Building Study: Plumstead Centre, London, by Hawkins Brown

Plumstead Centre 8

Source: ©Jack Hobhouse

The architect reckons it has found the solution to saving libraries from extinction. Ike Ijeh assesses the end result

Over the past two decades, the future of the library in the 21st century has been the subject of much hotly contested debate. Does the traditional library format of bookcases and borrowing have a future in a digital world where entire national library archives can be accessed on a mobile phone?

Or, in an age where technological advances and social media has led to more internalised lives, is the social interaction and shared learning offered by libraries worth keeping at all costs?

At best, the answer remains unclear. Much political capital has been made from the fact that almost 800 UK public libraries – around 17% of the country’s total stock – have closed since 2010 with austerity frequently blamed. Yet the rate of decline for total number of visits to UK libraries for the five years prior to 2010 was around twice that for the same period after it. Moreover, in 1980, 650 million library books were borrowed across Britain. Last year the figure was less than 180 million.

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