The Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham

It’s not often that you walk through the centre of Birmingham and overhear families and friends greeting each other asking: ‘Are you going to the library?’ In fact I am sure that is not a phrase often heard anywhere in modern Britain. Perhaps the new £189m, nine-story Library of Birmingham will change this.

Sixteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai gave an inspirational talk at the opening of the library on Tuesday 3rd September, urging the public to remember and speak out for the 57 million children around the world that do not have an education. Her speech was followed by a performance by dhol drummers and a big queue to enter the building.

Looking down on the children's area

Looking down on part of the children’s area

Once inside, the emphasis on learning is evident. With a vast children’s section including a soft-play-type area for children to read comfortably, the library provides a fun and relaxed space to engage with books, far from old notions of a library being a silent, somewhat stagnant place.

'A Midsummer Night's Dream', Su Blackwell

‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Su Blackwell

What makes the venue stand out for me is that it is more like an arts centre than a library. Interspersed with gardens, cafés, an art gallery, music practice rooms, an amphitheatre, lecture rooms, artworks, a BFI Mediatheque and so much more, the space looks set to cater to a whole range of people and tastes.

The Rotunda

The Rotunda

‘Amazing’ was a word that echoed throughout the building: never before have I seen or felt such excitement for a library. The beautifully designed rotunda gives the interior a prestigious feel and on the opening day, it was lined with volunteer brass players who presented Together We Breathe’, a piece by Super Critical Mass.

A view down to the amphitheatre from one of the terraces

A view down to the amphitheatre from one of the terraces

What I realised as I was walking around the beautiful building is that people are not just excited about a new library. We are excited about what this structure symbolises. It shows investment in Birmingham, despite the financial crisis. It shows that the public are cared and provided for by their city and that Birmingham is in fact a place that is growing and alive. Indeed as Malala stated in her speech, a city without a library is like a graveyard.

Library interior

Library interior

My only hope is that the library continues to excite and amaze and that it truly becomes a place where a diverse community can learn and enjoy the arts together.

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‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’ at the British Library

Inside the British Library

Inside the British Library

Sincere or deceptive, shocking or amusing.

The British Library’s extensive and thorough exhibition, Propaganda: Power and Persuasion focuses on different definitions of propaganda and seeks to distance the viewer from the often negative connotations associated with the word.

'This poster, titled 'Freedom American-Style' subverts the traditional symbolism of the Statue of Liberty, by B. Prorokov.' (Photograph of exhibition postcard)

‘This poster, titled ‘Freedom American-Style’ subverts the traditional symbolism of the Statue of Liberty, by B. Prorokov.’ (Photograph of exhibition postcard)

It starts with early forms of propaganda, explaining the way in which the Romans used pictures on coins to reach the illiterate public. The exhibition explains how authorities have continued to manipulate the arts, using currency, monuments, national anthems, comic books and even board games to reach the masses.

A hugely comprehensive and information-heavy exhibition, I would advise allowing a good few hours at the British Library if you want to see everything in detail!

South African board game. Picture of postcard

South African board game. (Photograph of exhibition postcard)

Films

The exhibition offers thorough contextual information that is vital to understanding propaganda which is often carefully tailored to best suit specific cultures, societies and eras. While there is a lot to read, present-day academics and media people have also been filmed talking about various aspects of propaganda. Clips of these films are shown throughout the exhibition.

I also particularly enjoyed some short black and white films from the World Wars that were almost like black comedy in their satire of enemy nations. One film ridiculing Hitler used video footage of Nazi marches and salutes. The footage was cut up, sped up, slowed down, mashed together and put to comical music in an attempt to undermine the enemy.

Wartime

Another highlight was an audio clip from a 1941 radio show in which two women discuss saving money at Christmas by serving mutton instead of turkey. The comical episode follows their discussion as they discuss ways of eating mutton as turkey and decide to name it ‘murkey’.

Health

Health propaganda poster (Photo of exhibition postcard)

Health propaganda poster (Photo of exhibition postcard)

The exhibition also showed the ways in which propaganda is used by the state for other issues such as health. A series of screens displayed the BFI collection of public health films. Some used shock tactics, while others were funny. I wonder which method is found to be most effective.

Today

The last section of the exhibition asks the visitor to reflect on who the propagandists are today: the state or the media? The last exhibit is an entire wall taken up with the projections of a live twitter debate on #BLPROPAGANDA

Beautifully ironic poster for 'Propaganda: Power and Persuasion'

Beautifully ironic poster for ‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’

This blog post has only vaguely touched on the absolutely huge content of ‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’. It is a fascinating exhibition for anyone, particularly in the way it encourages deeper thoughts about what is pulling and pushing us today.

‘Propaganda: Power and Persuasion’ is only on for a few more weeks until 17th September. Catch it while you can!