Library of Birmingham reflects on a successful first year

Ahead of first birthday celebrations marked by a special event on 30 September, the Library of Birmingham has been counting its many achievements since opening in September 2013.

The Library is fulfilling its promise to raise the city’s profile as a visitor destination, contributing to a record number of visitors to the city this year. Guests on TripAdvisor rate the Library of Birmingham four and half stars, earning the Library a 2014 Certificate of Excellence for consistently receiving outstanding feedback from TripAdvisor travellers. Other accolades include being named as one of the 5 Amazing Libraries You Must Visit by HuffPost Travel. The Library has so far welcomed 2.7 million visitors (double the annual figure at the old Central Library), including local people and visitors from all over the world.

The number of people joining the Library has increased significantly, with a 140% increase in joining at the city centre library since the Library of Birmingham opened 12 months ago. Roughly a quarter of a million members now list the Library of Birmingham as the main library they use (there are over 800,000 library members across the city in total). On average, members are booking 21,000 sessions on the Library of Birmingham’s public computers every month and nearly 5,000 people are logging onto the free wifi.

Members have also borrowed over 316,000 books, music, films and other items from the Library of Birmingham in the past year (up nearly 100% from 2011/12) and renewed borrowed items nearly 54,000 times.

In July, the Library of Birmingham launched its Business and Intellectual Property Centre, in partnership with the British Library, one of only 6 in the UK. It is the only place in the Midlands offering a complete business and IP advice service, strengthening further the Library’s support for the local economy. Latest figures (April to June 2014) indicate a 64% increase in people receiving one-to-one specialist business advice at the Library and nearly 600 people used the Library’s unique business resources to help them start or grow their own business over the three months. Demand for the Library’s support with CV writing and job search is strong, with over 1,500 people taking advantage of the free help available, including work clubs, in the same period.

The events and exhibitions programme at the Library of Birmingham has also proved very popular. Events during the Arts Council funded Discovery Season last autumn to celebrate the opening attracted nearly 9,000 people, with a further 32,000 people attending events at the Library of Birmingham over the spring and summer 2014. In total, since opening, there have been over 400 events and 32 exhibitions at the Library of Birmingham, ranging from best-selling writers, live poetry sessions, lunchtime lectures and exclusive viewings of treasures from the archives, to silent movie screenings with live piano accompaniment in the Studio theatre and star-gazing, Morris dancing, a Singles Night and jazz performances on the garden terraces.

For autumn 2014, the Voices Season features a major new exhibition, Voices of War: Birmingham People 1914-19, which opens on 29 September; an evening with Malala Yousafzai, who returns to the Library of Birmingham a year on from opening it to talk about her new book (14 September); and a full programme of children’s activities during October half term, many of them free. Full details are available online at libraryofbirmingham.com/voicesseason.

The new website, libraryofbirmingham.com, which launched ahead of opening in spring 2013, has also been a big hit, registering nearly 3 million page views up to the end of July 2014.

Recognition of the Library as a stunning addition to the Birmingham skyline has come in the shape of numerous industry awards. Adding to the 11 awards for excellence during construction, the Library of Birmingham has this year won a further clutch of awards including:
• Construction News Awards 2014 - Project of the Year
• Constructing Excellence Awards 2014 (West Midlands) – Project of the Year
• Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (West Midlands) Awards 2014 - Design Innovation award and Project of the Year, progressing to the national awards later this year.
• Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) regional awards 2014 – winning in three categories including Building of the Year, and going forward to the national awards.

The Library of Birmingham has also been shortlisted for the most prestigious prize in architecture, the RIBA Stirling prize, with the winner set to be announced on 16 October 2014.

Brian Gambles, Director of the Library of Birmingham said,

It has been an amazing first year for the Library of Birmingham. The hugely positive public reaction to the building, its facilities, our services and our events and exhibition programme, demonstrates the important role the Library plays in the social, cultural and economic life of the city. It is particularly pleasing to see the increase in library membership across the city, and the number of people benefitting from our free services to support learning, entrepreneurship and business growth. The Library of Birmingham is fulfilling its promise to transform the city, transform libraries and transform people’s lives.

On 30 September the Library of Birmingham hosts a special public celebration of books, the joy of reading and its first birthday. Word Up! will be a day of activities, performances, music, poetry and reading-related fun for all ages. Highlights include an evening with best-selling writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah in conversation with Steve Camden (aka Polarbear).

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