for initial studies, examine future revenue and expenditure, and develop an outline design and estimate of costs.

There also needed to be “exploration” of how the Rankin Centre’s services might be delivered either by the setting up of a charitable trust or another form of independent body.

A temporary home for the present library would be needed too.

The council’s cabinet previously approved the spending of £86,000 on removing asbestos from Broad Street and committed to further funding of £900,000 on the library itself. But a return to Broad Street is by no means definite given the site’s long term maintenance needs.

The council acknowledges that it has been looking at alternative sites for a library but does not have sufficient funds of its own to make it happen. A major community fundraising campaign has been proposed for such a project.

Regardless of the future for the Broad Street site, work is still required to remove the asbestos.

Image credits:

Boston public library by Jan David Hanrath,CC (banner image)

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