A New Era for Neath LibraryMarch 28, 2023
Neath Library has had a commanding position in the centre of Neath, overlooking the town’s Victoria Gardens, for close on 120 years. Built in 1904 the traditional Carnegie library has served many generations of the people of Neath and its surrounding communities, and is one of the town’s most well-loved buildings. But as the decades have gone by the task of delivering a forever changing library service within the confines of an Edwardian building has been a growing challenge for the Library Service in Neath Port Talbot.
Following a review of libraries in Neath Port Talbot in 2019 it was decided that the Library should look at relocation within the town. At a number of public consultation meetings the problems of the old library were highlighted and a wish list of what the new library should offer was drawn up.
At the same time as the review, Neath town centre was undergoing its own redevelopment with plans for new retail units and a leisure centre in the pipeline. Seeing a rare opportunity for a new build Library, staff put forward a case to Councillors to include a new library as part of the redevelopment. A key element of this case was highlighting the advantages of placing libraries at the heart of town centre regeneration by creating a destination that many people would visit.
Once Neath Port Talbot Libraries had the go ahead for the new build a funding application to Welsh Government, under the Transformation Capital Grants Programme, was submitted. This successful bid allowed the Service to appoint FG Library and Learning, to work on the internal design.
On February 1st the new Neath Library project culminated with the opening of the new building. It has not been without its problems, not least managing the project during the covid pandemic, but the overwhelming positive reaction from visitors has made it all worthwhile. It wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that visitor numbers since libraries fully reopened after covid restrictions eased have been sluggish, but in its first month the new library has exceeded all expectations. The number of visitors, the number of items issued and new members are all in excess of numbers pre-covid. A particular area of success has been the new children’s library which, unlike the old library, can now be opened full time and is situated at the heart of the new library.
Leading this project for the Library Service was County Librarian, Wayne John. In the design phase Wayne worked with FG, and together they sought to create a library of distinct zones. As you walk around the library you definitely get the feel of these zones, unique from each other but at the same time blending in with the rest of the library, and if you were in any doubt you just have to see how visitors to the library have naturally nestled in these zones, helping to create their own distinctive feel. Furthermore you never get the sense that one area infringes upon any other.
Now that it is fully open the new Neath Library not only marks a new beginning for libraries in Neath Port Talbot, but it also marks the retirement of Wayne John as our County Librarian. After 46 years working in the public library sector in Wales, Wayne is retiring at the end of March. He will leave behind a legacy that will last for many years at Neath Port Talbot, and across Wales library colleagues will miss his vast knowledge and experience of, and his commitment to, public libraries. We all wish Wayne a happy retirement and thank him for his contribution to libraries.