"Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries" sounds more like a description than a name, though as it omits the word "museum", it's not really a complete description either. It's perhaps a shame that something a little snappier couldn't have been found for Dunfermline's magnificent library/museum/art gallery/meeting space, but that's the only negative thing we have to say about an attraction that moves Dunfermline significantly higher up eastern Scotland's "must visit" list.
The Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries stands on the corner of Abbot Street and St Margaret Street in the heart of Dunfermline. Immediately to its south-west is the graveyard of Dunfermline Abbey Church, which with nearby Dunfermline Abbey & Palace and the Carnegie Birthplace Museum gives the town a group of outstanding visitor attractions.
The building itself is intriguing, dramatically changing its identity depending upon the direction from which it is viewed. As you can see from the header image, when seen from the Abbey Church graveyard, it is strikingly modern. Other faces reveal parts of the building's long heritage. The origins of the building actually date back to 1883, when the first Carnegie Library opened in the town. It was to be followed by some 2,500 more around the world, and was paid for with £8,000 donated by Dunfermline's most famous son, Andrew Carnegie. The foundation stone was laid by Carnegie's mother, Margaret Carnegie. (Continues below image...)
The library was doubled in size between 1904 and 1922, and another extension was added to the south of the building in 1993 to provide new meeting and exhibition rooms, plus children's and music libraries and a local history room. The library closed in spring 2014 to allow what is in effect a further major extension to take place, and the new The Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries opened on 18 May 2017. The new building cost £12.4m and incorporates all of the old library, but extends it significantly to the west by building behind the frontage of an old bank.
The architects initially proposed an entrance formed by hinging part of the old bank building, but that did not find favour with those charged with protecting historic buildings. Instead you enter around the north-west corner of the complex. Once inside you find that the building is designed around a central "street" that cuts right through the structure from north to south, from ground floor up to a glazed roof. This is a dramatic and exciting space, especially when strong sunlight casts sharp shadows throughout its interior.
On the lower ground floor you find the reception and shop, with the Carnegie Library occupying much of the east side. Beyond the entrance is a children's library, and at the rear of the ground floor is a large reading room. The upper ground floor is home to the large and airy cafe, which offers a balcony with views over the Abbey Church. Before proceeding further it's worth mentioning the beautiful garden to the west of the building, in the area behind the pink Abbot House. This includes a maze and areas to sit and enjoy the atmosphere. We understand that there are plans to reopen the Abbot House to the public as an adjunct to the library and galleries, though at the time of our most recent visit these had not yet been realised.
The first floor of the library and galleries is divided into three main areas. The south-east corner is occupied by three galleries, which on our last visit were home to collections ranging from traditional art to the story of the development of the new complex itself. The front of the building at this level and part of its eastern side houses three function rooms. And much of the western side houses the museum space, which extends upwards to the upper first floor.
The museum areas are not especially large, but they are beautifully laid out and interpreted for visitors. Themes include Dunfermline's industrial past, dominated by the huge Meldrum Loom, a reminder of the weaving industry that once employed a large part of the town's population. Elsewhere it is possible to see how homes have evolved over the years, and in particular our kitchens; while other areas look at "having fun" and transport in this part of Fife.
The upper first floor areas allow views down into the first floor spaces, and more exhibitions, especially about Fife's military heritage. Not to be missed on this floor is a small balcony that offers perhaps the best view available anywhere of Dunfermline Abbey Church.
This is not the only great view offered by the new parts of the building. We found ourselves repeatedly coming face to face with windows offering unexpected glimpses of the surroundings, whether it be the building on the opposite side of Abbot Street, or the Abbey Church, or the mausoleum immediately behind the building.