Libraries for the next century

27th October 1995 at 00:00
Reva Klein sees plans for a 'mediatec', where visitors can plug into a multimedia future.

When you think of Peckham and then think of libraries, it's pretty certain that words like innovative, distinctive and state of the art won't be the next to spring to mind.

But you would be wrong. Peckham may be among the most run-down and deprived corners of south London, but as part of a major inner-city redevelopment project, Peckham could lead the country with its plans for a "mediatec" a multimedia library of the future. It's a concept that is new to Britain, although the French have something of a tradition for "le mediath que," most notably the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

The idea is based on integrating different resources under one roof. The Peckham mediatec, which will replace a local library and civic centre, is being designed as a multi-purpose facility containing a library, two theatre spaces that can be used for conferences and receptions, dance studios, film, television and video production suites, study areas and a cafe.

There is a strong emphasis on using such a mediatec as an accessible place for local people to take advantage of the digital revolution. In such plans, these new-look libraries would be the corner shops of the information superhighway, approachable and close to hand.

Architects Alsop and Stormer, creators of the multi-million pound plans for the new Institute of Contemporary Arts in Blackfriars, have been commissioned by Southwark council to design two plans for the building.

One is for a Pounds 10 million building, which will be erected if Southwark's bid for a national lottery grant is successful. A scaled down version is being planned if the council loses and can only rely on Pounds 5 million, made up of funds from central government, Southwark council and private sponsors.

The council has been concerned to enlist public views on the centre. Vaughan Aston, Southwark's arts business manager explains: "We've had ongoing consultations on details of the entire regeneration scheme with local residents. And in developing an arts strategy, we've consulted with national and local organisations and the professional and media sectors, all of whom are helping to shape our ideas."

Built into the planning is the mediatec's function as an education and training resource. The study areas will contain technology that allows users to link into open learning facilities, gives access to databases and offers information technology back-up for pupils, local students and small businesses. The nearby South Bank University is considering a partnership, which will allow it to use the mediatec as the production arm of its training packages.

Local schools, colleges and community groups will be able to book into the media production facilities for film production, editing and sound and training rooms.

The technology rooms will contain desktop publishing rooms and multimedia production resources for people in the community such as artists, who can get training on the site. An Internet clubroom will be open for people to use as they would a cyber cafe, as well as for those wishing to develop arts web pages for Southwark. In addition, a dedicated learning centre will be used for work on projects developed in collaboration with schools and colleges in the borough.

"We're learning from the education department at the new Globe Theatre about how to make links with schools so that we can work together," says Vaughan Aston. "We want to develop lifelong relationships with young people. It's what Peckham needs. Local schoolchildren need every break they can get."

A particular target area is arts education, of which there is a dearth in the borough.

Other proposed uses for the centre reflect the needs and wishes of residents from local estates, half of whom are black. Adrian Olsen, library and information services manager for the council, says, "We'd like to put in an Afro- Caribbean Literature Centre, where people could come for creative writing courses or to use the Internet facilities. There is also a great interest among the local population for a community bookshop specialising in Afro Caribbean material."

The Peckham Mediatec is being seen by the council as part of the development of prestige arts establishments along the south bank of the river.

As Vaughan Aston puts it, "The Globe, the Bankside Tate Gallery and the Institute of Contemporary Arts have all acted as catalysts for the awareness of the economic importance of the arts and their role in regeneration."

The future connections between the establishments will, it is hoped, benefit each other as well as the community.

"There will be exchanges between the ICA services and ours. Both are working in the field of new technology and the arts. We could develop work in collaboration. The same is true of the Tate, which is developing electronic art and video facilities," says Aston.

From an economic and cultural desert, Southwark council hopes that Peckham will be transformed into a place in which people want to work and live and to which they will come to visit.

Given that there is nothing quite like the mediatec anywhere else in London, that aspiration is not as far fetched as it might sound.

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