I travelled up to Birmingham last Saturday 12 October with the express wish to see the new Birmingham library, having heard the furore about the £189 million price tag and the Dutch architects Meanoo. Sadly I forgot my camera and my ‘phone is only that I’m afraid, a ‘phone. However, if you would like to see pictures then do go to libraryofbirmingham.com. On this site you can also download the comprehensive visitor guide.
The library is situated in Centenary Square, nestled up with the Rep theatre and the Symphony Hall. It is also very close to the Town Hall and the Museum/Art Gallery of Birmingham. I went up by train to Moor Street from Marylebone as there was a special offer on train tickets with this route.
The swirly latticed ironwork on the outside of this 10-level library put me in mind of a crocheted mini-dress I had in the 60s, (worn with American tan tights). Least said about that the better. The brickwork underneath the ironwork is painted a sort of mustard yellow colour with a funnel shaped rotunda at the top. I found it rather a strangely attractive building, even though it definitely isn’t in keeping with surrounding architecture. There have been many words spoken about this building (some rather naughty), but I’m going to stick my head above the parapet and admit to loving it.
Personally, the whole experience of going in and exploring this fabulous facility was pretty extraordinary and rather wonderful. Libraries have always been my thing and to have this sort of facility on your doorstep is mind boggling. It is open 7 days a week and I would definitely be in there as often as I could manage it and feel quite envious that it isn’t anywhere near me.
On every level there are plenty of comfortable places to take the weight off, including two outdoor garden terraces with lots of benches. That is going to be divine on a warm sunny day, or even a cooler day if you’re wrapped up warm. The view from the upper levels over the city and beyond is staggering (even in the pouring rain) and well worth a look.
There are a combination of lifts, escalators, stairs and a wide, fairly steep travelator (a flat escalator) taking you up/down. There are toilets on every floor, including disabled toilets.
Other facilities include:
• Free Wi-Fi throughout the building. Brill! • Lockers on every floor (you need a £1 coin for these) • Induction loops for the hard of hearing • A step-free entrance to the building • A couple of Blue Badge parking bays directly behind the library
There are two cafes; the Library Café on the ground floor and the Discovery Café on level 3 (the latter open at peak times). And, can you believe it, you’re even allowed to bring your own refreshments, as long as they are consumed in the lounge areas on each floor. Vending machines are also available in these areas.
I had a look round the Library Shop on the way out, but not all the stock is in yet so I can’t really comment on that. It has a roomy open feeling about it though and I liked that very much. It isn’t a separate room, but part of the spacious entrance hall.
There is a music library on the lower ground floor Level one has plenty of computers near the windows The ‘Knowledge Floor’ is on level 2 and this is holds the book rotunda Level 3 has the Discovery Terrace and the Discovery Gallery for exhibitions Level 4 has the glass lift and the secret garden Level 9 has the Shakespeare Memorial Room Level 10 has the skyline viewpoint (51 metres above street level).
This is an all-age library and all sorts of people were using the facility. It had a definite warm feeling for children with lots of displays as you entered the building and areas in the building that were quieter too, for those who just wanted to lose themselves in a book or newspaper.
This building, inside and out, is definitely an artwork rather than a traditional library building – you could even say it was a massive installation, albeit a permanent one. Yes, it cost a phenomenal amount of money to build and there are those who say it’s in bad taste when so many of our local libraries are closing through lack of funds. They have a point of course but I still say, for me, it was worth every penny. This library is so ‘tomorrow.’ I heart this building.