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Inside the New Birmingham Library

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by Tammy Facey (subscribe)
Read. Write. Run.
Published September 17th 2013
You can't miss it. Birmingham's new, and Europe's largest, library is somewhat of an eye sore.

Birmingham Library, Library of Birmingham
Library of Birmingham

There has been a lot of press and interest about the aesthetics and how it looks on the outside, but what about inside? Are there books available that I can't find elsewhere? Textbooks, reference books, travel and guide books, as well as the lose-yourself fiction books, which we all love to escape with.

Seeing as the new library is within walking distance of my work place, and about a 15 minute drive from my home, the city centre location is pretty handy, and like I said, it's easy to spot.

Walking through Paradise Forum I pondered how different the new library could be. Surely it's a mere lending service, with a catalogue of books/films, etc to borrow? Oh how wrong I could have been. The new library takes its title seriously, and turns lending into a whole new ball game.

Library of Birmingham, Birmingham Library
Inside Birmingham Library

I love books. Love them. Choosing to study English Literature at college, then completing my degree in English Literature at university, my love affair with the written word has truly blossomed since my teens. You'd think I spent a lot of time in libraries, but I find them stuffy, musty buildings with a distinct lack of drinks and confectionery - key for reading I believe.

With my strong beliefs (because who can focus on a few words when you're hungry?) I strolled into the new library, expectations high.

I read a review of the inside of the new library, but I wanted to know about the gritty stuff. Is it really much of an improvement? How easy would my nan find it? Are there dedicated study spots, and is there an area for children?

The library itself is a large building, with plenty going on to entertain all ages. On the lower ground floor it's children's central. A large, brightly-coloured yellow space is designated for all things kids. Parents can sit and read with their children and enjoy bonding time over books, even if your toddlers crawl away. It's a safe environment with 'squashy' floor in parts, too.

Birmingham Library, kids area
Children's area

In terms of service I was very disappointed. At the information desk when you first walk in, I was told that I couldn't register via a person but had to use their interactive touch-screen 'information' points. I ended up having to go to another information desk because when I attempted to register using the touch-screens my details were recognised but not 'authorised' because I was a member of the old library. I was issued a new card (1) at the desk, and thankfully, allowed to get lost in the reels and reels of literature.

I couldn't find the Shakespeare centre nor a Fitzgerald novel so I asked for help, but the librarian said he simply didn't know where anything was. He took me to the incorrect floor twice. I ended up finding the sections I needed myself. Use the touch-screens because some members of staff truly do not know where books are, reference or otherwise.

So, how easy was it to lend a book? Easy as pie. The library uses the Library of Congress Classification system, which is used across the world, starting from '0001' to '9999', which is handy if you've used a library before. I found the organisation system great because it was categorised in the same way as my university library. If you're struggling however, the genres are sub-categorised by surname once you have found the section you need, making it a bit easier to find what you're looking for.

Birmingham Library, Library of Birmingham
Sociology books

The opening hours are pretty fantastic. If you're in work at 9am but want to grab a book before you get there, you can. Open from 8am Monday- Friday, it's really quite handy. Closing times aren't too bad either.

I was surprised, however, by the food and drink. The prices are extortionate considering it's a public library, meant for the people. Serving 'deli' sandwiches, muffins, slices, and hot and cold drinks, it was a bit of an ask to charge 2.99 for a slice of coconut cake, when most of the visitors are expecting a money-free experience.

Birmingham Library, cafe, cakes, muffins, Library of Birmingham
Muffins and cakes

It makes me a little bit angry because students will use the library because they need the books for assignments. Studying for long periods at a time is trying enough, but having to part with 3.00 for a slice of cake is bordering on the ridiculous.

Sandwiches start from 4.69, which again I think is a rip off when parents will be visiting with their children, and of course kids see cake, want it, and when you've three mouths to feed, you can end up spending 20 on food and drinks for your little ones. The food and drink is a bit of a cop-out considering the library is an admission-free, 'all-welcome' kind of place.

Birmingham Library, cafe, sandwiches, Library of Birmingham

That said, it does serve the community by offering a large number of books for reference and lending. You can also bring your own food and eat it in the library, in designated areas (floors one and three), and of course you're more than welcome to eat whatever you like on the outdoor terrace on floor three, as well as smoke outside the library on the ground floor outdoor seating (not that I condone it).

All in all, it's not bad. Aesthetically pleasing, spacious, and of course free. It does the job, but I wasn't bowled over by the service. The fact that I can sit in the library from 8am for twelve hours in silence on the provided plump red chairs, however, does have its appeal. I know where I'll be on the weekend, sipping from a mug of tea I've brought from home of course.
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Why? To indulge in books, of course
When: Monday - Friday 8:00 am 8:00 pm, Saturday 9:00 am - 5:00 pm, Sunday 11:00 am - 4:00 pm
Phone: 0121 242 4242
Where: Between the ICC and Paradise Forum
Cost: Free
Your Comment
Hopefully the staff's knowledge will improve after a while.
by Bastion Harrison (score: 4|12626) 3203 days ago
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