Library of Birmingham October - November 2012 update

There continues to be progress on the new Library of Birmingham since my previous post,  Library of Birmingham April-May 2012 update, as it heads towards it's official opening in less than a year on 3  September 2013.  The opening will be marked by a series of events, activities and performances with a theme of Discovery with creative producers Capsule producing the activities throughtout the new library, other city venues and in Centenary Square,’s-opening-season/.  Work continues towards the handover by Carillion to the City Council in April 2013 with over 500 staff and over 20 contractors on site.  The task from April will be to install and test the IT, catering and technical systems and the transfer of over 1.5 million books from the current central library.

It's also not all doom and gloom for the discarded books too with 50 interesting discarded books sent to selected artists to transform into a work of art,

Carillion have produced regular updates on the site showing the progress internally away from the public glare.  Updates reproduced courtesy of show work in June, August, September and November 2012.

The new Library of Birmingham is a bold statement in stark contrast to the recent move by local authorities to consider closing libraries as part of cost saving and the soul searching that appears to be happening about the role of the library, On borrowed time.  I have a keen interest in the new library but also a sense of deja vu from my A-Level Business Studies project in 2001 in which I looked at "Should Cannock Library expand it's provision?"   

In my project I noted the opening of a new library in Peckham and the value of libraries as street corner universities for the masses.  Indeed when writing my project I noted that there were 377,000,000 visits to libraries which compared favourably to the 33,000,000 people admitted to professional league football matches in the 1995/96 season.  Indeed the library service was achieved at a modest £13 per head of population cost which equated to 1% of local authority expenditure and library service costing just 26 pence per person per week, at that time the cost of a first class stamp.

Recent information supplied to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee shows a decline in visitor numbers.

Library Closures - Culture, Media and Sport CommitteeIn 2009-10 there were 322 million visits to libraries, but slightly fewer book loans at 309 million. The number of visits exceeded book issues in each of the last seven years. Figure 1 shows that visitor numbers fell in each year between 1993-94 to 2001-02, from 391 million to 318 million. There was an increase between 2003 and 2005, but numbers declined again subsequently.

While there may be a decline overall research I conducted for my project using a book titled Perspectives of Public Library Use, A compendium of survey information 1995 together with recent research by the Carnegie UK Trust, a report titled A New Chapter, shows that libraries are still important to communities and that for a city with a huge young population like Birmingham they are particularly important to young people.  

Library use by 15-24 year olds (55%) was higher than the average over all age groups (50%), which contradicts some earlier research findings which suggested that libraries did not appeal to younger people.

Of course libraries are radically different from their creation by the Public Libraries Act 1850 but one of  the key principles of their creation, eduction by reading is good for people and society, remains and even as that access has changed from book to internet access they perform a social hub and learning centre role.

What is the ‘core’ library service?
In its public consultation on the modernisation of library services in England in 2010, the Department of Culture, Media and Sport proposed a core library service which should be guaranteed on a national basis. This included the following elements:
• library membership from birth; and opportunity to be a member of all libraries in England
• opportunity for the public to help shape the service; and services that reach out to local people
• free access to a range and quality of book stock and online resources and information; 24-hour access through online catalogues and services; and access to the national book collection
• connecting a community of readers though reading groups, activities and recommendations
• free internet access for all and help to get online
• commitment to customer service and expert, helpful staff
• a safe local space that is accessible and convenient; and flexible opening hours to suit local need links to other public services and opportunities.

This change in what a library 'is' for and what it encourages through ideas and being 'connected' to a wider world of internet connection is encouraging new developments.  The Wellcome Institute in London with it's library has fused exhibitions and events linking medicine, science and art while attracting 500,000 visitors a year.

Now there are plans to open up and reorganise the library, a remarkable resource of 1.5m objects (not just books). The idea is to create, alongside the research library, a “hybrid between an exhibition space and a library”, as the Wellcome’s librarian Simon Chaplin puts it, designed to “start conversations” and to encourage the public to become producers, not simply consumers, of science.

Indeed Birmingham's new Library of Birmingham as the FT article, A new chapter for libraries, suggests with it's fusion of performance and exhibition space more than just shelves and books could inject new life into Birmingham and represents a bold assertion on the value of culture and media.  Birmingham boldly built the International Convention Centre in a recession and was in turn emulated for it's transformative effect.  The new Library of Birmingham will I suspect highlight to other cities the role of a library and culture in it's heart and regeneration.  Manchester Central Library is benefitting from a redevelopment,, and like Birmingham's it will place the library and it's role in education being a value to society at the heart of the city.

Birmingham's library with it's Dutch designers Mecanoo, also seems to be following in the Dutch focus on libraries with a new library in Rotterdam being called Book Mountain for it's equally interesting design with a mountain of 50,000 books covered in a glass shell,  'Book Mountain' lets Netherlands readers explore pyramid of paper. 

The following pictures show construction work on the new library over recent months.  The photos I have taken below from 9 November show the waterproofing for the surface above the music library which sits under Centenary Square.

28 October

9 November 


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