By Kira Taylor @kirataylor15
An interview with Emily Macaulay, the centre manager for Exeter Central Library
Walking into Exeter Central Library is not exactly the normal library experience. From the delicious-looking cakes to the bright colours, this airy entrance promises more than rigid silence.
Whilst containing a key feature for libraries – that is, books – Exeter Central Library retains something of the community feel that it strives so much to embrace. The café is filled with soft voices and, outside in the sweltering sun, people shelter under trees with books open across their knees.
“It’s not just about borrowing books … it’s using the space,” said Emily Macaulay, the centre manager for Exeter Library. “I would like to come to the point where you can stop anybody in the high street – not tourists – but anybody who lived in the area in the high street and they would know where the library was and they know what it was about and would preferably have been in it as well.”
Emily is responsible for everything in the library from arranging meeting rooms to keeping links for the FabLab and IP centre, but also reaching out to the community and those who use the library – from families to those whose first language isn’t English.
The library tries to reach out to everyone in Exeter; it has an IT drop in session every Wednesday afternoon, which offers help ranging from using Skype to accessing online banking and benefits. The library also has 34 public computers and free Wi-Fi (always a draw for my generation!) and has seen usage about 50% up on the year before.
Alongside this, the library hosts several groups, including the British Sign Language club and knitting groups. It also has loads of brilliant events with live streamings from the British Libraries, the Fun Palaces weekend on the 1st and 2nd of October and exetreme imagination festival from the 17th-29th.
“Yes, it’s about borrowing books, but it’s also about workshops about how to set up your business or legal advice about probate and wills and all these things we have going on,’ said Emily. “My biggest challenge is how you can tell people that the library has something for everybody. I think people think they know what a library is and, therefore, they think they either want it or don’t want it.”
The library also contains a vast array of children’s books from picture books with single words and then beginner’s reads with very basic English.
“It’s important as a skill, but it’s also so important for our creative imagination. Books open our imagination to things beyond what we would probably think about,” Emily said, whose favourite childhood book was Enid Blyton’s The Secret Island, which she still
owns and reads at least once a year. Her favourite book of all time is by Stella Duffy and called the State of Happiness, a fiction book where complexion situations are written in a highly accessible way.
Emily wants to see the library as a big player in the city with facilities for community groups. “We’re providing a safe space for people who don’t have anywhere else to go during the day. We’ve got free books for people to borrow, so when times are hard and you can’t even go to the second hand bookshop to buy a book, you know, come to us, we’ve got them for free.”
Emily’s focus is promoting the library with an exciting programme, starting with the exetreme imagination festival: “We’ve got hopefully a big author event in November. Christmas tends to be a bit quieter, but then next year we want a full programme of events to get people into the library, as well as the launch of our business and IP centre and all manner of exciting things that we’ll have coming up, so that even people not coming into the library will be hearing about Exeter Library in their city.”