Monday, November 11, 2013

The Library of Birmingham

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!


Lynne said...

That is quite the library! What an interesting looking building. I have to admit that I leave little notes in library books when I return them. Mostly just whether or not I enjoyed the book or not. One particularly awful novel I only read just so far. My note on that one said "I stopped here--couldn't read any farther. Maybe you will continue on."

ain't for city gals said...

Ha! I might start leaving notes in books. Sometimes I get to a place where there is a turned down corner (from someone else) and I think uh-oh...this book must not be good. Usually I agree with the former reader. You made me laugh when you said you checked out the shelves and thought they were a bit disheveled...I used to wallpaper for a living and there was never a public bathroom that I did not check out the wallpaper for seams...

Ms. Moon said...

That is one hell of a library! It bothers me that the books had gotten out of order in some places. It drives me insane when this happens in our libraries. Sloppy shelving! The computerized card catalog says a book is on the shelves and then you can't find it. ARRRGGGHHHH!
I never leave notes in library books but I love finding other people's.

The Bug said...

It looks like a giant wedding cake! How cool!

I personally would be VERY distracted by noise in a library - but then again I like it mostly too quiet for most folks.

I forgot to send you the link to that library comic strip. This is the one from yesterday (they do archives of old strips on the weekend). I thought it was pretty funny:

Nancy said...

I bet the inside of that building is lovely, but the outside of it... it messes with my equilibrium, man. All of those circle screw with my head. I love finding not only notes in books, but also notes scribbled in the margin.

ellen abbott said...

Wow, amazing library. I like the idea of a library being a community center as well as a repository for books.

Wayne said...

My Grandad is from Birmingham and I LOVE that place. So much history and I never knew the library existed. Looks like it's worth the visit!

Steve Reed said...

Lynne: Your note idea is really interesting! I've never found a note like that in a library book. It IS a beautiful building.

Ain't: Yeah, I see those turned-down corners too, sometimes only pages from the end of the book! I hope they kept going and just forgot to turn the corner up again. :)

Ms Moon: Sloppy shelving makes me crazy. It is the bane of my existence.

Bug: Thanks for the link, I'll check it out! A little noise might bother you less than you think, depending on the context and what you're there for.

Nancy: Funny, I like the circles! Margin notes and underlining can be interesting, indeed.

Ellen: I like it too. I think it's probably the wave of the future -- library as multipurpose information center and gathering place.

Wayne: Definitely worth the visit! It's an amazing space.

utahDOG! said...

better not be YOUR note......