The Library of the Future: “All about books. All about learning.”

Birmingham has introduced a brand new £189m library in Centenary Square and been deemed ‘a people’s palace’ by its architects. Gone are the days of the old creaking floors and slightly dusty shelves of an old, traditional library, it seems.

Picture by Charlie Bibby

Picture by Charlie Bibby

The new eco-friendly design has been built in a way to depict Birmingham’s industrial revolution of earlier years, whilst also keeping to a futurist and modern theme.

The BBC has posted a video tour of the new building on their website. Brian Gambles, Director of the library, emphasised the fact that the new library is a “fusion of digital and physical is essential to the vision of the library”. The interactive technology, including more than 200 public access computers where the public can interact with the various collections, and 20 large-scale multimedia walls means that the public can “engage with new collections in new and different ways”.

Certainly the theme of interaction is also enhanced with the library’s ‘Discovery Pavillion’, which includes 18 week programmes of ‘creative residencies’ where new library users can experience creative practices such as bookbinding and animation. In addition to this are specific pieces in the library which are part of the Pavillion where certain collections and spaces are highlighted to the public.

Surely, this new library stands at the  forefront of the future for libraries? It will be interesting to see what happens to our libraries following this change. However, there is speculation from The Library Campaign that by 2016, 1000 libraries will be closed. The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy has stated that 349 libraries have closed down since 2009. With the proposed local government budget cuts in 2015/16, it is therefore thought that an additional 340 libraries will close (Figures taken from The Guardian). While the new opening is great for the public in and around Birmingham, what about the rest of the country? It can be assumed that the majority of major cities and towns across the UK will have access to a good library facility, however, it is the smaller communities across the country which may suffer if their local library is closed.

Although the new library emphasises its connection with digital – encouraging users to discover and interact on a new scale – it is clear that the printed book is still at the heart of its development. 350,000 books are available to the public, 43,000 of which are situated in the Shakespeare Memorial Room. The room, originally built in 1882, was taken apart from the old building and rebuilt piece-by-piece into the new development. I like the thought that physical books are still the focus of developments like this. It shows that even though the book industry is undergoing momentous change, the familiar and the traditional is not forgotten; almost as if the industry is keen to hold on to its origins (something which I highly agree with).

Although, at its core, the library is fundamentally grounded in enhancing the printed book, the building’s modern appearance and facilities has deemed it a ‘super library‘, joining international libraries across the globe, including the Seattle Central Library (USA), Biblioteca Vasconcelos (Mexico), Kanazawa Umimirai (Japan) and, Spijkenisse Book Mountain (Netherlands).

From what I gather, the reaction to Birmingham’s new ‘super library’ has been positive. It bodes well for the future of books across all aspects of the industry. I feel that as long as the industry as a whole continues to grow almost as a hybrid model (embracing digital, yet not forgetting its physical roots), then the industry will continue to flourish.

About ambergunn

English Language and Literature graduate and MA Publishing graduate from Anglia Ruskin University. Production Editor at a STM journal publisher in London. Tea lover, bookworm and metaphor appreciator. View all posts by ambergunn

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