Prince Charles once said that the Central Library in Birmingham looked like ‘a place where books are incinerated, not kept’.
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 It has been replaced by The Library of Birmingham, which opened its doors for the first time a few weeks ago, at the beginning of September.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!