Just a short train journey from Cheltenham, Europe’s biggest library opened in Birmingham at the beginning of September 2013. I went to visit the library with former UG Head of Library Services, Ann Mathie, on its opening weekend. It’s certainly an unusual building design, and one I seem to be warming to now that it has finally been revealed. Although the library dwarfs the other buildings in Centenary Square, the design is certainly innovative and eye-catching.
The interior is just as impressive. We were able to move around the building quite easily, despite the high number of visitors during the opening weekend (and, in fact, we had to queue even to get inside). The circulation space is generous and has been designed to encourage visitors to make full use of the building. There is good natural light even in the centre of the building and some great views out across the city both from inside the building and from its rooftop terraces. As well as the lending stock the library houses the city’s archive collections, including materials on Black History. It also has an extensive music library and is now home to the Shakespeare Memorial Room relocated to the golden dome at the top of the building. The room was all booked-up on the day of our visit so we weren’t able to see it.
There are some quiet places to sit and work, though probably far too few for my liking, as well as group study booths with various multimedia and online facilities. Similarly, for a large library there seem to be remarkably few books actually out on the shelves, so I can only hope that there’s a huge on-site store from which users can call up the materials they want to access. It will be interesting, then, to see how much pressure there is on the private work spaces, search catalogues and the book stock once the building is functioning properly as a library rather than as a tourist attraction.