Who, in their right mind, would build a public library in these tough economic times? Birmingham City Council, that’s who. In the heart of the Midlands, England’s second city has shown vision and enlightenment bordering on the heroic, by commissioning and opening Europe’s biggest public library. Combining a traditional building with digital facilities Birmingham joins the league of super-libraries, ‘effectively rewriting the book for 21st century public libraries’.
With its layered architectural construction reminiscent of a pile of loosely stacked books, the Library seamlessly integrates its public lending and academic services as well as enabling unprecedented public access through the internet and at its 200 computer terminals. With over 1 million books, 350,000 of which are available to the public, the Library can accommodate 3,000 visitors and looks set to have a well-deserved, long-working life ahead of it.
Though one of England’s newest cities, Birmingham has a rich industrial and cultural heritage that is worth preserving and promoting. The entrepreneurial spirit that has always driven the region’s capital was one of the attractions that brought me from London. A refurbished and extended Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the wonderful Symphony Hall are testimony to a city that has confidence in its future and the newly-opened Library of Birmingham could rightly be considered another jewel in its crown of municipal facilities.
Malala Yousafzai, the teenager shot in the head in Pakistan by the Taliban for championing women’s right to education, opened the Library with an empassioned speech before placing her copy of ‘The Alchemist’, by Paolo Coelho, in the library – the last book to go on the shelves.
“This library will continue to enlighten future generations;”
“The only way to global peace is reading, knowledge and education”.
“It is written that a room without books is like a body without a soul. A city without a library is like a graveyard.”
“Some books travel with you back centuries, others take you into the future. Some take you to the core of your heart and others take you into the universe.“
Thank you, Malala.
SO, WHO GETS THE PLAUDITS, WHO BOOBED, AND WHO PAID THE BILL?
Birmingham City Council. The council made the decision to go ahead with the £189 million project in October 2007, the year before the global financial crisis and, with local authority funding frozen at 2007 levels, budgets were tight. Most of the funding has come from borrowing, with a small amount from donations and the council raising funds by selling land.
Brian Gambles, Chief Executive at Library of Birmingham Development Trust and Director of the Project. His team persevered for seven years to bring it in on time and on budget.
“This is a library that will serve the needs of the city for decades, perhaps centuries.” (Brian Gambles)
Francine Houben, who headed the 100-strong team of Dutch architects Mecanoo. The Library’s exterior gold-hued and metallic-coloured levels, augmented by interlocking aluminium-circle ornamentalism, is striking and is said to reflect the city’s industrial heritage, craftsmanship, factories, canals and its famed Jewellery Quarter.
“We wanted to create a people’s palace, a building for Birmingham and an interpretation of Birmingham.” (Francine Houben)
The Faces of the Library of Birmingham graphic concept encapsulate the library experience. Full credit to the designers who came up with it an executed it so well. (see below for photos)
Cafés? Oh Dear! Let themselves down with unimaginative and sterile settings. Feng Shui’s gone right out the window! Please think again, guys. The only sour note on a wonderful visit. Please take an offering of these bricks and build with them.
Your intrepid Shibumi reporters (Ros & Tantro) leapt out of bed on Thursday 5th September 2013 to head to Birmingham City by train to see the newly-opened Library of Birmingham. Walking from Snow Hill station it was obvious from the number of cranes that Birmingham was still building and refurbishing parts of its infrastructure, but we had to pass landmark buildings before we hit Centenary Square and could take in the wonderful new Library building. Full marks for styling, the ‘loosely-stacked books’ architecture, seemed to chime with The Library of Birmingham’s purpose. So we got the camera out and started recording our impressions.
Obviously, following Shibumi Café’s ‘check-out-the-coffee’ policy we decided to sample a brew as soon as possible. The ground floor reception & café was disappointingly and functionally austere and Ros bemoaned the lack of any natural elements that would soften and humanise the place. And the so-called café area was an uninviting and sterile affair. We wonder if the architects would approve?
So we headed for the third floor café more in hope than expectation. A tiny area with gallant staff getting to grips with the new equipment but, once again, an unobrusive and utilitarian counter that you’d scarcely call warm and inviting. The terrace was sun-drenched and fine for sitting but the ad hoc arrangements we had to make to manage our food and drinks on the seating area begged for some kind of table or shelf. Sunshades would have helped to make the atmosphere, but I guess the view is all, in this case. Ah, well.
LOWER GROUND – CHILDREN & MUSIC (includes: Ampitheatre, Children’s Library, Music Library, Book Browse, Beatbox, Middle Earth, Music Practice Rooms, Chill-out Lounge, Story Steps.) Exploring and photos to come on our next visit.
GROUND FLOOR – RECEPTION, CAFE & STUDIO THEATRE (includes: Reception, Library Shop, Library Café, Book Browse Upper, Digital Gallery, Studio Theatre, Buggy Park.)
FLOOR 1 – BUSINESS, LEARNING & HEALTH (includes: Business Start, Brainbox, Enterprise Lounge, Internet, Soundbox, Advice Rooms & BLIP, Training Suite, Meeting Rooms.) The second floor Rotunda reminds you that, a heart, this is still recognisably a reading library – and all the better for that.
The escalator ride up through the centre of the building showed off the book-lined Rotunda on the second floor and certainly stated the Library’s traditional purpose – dissemination of the written word. Glad they had emphasised that heritage.
FLOOR 2 – KNOWLEDGE (includes: Knowledge Lounge, Study Rooms, Book Rotunda, Contemplation Room)
“The second floor book rotunda is an area that tells the story of the library really, that it’s all about books, it’s all about learning. And, it’s a fantastic space. It’s somewhere we’re really proud of. It’s got a nice set of echoes back to traditional round reading rooms of the past, but with a real modern twist that befits this fantastic modern architecture, that describes the Library of Birmingham.” (Brian Gambles, Director of the Library of Birmingham)
FLOOR 3 – DISCOVERY (includes: Discovery Gallery, Discovery Terrace, BFI Mediatheque, Book Rotunda, Library Cafe, Study Rooms, Short-session Internet.)
FLOOR 4 – ARCHIVES, HERITAGE & PHOTOGRAPHY (includes: Heritage Lounge, Heritage Learning Space, Reception Desk, Wolfson Centre for Archival Research)
FLOOR 5 & 6 – NON-PUBLIC
FLOOR 7 – THE SECRET GARDEN
FLOOR 8 – NON-PUBLIC
FLOOR 9 – SHAKESPEARE MEMORIAL ROOM (with Skyline Viewpoint)
No visit or pictures as yet – next visit.
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The Faces of the Library of Birmingham are twenty six people (one for each letter of the alphabet) who are passionate about libraries and about Birmingham. These clever designs indicate, in a very graphic way, their interests and possible uses for the Library. We came across them as we descended the staircases, taking time to appreciate and capture these imaginative montages. Full marks to the agency or in-house team that put this concept together.
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So, to join or find out about The Library’s services and forthcoming events, please visit the website by clicking the link below.