03:00AM, Thursday 12 June 2014
The humble public library has reinvented itself into a modern hub for multimedia activity as well as borrowing books.
Centres in the Windsor, Maidenhead and the rest of the Royal Borough have seen booming membership and an increase in the types of services available despite budget cuts and falling numbers of books borrowed.
Think of a library and you might picture rows of dusty books and a crusty old librarian shushing for silence.
That is no longer the case at the borough's homes of book borrowing.
Their popularity is growing and they have become much more than a place to pick out a dog-eared copy of an old Dickens or Swift.
The number of residents registered at the 13 facilities soared by 27 per cent in five years.
There were 122,897 registered members at the end of 2013 - 25,950 more than 2009 and 7,350 more than the year before.
Library service manager Angela Gallacher said new services and facilities have made a traditionally quiet space into a bustling hub of the community.
"We've come so far in the last 10 years," she said.
"We have got loads of people interested."
Members who need a place to study can access the internet in most of the libraries and there are computers for people who do not have their own devices.
There are also events and activities for adults and children and 24-hour access to a wealth of online information.
Born-and-bred borough residents as well as researchers and family historians from the UK and across the globe can also browse decades of cuttings from the Advertiser's own archives.
Furthermore, reference materials are from Encyclopaedia Britannica to e-journals and articles are now available at the touch of a button online.
"It means we don't have to fill up our space with books," said Angela.
"I even use it when I'm writing reports."
The boom in membership has come at a time when issues of books have declined.
That number has fallen by 48,312 a year - about six per cent - in the same period.
However, Angela said the statistics are not as high as other parts of the country and that is down to meeting demand for popular authors.
The rest is down to youngsters getting stuck into old favaourites, modern classics and an abundance of story and rhyming sessions across the area.
"We buy very popular books that people want I think that's got a lot to do with that.
"When it comes to children's books a lot of people in the borough encourage their children to read.
"We had 3,345 taking part in our summer reading challenge."
Services have also managed to survive budget cuts every year for a combined 16 per cent drop from £2,487,000 to £2,084,000 in the last five years.
Volunteers and shifting managers from behind their desks into front-line positions are now essential to making sure everything runs like clockwork, though they are mainly there to help out with information services.
Self service means bibliophiles can check out a pile of page-turners themselves.
Despite less funding the library provision continues to expand
The new Boyn Grove Library in Courthouse Road opened its doors in April and Maidenhead Library in St Ives Road is set have its own refurbishments finished by the end of the week.
New additions will include sofas and a stock of iPads for relaxed tablet-based browsing.
"It's going to look absolutely lovely up there,”said Angela.
"We're trying to create an environment where people feel very comfortable."
Royal Borough libraries by the numbers:
2013's most borrowed book was J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy - it was taken out 454 times.
The most popular book on record is Hilary Mantel's historical award-winner Wolf Hall with 1,318 rentals since its 2009 release.
The Highway Rat by Julia Donaldson was last year's most borrowed children's book - 541 times.
1,777 youngsters have borrowed Pants by Giles Andreae since current records began in 2007, making it the most popular children's book.
The borough's longest outstanding loan dates back to January 4, 2000 when one member took out Rory and the Lion by Jane Cabrera and Four Friends Together by Sue Heap.
As of April 8 £105,223.36 was owed to borough libraries in fines for overdue books.
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