Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries is both a spectacular new landmark and a fantastic addition to the cultural and social life of the town.
The City of Dunfermline first expressed the desire to have a purpose built museum as far back as 1851. At the start of the 21st century Dunfermline sat with two small, inaccessible municipal museums – one in a domestic Victorian building, the other in 17th Century Pittencrieff House – a fabulous building but completely unsuitable for providing a modern museum service and with no exhibition space. A succession of studies and work by consultants over several years agreed that the city should have a new museum.
The community engagement at the heart of this project was first manifested in lively public debate over the choice of location. The chosen site is at the heart of the town centre and Heritage Quarter. The new building extends out from the world’s first Carnegie Library built in 1883, incorporates the retained and restored façade of the adjacent former Commercial Bank of Scotland building, also dating from 1883, is neighbour to the 16th century Abbot House, and overlooks Dunfermline Abbey and Dunfermline Palace Ruins, all of which provide a spectacular backdrop to the new building.
The building was designed to be more than a museum showcasing collections telling Dunfermline’s stories. It was an exciting opportunity to create an integrated venue with library, museum, exhibition, study and meeting spaces, café and shop; encouraging crossover audiences and giving new life to this well-loved library which was facing the universal challenges of falling book lending and changing demands of customers. The ambition was also to create a venue which would act as a catalyst for the wonderful but under-visited Heritage Quarter, and draw new visitors into the City.
The site for the new building was both architecturally and historically sensitive and demanded the highest quality solution. With such a prime opportunity the decision was made to hold a competition run by RIAS. In 2007 Richard Murphy Architects won that competition and then began the exciting, challenging and eventually thrilling ten-year journey to create this building.
The architects’ vision of how the building could work on the site also led directly to the purchase of the car park of neighbouring Abbot House to create a new public landscaped garden area. This has been a fabulous bonus, allowing the Children’s Library to open out into the garden with its lawn, fruit trees, maze and display space for sculpture from the collection.
The spectacular new £12.4m facility was funded by Fife Council, with principal contributions from the Heritage Lottery Fund (£2.8m) and Carnegie Dunfermline Trust (£1m). The continuing commitment of Fife Council over more than a decade, and through successive political administrations was key to the project coming to fruition.
Supporting StatementFife Cultural Trust, operators of Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries, have nominated it for its contribution to the community in its development phase and, now that it is open, as a vibrant, lively and loved addition to Dunfermline's architectural and social fabric.
Dunfermline attracts around 800,000 visitors each year. DCL&G itself will attract c 200,000 visitors annually, and potentially contribute an additional spend of £500,000 annually to the local economy. It has been described as, ‘one of the most inspiring re-uses of an historic library building, transforming a traditional library into something exquisitely suited to 21st Century learning’.
The architectural design links superbly with the historic library building and has been acknowledged as an architectural tour-de-force. It has won a number of prestigious design awards, including the Edinburgh Architectural Association ‘Building of the Year 2017’and the RIAS Andrew Doolan Award for ‘Best Building in Scotland 2017’.
Plans to engage with our communities started well by attracting 85 volunteers to work on the pre-construction archaeological dig. Some of the many other ways people got involved were through consultation at the planning stage, including choosing themes for the museum displays; providing content through oral history and research projects and extensive involvement in preparing hundreds of museum objects for display. By May 2017 over 400 people had taken part. They ranged across every age and ability, from primary school ambassadors to young apprentices, groups and individuals. Participating in the project gave those involved pride, confidence and self-esteem. People wanted to learn new skills and pass on their own knowledge and expertise and many of the volunteers have carried on with projects since DCL&G opened. The project has also resulted in funding of a temporary Volunteering Development Officer to support us to continue working with volunteers across Fife.
Our aim was for visitors to feel emotion in the museum - pride, connection, sadness, joy. Comments from visitors show we have achieved that. Reaction has been overwhelmingly positive - in person, through formal feedback cards and, more widely, via social media. The Children’s Library is extremely popular with its safe and welcoming space opening into the garden and the 3-tiered Reading Room is welcoming researchers, volunteers and a new audience to Sunday Seminars.
DCL&G is already acting as a catalyst to bring people together. It plays a key role within Dunfermline Heritage Tourism Partnership. We are working together to increase the offer to visitors and involve volunteers across the Quarter. We have also successfully brought in external funding to help do that.
DCL&G is raising Dunfermline's profile as a place to visit, offering a unique and vibrant visitor experience, and has generated huge civic pride. Andrew Carnegie would surely be proud to see how new life has been breathed into his first public library.
As one visitor has said “Loved the new museum and library. Definitely a great asset to Dunfermline. …? Thanks so much - it was well worth the wait.”