'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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New skills and roles

The library's operating models will be reconfigured, moving away from activity based silos to expertise being supported by cross-cutting customer support, facilities and technology support.  As well as an on-going requirement for specialists, there will be opportunities for library staff who can create content, coach, encourage and motivate others.  Staff will need to be commercially sensitive, customer focused and digitally capable.

For those leading such projects, other non-traditional skills are important.  Brian Gambles has found himself undertaking complex project management, contract management as well as fundraising, brokering sponsorship deals, PR, advocacy and community leadership and engagement.

Making the vision real - integrating the rhythm of the city

The architects and designers of the Library of Birmingham were asked to deliver a bold, creative, innovative and radical space.  It should be visually stunning and become a visitor attraction.  It should also be adaptable, flexible and sustainable.  People should be enticed inside and find the library accessible and welcoming.

Also speaking at the event, Francine Houben is the architect responsible for the Library of Birmingham.  Her firm has created library buildings around the world.  Every library and every city is different she told the audience, but there are some principles that apply to all of their work.  The buildings should be inspirational spaces that appeal to the senses. 

When she came to look at Birmingham, she spent time observing the city, taking photographs and attempting to understand its population.  She also familiarised herself with the existing industrial landscape and focused on creating a coherent design.  The design will take visitors though journeys and rotundas of books, taking them above and below ground.  New outdoor spaces will still be influenced by the library building and form a new social heart to the city.

The new library is scheduled to open in 2013.

Picture of Boulton, Watt and Murdoch taken by Val Skelton!

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