Library of Birmingham: Official opening of £189m building

Library roof gardens The new library features a rooftop garden and panoramic views of the city

Related Stories

Birmingham's new central library has opened at a cost of £189m. But in an era of spending cuts and library closures across the country, is such an outlay justifiable?

The new building - complete with an amphitheatre, gardens and hundreds of thousands of books - has opened its doors to thousands of excited visitors.

But Margaret Bailey, of Brent, north-west London, said she would not be sharing in the enjoyment.

She has seen six of her 12 local libraries close since 2011 due to spending cuts and said she was angry so much money had been spent on just one.

"We are told you can't keep libraries open because of the cuts forced by central government and yet Birmingham finds £200m for this," she said.

"If staff are being cut and services being reduced I would not want £200m spent on one library. It makes a bit of a nonsense of them saying there is no money."

'Financial crisis'

Birmingham is not the first city to spend millions on its library - Liverpool's central library opened earlier this year after a £50m facelift - but this project has cost more than three times as much as any other in the UK.

So-called "super libraries" have been springing up across the UK while smaller branches are facing closures and cuts as councils try to save cash.

Book rotunda 2 The library will hold one million books including a copy of Shakespeare's First Folio

A £24m library in Newcastle opened in 2009 but the council has said it plans to close 10 smaller branches. In Liverpool, despite the big spend on its central library, four branch libraries have shut and others have reduced opening hours.

The number of libraries in the UK fell by 347 overall to 4,265 in 2011/2012.

Birmingham has made cuts to its library service too. Last year the number of full-time staff fell from 260 to 161 and opening hours were reduced by a combined 139 hours a week.

Borrowed cash

The library's director Brian Gambles said they had been fortunate the plans for the central library were approved just before the economic downturn struck.

"We got authority from cabinet to proceed with this project with that budget in October 2007," he said.

"If we had been a year later, I don't think they would have approved it. I think we would have been right at the outset of the financial crisis."

Most of the funding has come from borrowing with a small amount from donations. The council has also raised some cash by selling land. Mr Gambles said the spending was justified.

Benjamin Zephaniah Benjamin Zephaniah believes the new library is "something to be proud of"

"Even in the middle of a financial crisis, if the private sector investment essentially dries up, the thing that keeps the economy going is public sector infrastructure projects," he said.

However, the fate of the smaller libraries is a concern to award-winning writer Andrew Davies, who scripted the BBC television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

"One thinks they could have kept a lot of local libraries open [rather than spending money on one project]," he said. "I do think there needs to be some super libraries that you can go into with confidence and get absolutely anything.

"But I got so much from my little library in south Wales when I was a teenager. They mean a lot to communities. It would be a shame if they disappeared."

The new central library has a staunch defender, however, in one of Birmingham's most famous sons - the poet Benjamin Zephaniah.

"I think it's something we should be proud of," he said. "It will be an attraction that will draw people to Birmingham. It's an investment for the future. It will only add to what is already in the city centre.

"I don't know if the council is right to spend that kind of money. You can't have it bigger without spending more.

"The whole idea of libraries is changing. But there will be no one model. A city like Birmingham will need different libraries to smaller towns.

"The thing about smaller libraries is the workers have real knowledge about the items on the shelves. My only fear is that the big libraries are too big for the staff to know the books."


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 365.

    For perspective it's about the same cost as 6.3 miles of motorway and a damn sight more useful.

  • rate this

    Comment number 364.

    The fuss over the new Birmingham Central Library is window dressing whilst serious problems get ignored. What used to be Birmingham's second largest library (in Sutton Coldfield) has been reduced to a shadow of its former self due council incompetence and an unwillingness to spend money, and is only open now due to legal action.
    The new library looks like on old mattress that has lost its cover.

  • rate this

    Comment number 363.

    I cannot believe someone who lives in London is complaining about birminghams fantastic new library.The project came in on time and under budget something you can hand on heart say never happens in the capital,remember wembly,the British library millennium dome,olympics.In these days when a footballer can be sold for 85million and a work of art 100million I think 180million is worth every penny.

  • rate this

    Comment number 362.


    I'd rather live in Birmingham than any other city I've had to endure.

  • rate this

    Comment number 361.

    Congrats to Brum on your splendid new library. A major bonus is that this now enables the demolition of the hideous 1970s-built Birmingham Central Library, the worst of many brutalist concrete monstrosities that for too long have scarred and spoiled what could otherwise be a charming and attractive city centre.

  • rate this

    Comment number 360.

    It's always worth building a library, and a place like Birmingham needs one! Glad not all the big investments are just in London! Only downside is that it looks hideous and I bet half that money was spent on whoever designed it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 359.

    As I'm sure other commenters have pointed out, comparing a central library with a branch library doesn't quite work. Central libraries hold collections of local documents, sometimes drama libraries of scripts for local drama groups, map collections and rare volumes concerning local history. Oh - and if this were in London no one would bat an eyelid - except the rest of the country

  • rate this

    Comment number 358.

    At least we can see what they wasted this £189,000,000 on...unlike so many government schemes.
    The worse thing is, by the standards of wasting money, this doesn't even come close to the top of the list.

  • Comment number 357.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 356.

    More cuts coming next year and projected to be even more after the next Election (whoever wins) how many services will suffer to ensure this Flagship project is kept open and running?

    How many vulnerable children suffer due to lack of funding?
    How many vulnerable adults?

    How many Baby P's and Victoria Climbe's will die to keep it open?

    Priorities are people not books

  • rate this

    Comment number 355.

    £189m ?
    Outrageous - could get a couple of footballers for that !!

  • rate this

    Comment number 354.

    £189 million is a heck of a lot of money for such an ugly building. Why is it beyond modern architects to create something that is pleasing on the eye? What a missed opportunity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 353.

    I am all for libraries. However with recent reports suggesting that many children leave school unable to read and write, especially high numbers of children in inner cities. Who will visit this magnificent building in say 20 years when the older people are gone?

  • rate this

    Comment number 352.

    What we need to remember is that the decision to build this large library was taken a long time ago, before any thoughts of a recession was made. Also there needs to be quality cultural venues built other than London, if the an equalizing effect is seen and felt by the country. But when they spend this much on storing books, then you know the end is near for the printed word.

  • rate this

    Comment number 351.

    Too little is spent on educational projects, in this country.

    Compared to the expected cost of HS2, this is a drop in the proverbial ocean. In latter years, we have fallen well behind the rest of the world's developed nations in educational standards, yet successive governments have conned the electorate, that standards are actually rising .

    Go for it, Birmingham - build a great library!

  • rate this

    Comment number 350.

    Libraries are great, however you don't need this over the top nonsense just a nice selection of books and internet access.

  • rate this

    Comment number 349.

    @348 and that's a good thing as far as I'm concerened.

  • Comment number 348.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 347.

    Roughly the same as one footballer's (another HYS topic today) salary over the next 12 years - I know what I consider to be the better investment (at least libraries serve a purpose!)

  • rate this

    Comment number 346.

    I like the new library from an architectural point of view (despite many local people hating it), although I think the price tag is a bit on the high side.

    I can understand the need for a big library like this at the heart of our second city, but on a more local level, library's are one of the local government services that councils desperately need to sell off and privatise.


Page 1 of 19


BBC Birmingham & Black Country



7 °C 6 °C


Copyright © 2015 BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.