My work trip to the brand-new Library of Birmingham yesterday wound up being a lot of fun. It's certainly an impressive place -- the largest regional library in Europe, with landscaped outdoor terraces, ten levels, escalators, a scenic elevator, private meeting and studying rooms, an art gallery and all sorts of other amenities. (They have a few books, too.)
The train trip up there took about two hours, and fortunately, the weather cooperated and we had a sunny day to wander.
I mostly liked experiencing the building and watching all the people, both in the library itself and on the big open plaza out front.
I did a quick scan of the books, and to be honest some shelves seemed a bit disheveled -- things were out of order and moved around. I think they've had lots of people passing through and maybe they just haven't had a chance to tidy up again.
We saw an interesting art project, the "Library of Secrets," a special wood cabinet containing old books and slips of paper. Patrons were invited to write secrets on the paper and tuck the slips into the pages of the books. We saw some rather surprising results! The one above is not a particularly thoughtful example.
My coworkers and I blogged about our trip here. Did I take anything away that we could use in school? I'm not sure. I think the overall notion of a library as a multipurpose community space -- with a ping-pong table as well as studying and reading areas, for example -- might help us broaden our own definition of what our library should be: More community center, an acceptable degree of liveliness, less expectations of whispering-quiet. (It's interesting that I never noticed noise in the Birmingham library, even though plenty of people were talking and moving around -- but then, the space is so vast and people were much more dispersed than they are in our little school library.)
I didn't have a chance to do much exploring beyond the library. I'd hoped to look around town a bit, but after we'd been there three hours or so, we were all ready to get back on the train and come home. Another time!