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Post-industrial people's palaces: Brexit Britain's shared library interiors

Prizeman, Oriel and Black, Alistair 2022. Post-industrial people's palaces: Brexit Britain's shared library interiors. ICOMOS,

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Abstract

Access to interior public space that is free of charge and requires no membership, subscription or belief is a privilege that public libraries — often originally celebrated as “people’s palaces” — have offered since they proliferated in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. Despite being perceived by many as a robber baron, Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropic programme was highly effective in transforming library provision in the UK as well as in the USA. Today, libraries are under threat of closure, yet in Britain 424 of these buildings survive, with 224 still operating as public libraries. As Britain prepares to fashion a future outside the European Union, wealth disparity in the country is at an all-time high; and while many public libraries were first built in industrial towns and cities to target the intellectual improvement of the working class, today these places include some of the most economically deprived areas of the nation. A complete photographic survey of the interior spaces of Carnegie libraries taken in 2018 and 2019 reveals environments that have shared conditions during a period of deep political division. Often the architectural grandeur of provision is inversely proportional to the post-industrial decline and post-modern expectations which envelop it. To that end, this unanticipated outcome makes the legacy even more apparent. Our research has taken technical approaches to drive efficient new methods assimilating common or shared issues for conservation guidance. However, the qualitative aspects of these spaces demand reflection also. The universality of the computer terminals and “Crime” and “Romance” book sections sits incongruously under the ubiquity of elaborate plasterwork and demonstrates that, despite seemingly insurmountable disparities between regional house prices and wages, some aspects of the experience of public space can transcend these boundaries. That this can happen at a trans-Atlantic or even trans-global level is cause for further contemplation.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Date Type: Completion
Status: In Press
Schools: Architecture
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NA Architecture
Z Bibliography. Library Science. Information Resources > Z719 Libraries (General)
Additional Information: The conference at which this work was meant to be presented (GA2020 ICOMOS Scientific Symposium, 1-10 October 2020 in Sydney, Australia) was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This abstract and others will be published in volume of selected and reserve abstracts.
Publisher: ICOMOS
Funders: AHRC
Last Modified: 04 Apr 2022 15:38
URI: https://orca.cardiff.ac.uk/id/eprint/147402

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