Risca Palace Library
Ex-mining town in Caerphilly 
Population: 11,500

Public Library Design Case Study:

Risca Palace Library

The new Library and Customer Service Centre at Risca is built as a modern extension behind the restored façade of the old Palace Cinema which had been derelict for many years.

The main library is on the first floor with the ground floor offering a mixed range of council services. Opening the Book’s design maximised the space available to the library on the ground floor, running a curved feature display wall from the front windows right through to the back and adding cinema-themed seating and tables.

Books, computers and comfy seats are all immediately visible from the entrance. The library specified that large print and audiobooks should be on the ground floor to be accessible to elderly people without having to use the lift. In addition the job search terminal was included in the library area so our design places relevant books and information right next to it.

Opening the Book sourced deco-style armchairs and used velvetine fabric to give a feel of cinema seating. Film star images were specially printed onto the glass coffee table tops and then back-lit, including Richard Burton for Wales, of course. The signage style also uses film reel as the recurring motif.

The ground floor is now a great place for library customers and also offers a pleasant and attractive waiting area for people using the Customer Service Centre.

Opening the Book’s design drew from the cinematic past, tapping into fond memories for older residents, but with a stylish appeal to a new generation of customers too. This gave the library service exactly the high-profile presence on the High Street we wanted.

Jayne Lee
Operations Manager

Space and stock planning

Opening the Book worked with library staff to achieve the best stock layout across the two floors. Fitting more stock on the ground floor created more room on the first floor where there are generous areas for children, teenagers, study, non-fiction and local history.

Events and activities

Caerphilly have an ambitious events programme and they especially wanted to create a space where up to 60 people could be seated to watch a film, reviving the cultural experience which had once been so popular in the town.

Opening the Book’s solution used a big book storytime feature to divide the space. On one side the open pages of the book create a performance and play space for children. The back cover of the book makes a natural flat wall where a ceiling-mounted screen can be unrolled. The shelving in front is on castors so it can be moved to bring in extra seats. The third side contains a homework help area with computers for 8-11s. The positioning of the big book was critical as there is a pitched roof in the centre of the space with the projector on one side and the screen on the other.

Response to the library has been hugely positive; everyone loves the way it celebrates heritage and offers an up-to-the-minute contemporary experience at the same time.


To maximise the new shop windows to tempt passers-by into the building 

To provide flexible space for arts events and cinema evenings within the library offer


Dramatic lightboxes and illuminated tables create a wow factor at the entrance 

A big book storytime feature divides children from adults, provides a backdrop for film projection and tucks a homework help area in behind


6 months in new library compared to same period in previous year

  • 32% increase in loans
  • 70% increase in computer hours used
  • Audiovisual issues up 86%
  • 116% increase in new members
  • 94% increase in visits
  • 150% increase at events

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.

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.