How I disliked this sentence when I was younger because it usually meant that I had to prepare a paper for school or university (this was still pre-internet and later on the web wasn’t quite what it is today). Anyway, it meant I had to spend my precious free time in an unwelcoming, ugly building or room which smelled unpleasantly of dust, people and books. The rooms would be flooded in the the cold light of fluorescent tubes with almost no natural daylight, the books could be a bit shabby and the tables and chairs had seen better days. So I wasn’t looking forward to it and I’m a person who generally loves books.
So imagine my surprise when I realised that a library could actually be a tourist attraction. The particular library I’m talking about is the brand new ‘Library of Birmingham’ which opened its doors in September this year and has been described as the largest public library in the United Kingdom, the largest public cultural space in Europe and the largest regional library in Europe.
And what a space it is. Designed by internationally–acclaimed Dutch architects Mecanoo the library comprises 10 levels of varying size and usage including a spacious entrance and foyer with mezzanine, lower ground level with indoor terraces, four further public levels and two outdoor garden terraces and at the very top of the building a rotunda feature housing the Shakespeare Memorial Room. And apart from the stunning architecture the most surprising thing for me was the amount of people visiting the place. And not just tourists but locals and families with their children too. I had a lovely chat with a man while we were both taking pictures of the book rotunda. He: “You’re first time here?” Me: “Yes, it is.” “Mine too. A friend was here a couple of weeks ago and said I had to see it. So here I am.” You get the idea.
And as there is even a leaflet provided which has a self-guided ‘Building Highlights Trail’ in it to help you explore the library, my curiosity won over and off I went on my own little exploration.
Look from the lower ground floor up the stairs. They are a prominent feature of the building and almost look like they belong to a Stanley Kubrick movie set…
… the blue illumination makes it look futuristic.
The Book Rotunda is the heart of the Library and houses tens of thousands of books – apart from the fact that its balconies give further interesting views through the building.
The Discovery Terrace on level 3 is an outdoor garden with good views across the city and a lot of seats to relax or read a book.
Next stop – the Secret Garden on the 7th floor. You can get there in style by rising through the upper part of the central rotunda using the scenic glass lift. Or, if you are like me and don’t like queues, climb the stairs. It’s ‘only’ 90 steps and you will be rewarded with even better views and a more secluded feel.
And finally – after some more steps or another lift ride – the Shakespeare Memorial Room and the Skyline Viewpoint on level 9. The Shakespeare Memorial Room is an original feature from the city’s Victorian library and was designed in 1882. Since then it has moved home twice and houses some interesting items from the Library’s general collections related to Shakespeare. The full Shakespeare collection outgrew the room as early as 1906. And after marvelling at the exhibitions and the fantastic wood panels and ceiling of the room, take time to enjoy the views from the Skyline Viewpoint 51 metres above street level. The indoor viewpoint provides a digital telescope for information about the landmarks you can see.
So even if books might not be your thing, make sure to visit the library next time you are in Birmingham. It’s worthwhile the time and might change your opinion of libraries as it did mine.