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Queen Mary University London unveils a new Library to serve over 19,500 students and academics with first-class access to learning

Queen Mary celebrates its extended Mile End Library, a sister building to the British Library.

Published on:

  • Sensitively extended, state-of-the-art library launched in Mile End
  • Facilities include 5 revamped floors, standing desks and study pods
  • Green roof and solar panels among the environmental improvements

It has been transformed from a library serving less than 5,000 students when first opened in 1988, to a 5-storey state of the art building that can accommodate 10,000 student and researcher visits a day.

Built in 1988, Mile End Library was designed by architects Sir Colin St John Wilson and his partner MJ Long, who were also responsible for the British Library at St Pancras. The Mile End Library was extended in the early 2000s but by 2018, it was creaking at the seams with the huge increase in demand for its services.

Highlights of the library, which has vastly increased the space available,- include adjustable standing desks, more individual study pods, larger tables, better heating, lighting and Wi-Fi, and an inspiring view over London. The project was undertaken in consultation with students, academics and librarians about what they needed the ‘new’ library to do, and the Queen Mary Students’ Union team was involved throughout. 

James Murray, Associate Architect at Purcell Architects, who led the project, said: “We wanted to refurbish and enhance the qualities of the existing St John Wilson building and reconfigure it to work better for students and staff. We are really proud of the result – it looks beautiful, it’s preserved the adjacent public spaces, and it has super green features like a green roof, highly insulated external envelope, solar panels on the roof and an abundance of natural light.” 

In an event to mark the official launch of the refurbished spaces, speakers included Sir Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, who said: "The Library at Queen Mary University is a rare 'sister' building of the British Library at St Pancras, from the same original architect team, and it's wonderful to see it expanded and transformed for new generations of students and users, at the heart of the campus."

Kate Price, University Librarian, said: “It goes without saying, there have been major changes in how researchers and students access information since 1988. So much more is done online now. And teaching has changed too, with much more flipped-classroom and problem-based learning, which means the need for more group study areas and training rooms.”

Professor Frances Bowen, Queen Mary’s Vice-Principal and Executive Dean (Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences), who hosted the event, said: “This calm spacious building, flooded with light, is now a brilliant place to study. It has been embraced by the whole Queen Mary Community.” 

“Our founding institutions were committed to countering disadvantage by ensuring access to education and opportunity for those in our local community, and this remains as true today as it was then. We are already starting to pilot active community engagement projects such as the work with Chisenhale Dance Space, now able to use the library for their research.” 

The unveiling of the refurbished Mile End library marks the beginning of a new project across Queen Mary Libraries to improve staffing and collections over the next 5 years. The Library Services Enhancement Project (SP245) will start conversations with students and academics about reimagining the provision of library services as a whole to future-proof them. 

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