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.
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.
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.
‘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.
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.
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.