As part of the renovation and restoration of the Coniston Mechanics Institute, artist Liam Gillick designed a new public lending library, commissioned by Grizedale Arts and Coniston Institute and in partnership with Cumbria County Council Library Services.
The Coniston Institute was instigated in the 1830s and originally designed as a centre for civic life, specifically to provide education and recreation for the local copper miners and other workmen from the area. To this end it housed a stage and grand hall, a library and reading room, a games room and men’s smoking room, as well as various other facilities for the betterment of the community.
The Institute was rebuilt in 1878 under the guidance of the writer John Ruskin - who had moved to Coniston - and W.G. Collingwood, but in recent years had fallen into disrepair. The library collection had become composed primarily of airport pulp-fiction and biographies of Donald Campbell, which though popular, perhaps fail to fulfil the educative and inspirational capacity that a dynamic library has the potential to offer.
The new library has many functions that contribute to reinstating the Institute as a primary source of education and creative activities for the village. Designed as an unmanned lending library, it holds a small permanent selection of books that can be ordered in from any Cumbrian library to pick up there. These are subsequently collected from one of Gillick's minimal and utilitarian crate-shelves, before being checked out through the library's scanning terminal. It also provides free online access and research facilities with a suite of computers.
The library is also regularly hired out as a meeting room for small community groups, intimate discussions, and surgeries; a bespoke work of art in its own right, placing use value and practicality at its core. Volunteers are responsible for the library’s maintenance and management.