'Rewriting the book' - public libraries for a new age

Europe's largest public library development project is taking shape in Birmingham in the UK.

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Cultural participation

The city of Birmingham is building a new library for the 21st century.  The building is taking shape at the very heart of the city's 'cultural quarter', linking up with its neighbour (the Repertory Theatre) to create new public spaces and opportunities for cultural and creative participation.

The project is the largest public library development in Europe.  There are plans to cater for four million visitors per annum (that's over 10,000 people a day passing through the library space). 

Brian Gambles is the Chief Executive of the Library of Birmingham Development Trust.  Speaking at the OCLC EMEA Meeting held in Birmingham, he described how the development acknowledges the pivotal role that a library can play when it is placed at the very heart of an urban regeneration initiative. 

Rethinking the library experience

The creation of a new library provides the opportunity to fundamentally rethink what a library is for and to consider how it will fulfil its new roles and functions.  The vision for Birmingham's new library is that it should be inspirational, inclusive and innovative.  It should celebrate culture learning and creativity.  In order to achieve this, there must be a change in mindset - away from 'service offerings' to the creation of a 'library experience'.  The strategy will look to new partnerships and seek to work with them to enhance the library offerings.  Three 'knowledge threads' run through this strategy:

  • Discovery
  • Reading
  • Learning

underpinned by four core principles:

  • Access
  • Choice
  • Collaboration
  • Enterprise

For Gambles, the library is an agent for the democratisation of knowledge.  The new mindset will take the library service away from a transactional model, dealing in the commodities of books and information.   The library will have a major role to play in helping with economic and social deficits.  It is a conscious acknowledgement that libraries have a role to play in the knowledge - and empowerment - economy. 

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