Saturday April 1st sees a number of changes to the running of Barnet’s libraries by the notoriously outsource friendly council. Staffing will be drastically reduced, with librarians replaced by self service options or volunteers. A number of libraries will also undergo refurbishment over the next year, with many libraries reducing floor space to fit in commercial units. Apart from the obvious self harm of such a policy like this to the population of Barnet, especially children and the elderly, it is a great shame that Barnet’s libraries will be architecturally despoiled to fit in commercial premises. The borough has a number of post war modernist style libraries,as well as some interesting interwar ones.
The borough architect B. Bancroft designed two libraries in the 1960’s, Hale Lane in Edgware (1961) and Burnt Oak (1968). Hale Lane is designed in an L-Shape and features a glazed gable end. The building has already been extended once, and the council are planning more refurbishment. Burnt Oak Library is another that has undergone changes. Originally a square concrete framed building with a glass pyramid roof light and interesting vertical windows, it was refurbished by Knott Architects in 2011, who added a colourful curved entrance way.
Church End Library in Finchley, designed in 1964 by borough engineer FGF Nutter, has a curtain wall of zigzagging windows, a copper roof and freestanding bookcases. This library is due to close, moving its facilities to the council owned Gateway House. In Colindale is the Grahame Park Estate Library, built between 1969-75 by the GLC Architects Dept with Barnet Borough. Quite different from the previous buildings mentioned, this library had a bunker like appearance with small projecting windows and a sloping roof. The library, along with most of the original estate has been redeveloped by Barnet Borough in the last few years.
The borough also boasts a couple of fine interwar libraries by P.T. Harrison, borough architect of the era, in North Finchley (1936) and East Finchley (1938), both in the Neo-Georgian style. Osidge and East Barnet are a couple of typical unfussy post war municipal libraries. Newer libraries include Chipping Barnet (1985-89) by the Barnet Borough in the era’s neo-vernacular and South Friern Library (2009) by Fourpoint Architects. The new South Friern Library replaced an earlier 1963 building by the Borough Architect's Department which included a Library and a Medical Clinic.
Whatever the future of Barnet’s libraries, and it looks bleak in the long run, the sequence of buildings produced by the boroughs Architects Department show the development of 20th century architectural styles. From the Neo-Tudor of Childs Hill, through Neo-Georgian in Finchley to post war Scandinavian modernism in Edgware and on to brutalism at Grahame Park, we can only hope that future generations are able to view theses changing styles, as well as use thebuildings for the purpose they were built for.
For more information on the battle to save Barnet’s libraries see Save Barnet Libraries and Broken Barnet