"It takes a whole community to teach a child to read.
Children who have never had a story read to them, who never hear words rhyme, who never imagine fighting dragons or marrying a prince, have the odds overwhelmingly against them."

Maryanne Wolf

Library Design Case Study:

Leeds City Council Story Buses

It was an exciting prospect for us to be invited to work with Leeds City Council to design their new mobile children’s service vehicles. This was a first for Opening the Book and gave us an opportunity to explore how we could bring the same aesthetic of integrating books and play that we bring to our public library projects into a very challenging, much more compact environment.

The Story Buses were introduced to reach out to communities in Leeds where there is, traditionally, a low uptake of council services. The aims are:

  • To foster a lifelong love of books and reading among babies and young children.
  • To encourage families to share books and reading activities together.
  • To promote regular library use.
  • To support the development of language, communication and literacy.
  • To provide access to an early years cultural programme.

Chief Librarian, Andrea Ellison said:

“Research has shown that the most effective way to increase the literacy of a community is to show parents and carers how to stimulate their children’s innate ability before the children are given formal reading instruction.

The Story Bus service aims to foster a lifelong love of reading through providing access to a broad range of books as well as staff expertise in an exciting, welcoming environment. An environment where reading and listening skills are shared, fostered and developed

If we want to give our children the best start in life and the best chance to lead happy, successful and fulfilled lives, if we want to keep our children out of a cycle of long term poverty and out of the criminal justice system –we need to make sure that they develop good literacy skills.

This is the outcome that we are working to achieve with our new Story Buses, Sam and Nelly as they travel across the city celebrating and sharing books and stories, generating fun and excitement wherever they visit.”

It was the inspiration of Chief Librarian, Andrea Ellison, to approach popular children’s book illustrator Nick Sharratt and his publishers (Penguin UK and MacMillan Children’s Books) for permission to use his work on the buses. It was a hard decision to narrow down the choices from all Nick’s fabulous work to Hippo Has A Hat and Chomp Stomp Big Roars Here Comes The Dinosaurs. Nick generously spent many hours adapting his original artwork where necessary to fit on the sides of the buses.

Local children contributed to the project by choosing names for the buses - Sam and Nelly. Torton Bodies were appointed to supply and fit the buses and we worked very closely with them to adapt many of our children’s units to fit this new setting.

It was important for us that children visiting the buses would have the same opportunity to see colourful book covers face out so that they could browse for themselves so our Picturebook and Boardbook units were made narrower with higher dividers to help prevent books falling out in transit. We also wanted children to have quiet reading spaces to climb into as well as places to snuggle with parents/carers, so we built in Reading Hideouts and comfortable bench sofas.

Plenty of noticeboard space was provided for displays. High level cupboards provide loads of storage space. A face-out display unit for books aimed at parents and carers was built at adult level.

We maintained the same strong design elements as in our other projects, such as colourful fabrics and bright colours – staying away from the traditional primary blues/greens/reds. Nick Sharratt’s artwork featured strongly on the interiors, being used to decorate the walls and Hideouts. It’s fun for children to look into the Hideouts and see two little cavemen, or a gorilla trying on slippers!

To support staff into working in this new-style mobile children’s space, our Training and Schools Co-ordinator, Fiona Edwards, led a session with staff on how to make the books look good.

More Case Studies

Opening the Book first visited St Mary’s Church, Lichfield, in 2016 to consider the feasibility of the library being part of a larger refurbishment project. The space was not, on first impression, very promising – it was dark, with low ceilings, lots of barriers and huge pillars which had been truncated by the extra floor added into the nave. But then we entered the chapel area with its magnificent stained glass window and suddenly the building opened up. This space really was beautiful – now the question was, could it be a library?

Werneth School in Stockport has been in the fortunate position of being completely relocated into a new purpose-built home on the same site. As part of this, Opening the Book was invited by the Deputy Head, Alyson Littlewood, and School Librarian, Nikki Heath, to put forward a design for the new library.

Transforming the old chapel in a 19th century school into a contemporary, practical library was an exciting challenge for our design team this summer. The brief was to create a highly flexible layout which would accommodate all the usual activities required of the hard-working hub of the school, plus the ability to easily transform the space for large group events.

A dramatic building, a new landscaped development and a council ambitious to change its relationship with its customers – what an opportunity! Opening the Book worked with libraries, Customer Services, architects and contractors to create a completely new kind of experience for Telford residents, whether they come for the library’s new offers or to claim benefits.

A hard-working library with pressures on space was transformed through a major rethink. Capacities were increased through better space planning across several floors but the library feels more open and light because of the skilful layout in relation to the architecture. Opening the Book worked closely with senior managers to plan new approaches to staffing the space.

A much-loved but derelict cinema was reclaimed and extended as the Library and Customer Services Centre. Opening the Book brought contemporary style mixed with a celebration of cinematic heritage to deliver immediate appeal in the high street location. Upstairs we zoned the space for noisy and quiet activities and designed in a film-projection space for an audience of up to 60.

This market town had campaigned for a new library for 20 years so expectations were high. Residents, councillors and staff all supported our proposal to move to a discovery layout and retail-style presentation in the new library. The results in terms of increased membership, visits and loans have been outstanding.

The 4th floor of Boots has always been the most heavily used computer space in the university – and it showed. Opening the Book used colour and style to create a more pleasant study environment while actually increasing the number of study spaces available. Our unique desk design added student access to power sockets alongside fixed pcs to futureproof.