A library or not a library?


On Tuesday this week, the new library in Birmingham, said to be the biggest public library in Europe, opened its doors. It’s big, new, digital as well as traditional, and holds some fantastic literary artefacts, such as Shakespeare’s First Folio. It highlights the ongoing debate on the changing nature of libraries, as so many of them are facing cuts or closing altogether in this economic climate – as some question why so much public money should be invested in a concept that is “dying out” in this “digital age” – this venture is looking to prove that just because something is labelled a library does not mean it must stick to some kind of rigid set of criteria of what a “library” means. As the project Director Brian Gambles is quoted in this article:

“We had a long debate about whether to call this a ‘library’ or not… the whole idea of the ‘library’ concept needs reinventing. We have had to change according to technology and what people need. The business model of books and information doesn’t add up any more, this is really a knowledge hub – not that we wanted to call it that. I make no apology for creating a space that has culture and learning at its heart.” 

Library interior          

Some of the public comments on this article are interesting, as are the ones from local people in this follow up article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-birmingham-23814424

I came across another interesting article in the Guardian which I just had to read after seeing the by-line: Politicians have realised that they get more bang for their buck if they spend money on libraries rather than museum and gallery projects. On the notion that “many planners believed that only iconic museum buildings designed by star architects could rescue failing cities from oblivion,” Ken Warpole claims that “It is almost impossible for public libraries to fail in this way.” I’m not sure I agree with this, and I’m also not sure I have quite worked out what kind of role the library, especially one like this, now plays in community life. Makes for interesting reading…



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