The Library of Birmingham

Prince Charles once said that the Central Library in Birmingham looked like ‘a place where books are incinerated, not kept’.

The Library of Birmingham at Centenary Square ...

The Library of Birmingham at Centenary Square with Birmingham Rep in foreground (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That 40-year-old concrete building will now be demolished. It has been replaced by The Library of Birmingham, which opened its doors for the first time a few weeks ago, at the beginning of September.

I’ve been to see it and was very impressed by the modern, light, hi-tech interior. There are also outdoor spaces for reading, chatting or relaxing – the Discovery Terrace is an elevated garden and includes herbs, fruit and vegetables and the Secret Garden Terrace on the seventh floor gives a quiet place to sit and admire the view over the city.

The ninth floor houses the famous Shakespeare Memorial Room. This was first designed and built in 1882 for the city’s Victorian Library. In the early 1970s it was moved to the, then new, Central Library and it has now been re-located again to sit atop The Library of Birmingham. It must have been quite a feat to carefully remove and then rebuild all the wood panelling along with glass printed shelves and metalwork. The ceiling has some very ornate plasterwork and stained glass windows.

Also on the ninth floor is the glass-enclosed Skyline Viewpoint giving stunning views across the city from 51 metres above street level.

There are two cafes – selling wine, champagne and expensive paper cups of tea.

The Library of Birmingham was a £189 million project. There has been a lot of controversy in the city about whether that money should have been spent, when smaller, community libraries across the region have had their opening hours drastically cut.

This new library has a lot to offer as a tourist attraction but I’m not sure whether it will get more people reading. However, it is open seven days a week and was very busy on the Sunday afternoon that I went – but most people were just there to have a look around it rather than to read or borrow books.

Personally, I’ll go again when the novelty has worn off and the place is quieter. Then, maybe, I’ll find a quiet corner and do some writing – if I’m not distracted by the thought of roof terraces and a glass of champagne!

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  1. #1 by susanjanejones on September 29, 2013 - 10:33 am

    Thanks for sharing Sally, I think it sounds wonderful. Same as you, for me I like places when they’re quiet, and the thought of a quiet corner, overlooking the city might be inspirational for writing. Champagne makes me go to sleep though, so it would be a cup of tea for me.

    • #2 by Sally Jenkins on September 29, 2013 - 3:51 pm

      It would have to be tea for me too, Susan. Until I write that bestseller, I can’t afford the Champagne!

  2. #3 by Julia on September 29, 2013 - 10:41 am

    The question of funding is always tricky, isn’t it? Our library in Kettering has recently undergone substantial and costly work to renovate its floor and various other bits and pieces. It looks great: but that is probably small consolation to the groups that have had their funding cut.

    • #4 by Sally Jenkins on September 29, 2013 - 3:52 pm

      I don’t know what the answer is, Julia. I suppose the money has to be spent where it can benefit the majority but that will always leave some minority groups feeling hard done by.

  3. #5 by Tracy Fells on September 29, 2013 - 1:50 pm

    Rather envious as looks terrific, but we are lucky in West Sussex to have thriving (touch wood) local and rural libraries. It is great to see such investment, yet I agree it is sad to cut the local community libraries. In small village communities these can be essential to keeping a centre alive.

    • #6 by Sally Jenkins on September 29, 2013 - 3:54 pm

      It’s often the elderly and those with mobility problems that suffer when local facilities are cut, isn’t it Tracy? And they can be heavy library users. It’s so difficult to get the balance right when funding different projects.

  4. #7 by Lesley Dawson on September 30, 2013 - 9:53 am

    It looks and sounds like a wonderful place, Sally. I would love to spend some time in the elevated garden and the secret garden. Having stained-glass windows makes it sound like a cathedral! I’ve never been to Birmingham, but would go just to visit the new library. 😀

    Our little local branch has had its opening hours slashed, which is a shame.

    • #8 by Sally Jenkins on September 30, 2013 - 7:10 pm

      There’s lots to see and do in Birmingham, Lesley, as well as the new library. There’s the Jewellery Quarter, the Back to Back Houses, Sealife Centre (if you’ve got children) as well as the new library. But it is a shame that all the little libraries are suffering.

      • #9 by Lesley Dawson on September 30, 2013 - 9:35 pm

        Thanks, Sally. You’ve inspired me to find out more about the city.

  5. #10 by Linda on October 2, 2013 - 11:59 am

    A library with gardens? Sounds like heaven – but I’d need tea in proper cups for it to be perfect 😦 Only joking! I saw the outside of the library on my visit to Birmingham in April and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I liked the design. But now I’ve seen photos of the inside I’ll definitely be visiting next time I’m in the area.

    • #11 by Sally Jenkins on October 2, 2013 - 6:18 pm

      I think you’ll like it, Linda. They do guided tours too but they have to be pre-booked.

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