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Tower Hamlets turns page to launch first 'ideas stores'

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Design chiefs are about to choose architects to replace a series of Victorian libraries in Tower Hamlets, with glass 'ideas stores', which have been billed by culture secretary Chris Smith as 'universities of the street'.

The east London borough wants the seven stores near shopping centres to make learning more consumer-friendly. The two-storey and three-storey buildings will have modern libraries, internet and adult-education facilities, cafes and exhibition spaces. Ground floors will also have shops. Library attendance is expected to double.

Paul Latham, director of regeneration, said the council undertook one of Europe's biggest surveys of library users, which showed bookworms wanted libraries close to stores so they could borrow books and shop at the same time.

The project is worth £25 million and the most expensive library will cost up to £6 million. The first three libraries - at Bow, Whitechapel and Poplar - are planned to start towards the end of next year.

Ideas stores in Bethnal Green, Stepney and two in Canary Wharf are due by 2005.

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