The Library of Birmingham
The £188.8 million Library of Birmingham is now open!
Located in Birmingham’s Centenary Square, the Library is expected to attract over three million visitors a year, with many more visiting online, it is holding a four month Discovery Season of events, displays and activities to mark its opening.
Designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo, the Library has transformed the city’s library services and become a major cultural destination, housing Birmingham’s world-class collections of archives, photography and rare books as well as a million printed volumes, the largest number held by any public library in the UK. Of these, over 400,000 books are available on the Library’s public floors.
With outstanding resources and access to expert help, the Library is a centre of excellence for literacy, research, study, skills development, health information, creative expression and entrepreneurship.
At 31,000 sq. metres it is around 20% larger than the old Central Library building and is the largest public library in Europe.
The Library of Birmingham is a flagship project of Birmingham City Council’s 20-year Big City Plan, focusing on the regeneration of the city and the most far-reaching city centre development project ever undertaken in the UK.
The ten-level Library shares a spacious entrance and foyer as well as a flexible studio theatre seating 300 people with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Sited in Centenary Square it, along with The REP and Symphony Hall, forms a new cultural heart for the city.
An outdoor Amphitheatre, surrounded by wild flower planting, in Centenary Square provides a performance space for music, drama, poetry reading and storytelling.
There are two outdoor garden terraces, children’s spaces and a panoramic viewing gallery at the summit, where visitors are able to enjoy stunning views from one of the highest points in the city.
The Golden Box
A ‘golden box’ of secure archive storage occupies levels five and six of the building and contains the city’s internationally important archive, heritage and photographic collections. Whilst the Library’s precious collections are kept safe in this protective environment, thanks to an ongoing programme of digitisation they have been opened up to the public online and through digital innovations projects using new technology.
A new gallery enables select parts of the collection to go on display through a programme of exhibitions. The Library contains one of the world’s largest Shakespeare collections, the Parker Collection of Children’s Books and Games, the Early and Fine Printing Collection and the Boulton and Watt archive.
Shakespeare Memorial Room
Above the golden box, visitors can explore the Shakespeare Memorial Room, an original feature from the city’s Victorian library. The Victorian room with its wooden panelling and glass cabinets has been moved in its entirety and painstakingly restored. Although the Library’s Shakespeare collection outgrew the room in the early 20th century, the collection is still housed in the Library.
Photography & film
The Library of Birmingham’s Photography Collection is one of nine national collections. Recent additions including the Val Williams archive, work from the renowned photographic cooperative, Magnum Photos, and three major exhibitions from internationally-acclaimed photographer, Brian Griffin, who has a substantial collection held by the Library of Birmingham. The Library’s photography hub GRAIN is already researching, developing and delivering new, ambitious high quality opportunities, strengthening photography in the region. GRAIN has also collaborated with the FORMAT International Photography Festival to offer a new Library of Birmingham photography prize.
The Library of Birmingham is also home to a BFI Mediatheque, providing free access to the BFI National Archive. Visitors are able to log on at a viewing station and enjoy highlights of the national film collection including a specially curated selection of films and television featuring Birmingham and the West Midlands, from a university procession captured by Mitchell & Kenyon in 1901 to Julie Walters playing the title role in an account of an West Midlands icon, The Mary Whitehouse Story (2008).
Discovery Season, 3 September until 31 December
Curated by Capsule and supported by Arts Council England, the Library of Birmingham Discovery Season runs from 3 September until 31 December. Bringing the Library’s stunning new spaces to life, it has taken its inspiration from the Library’s internationally important archives and special collections, with events, performances, photography, workshops, music and dance for every age and interest.
Australian producers Super Critical Mass will create a large-scale dramatic spectacle to mark the opening of the new library. Around two hundred brass players of all ages, from professional to amateur musicians will fill the air with sound throughout the building.
View the interactive brochure here...
Highlights of the Discovery Season include ‘The Pavilion’, a specially commissioned cabinet of curiosities created by multi-award-winning artist Morag Myerscough, a weekend of cabaret and cinema to celebrate Birmingham’s long and colourful association with Early Cinema, and a trail of artworks situated across the building, each making reference to the library’s rich collections and archives.
High profile writers including Lionel Shriver and Carol Ann Duffy will appear at the Birmingham Literature Festival in October, programmed by Writing West Midlands.
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