Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The cycle of life of the Birmingham Library ...



One of my trips in the summer was to see the new Birmingham Library … it had been much vaunted … and as my goddaughter was in the city at University I needed to make the trip.  Well talk about waiting til the last minute – she was packing to leave … having successfully finished her degree.


The new library
Her mother and I went up to the house, gulped at the packing scenario, and left to see the Library, have a lunch and relax and just forget the student’s boxes, bags, hamster bits (yes hamster I did say!), CDs, books, book case … and go and enjoy ourselves … before we ‘stuffed’ things into the car to get home!



The facade

I posted about Libraries old and new in early 2012 andmentioned the Birmingham Library then.  It’s had a chequered history … there is no change now … it even has three separate entries in Wikipedia.




The first Birmingham Library was founded between 1635 and 1642; a letter to Viscount Conway surviving in the state papers of Charles I refers to the fact there is no catalogue of the books available … this would be rectified "that the first catalogue is delivered to yr L'rp".


Looking down through the aluminium
circles which brings the whole design
together, including the interior and
play area as here


Unfortunately as the Library had puritan origins … its collection was dispersed after The Restoration of the English Monarchy in 1660.




A library had been due to be incorporated into the Birmingham and Midland Institute, but under the 1850 Public Libraries Act the municipality had to be involved.




The Lending Library was opened in 1865, with the Reference Library being opened a year later; initial use of the library was so heavy that the need for an extension was agreed and started in 1878. 


The destructive fire of 1879

However a fire broke out in January 1879 behind wooden partitioning and only 1,000 volumes were saved from a stock of 50,000.





The Clerestoried Reading Room
Demand was obviously so great that plans to rebuild the library were approved in 1879, with the library being built in the Lombardic Renaissance style with a tall clerestoried Reading Room.  This second Central Library opened in June 1882.



The display case letting us know about the fire, and telling
us how generous the public were in donating to the
Collection - as only 500 volumes had been saved


John Chamberlain, the architect, had his Shakespeare Memorial Library included into the 1882 library; the room was in an Elizabethan style with carvings, marquetry and metalwork representing birds, flowers and foliage: was highly praised.







By 1938, the Council resolved that a new library was ‘an urgent necessity’ – but the War intervened and it was not until 1960 that the project was looked at anew.  The government ruled that the Shakespeare Memorial Room be preserved.


From Chamberlain Square looking
towards Madin's 'brutalist' style library

This next Central Library was opened in 1974, designed by John Madin, a Birmingham-based architect.  Its inverted ziggurat form is a powerful example of the Brutalist style – it was one of Birmingham’s key Modernist buildings.



The brutalist Central Library of 1974
Brutalist architecture – what a term … but what does it mean: it became popular with governmental and institutional clients from about 1950s to the mid 1970s.  Examples are typically massive in character, fortress-like, with a predominance of exposed concrete construction, or in the case of “brick brutalists”, ruggedly combining detailed brickwork and concrete.  The Madin design does comply … doesn’t it?



Then in 1999 as in my Canterbury Cathedral post … a small piece of concrete fell from a cladding panel … highlighting the need to be concerned over the state of the building.


Frankly, are these tower blocks of flats any better -
I guess they provide housing ... which we are very short of
- I took this from the roof garden

Should it go - - or should it stay and be preserved … the area was being comprehensively redeveloped, as too the main railway stations – eventually the battle was lost and another Birmingham Library went to dust.





I was so keen to see the latest library and its architecture … it had been so hyped up and god-daughter and boyfriend love it and were going to show me around – by the time I got there … the chap was working in another city.  Still we had a good look round, probably needed longer, we went to the roof area and looked out over the city-scape.


One wall of the Shakespeare Memorial Room -
this was special




The best part was the Shakespeare Memorial Room at the top of Library … amazing woodwork and panelling in the Elizabethan style.





I was unimpressed by various parts of the building and the disinterest by some of the staff … and now see that I am not alone … as expressed here in the Guardian article.


The attention to detail was good - it
was the whole that was suffering
It seems incredible that in the space of a couple of years – yes 2 years – it’s got to this sorry state … asking for books, job losses –  which means more work for others … then they’re grumpy … yes there’s politics … it is a sad state of affairs. 


Where to … I do not know … but I am off for lunch with god-daughter and my mate … we are off to visit a Victorian professor of Botany … sadly you can’t join us … but you can experience the visit in my next post …


Here's the Guardian article on the Dutch architectural practice Mecanoo, who co-ordinated the whole project - perhaps too many cooks spoiling the broth ... or perhaps Birmingham Council, or a sign of the economic times ... 



Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories

44 comments:

Elephant's Child said...

How incredibly sad.
Libraries are very dear to my bookaholic self, and this one has been through a lot in its various incarnations.
I do hope that it can rise (again) from the ashes.
Have fun in the west country.

Valerie-Jael said...

Great report, and what a sad fate the library had. Valerie

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ EC - thanks for the comment - it is sad and to encounter some of the disgruntlement was frustrating to say the least. Actually forgot to take out the West Country bit - that's next week ... I swung posts around - you'll see why next Tuesday!

@ Val - I was interested in the history .. but so sad to see its decline in literally a few years.

Thanks for visiting .. cheers Hilary

Denise Covey said...

I love old things Hilary and so sad what fire can do to old buildings. But the new library looks absolutely awesome! Every little detail taken care of.

Nilanjana Bose said...

Not a happy situation...always feels sad when something old is scrapped, why replace and not restore? Especially when there is so much history involved...

Have to admit though that the new building is fabulous, the aluminium circles look seriously neat.

Out on the prairie said...

I use public libraries quite a bit. I have been on the board of two while they went into extensive rebuilding.I would be lost without one fairly close to me.

Southpaw HR Sinclair said...

That's sad the library is having problems. I mean it's a library!

I love architecture though. I'm not sure which version fascinates me the most.

Karen Walker said...

So so sad. Buildings have such interesting histories.

Karen Walker said...

So so sad. Buildings have such interesting histories.

Fil said...

Fabulous building Hilary. Such a shame that libraries all over are having a tough time at the moment. We met a librarian the other day who was saying that the workers in his branch have been reduced from 25 to 5 with the same workload! Tough.
Thanks for showing us this place.
Fil
Fil’s Place - Old songs and Memories

Patsy said...

Interesting to read about the library - but saddening it's not al it could be.

There are two libraries near me. One is a beautiful old building and what I think of as a 'proper' library. There are story times for children and some community activities, but otherwise it's quiet and the staff are able to ask questions and offer help. The other is an example of brutallist architecture and it's not that much better on the inside. There's constant noise and books are checked in and out by a machine.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Denise - me too ... but sometimes they get the new things just right - it looks like all should have been well here ... but something's gone wrong somewhere ... still the building stands.

@ Nila - as you say not a happy situation. By the time they reconsidered the 3rd library - the Brutalist one - I expect Birmingham city was looking to redevelop itself, which at the end of the last century and beginning of this is happening again.

The City has restored and brought back to life the Canal that runs through the City and the Jewellery Quarter ... now with the recent constructions ... there will be a connection with the Stations and large piazza, shopping areas.

I hope the Library will get some benefit ... the design is pretty special.

@ Holly - yes I know it's a library ... but there's a huge draw on Council money for people services ... and the government has cut back on library support ... it's the times we live in.

It was interesting finding out the back story to the library and the two styles of 1974 and today's are very different, but both endearing in their own way.

@ Karen - I know .. but fire damages so much, while the War may have had a large effect on the Library as it stood during the bombing of the inner city of Birmingham.

@ Fil - now it is an amazing building. Well you understand the difficulties local government is having. Yes - work loads are being combined, or as with your librarian - losing so many jobs. I'm pleased you understood the sign of the times ... but were pleased to see Birmingham's new library.

@ Patsy - I know ... it was looking tired and after two years that shouldn't be the case. Your two libraries sound so different .. but the old one would appeal - because of all the community activities ... yet the new one should be more efficient and quieter ... but from what you say isn't. Interesting - thanks for the additional extra to the post ...

Cheers - libraries are true to our authorly, blogger hearts ... Hilary

beste barki said...

I started reading with such enthusiasm about the Birmingham Library that the disappointment I experienced was all the more greater. I have a feeling all will be well eventually, though.

Hart Johnson said...

I really like the look of the new library--at least outside, but can anything compare to that late 19th century reading room? I love libraries that take on a church and reverence approach to books and reading. And brutalist architecture! HA! That is the perfect name. The US did that too and you always know those buildings were built in the 60s-80s. I really enjoyed how much I learned this post.

Ana coelho said...

That's a great shame about the library... I could not live without my books....

Jo said...

Must say, I thought it pretty ugly, in fact I preferred the Brutalist version. Luckily my local library is great and the staff are wonderful. Some of them know me pretty well and know my preferences. It is a branch of the main library here.

Nick Wilford said...

They're not going to please everyone with such a big project. Interesting to read about all the history, imagine seeing that amazing Reading Room from the 19th century. Brutalist is a term to remember - they were definitely big on concrete in the 1970s.

Rhodesia said...

Great post as always with loads of interest. Sadly it is not at the moment a happy ending, I hope things improve. I hope that libraries do not become a thing of the past in years to come! The best years of my life were probably spent searching for info and reading in a library, be it in Rhodesia, South Africa or the UK.
Hope you had a good lunch with your God daughter. Diane

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wow, what an amazing tale of a library.

Anabel Marsh said...

The sad thing is, this has happened in other cities too. They invest vast amounts of money in huge flagship libraries to the detriment of the network of local branches which are more use to local people. Then they can't afford to run the flagships either......
Anabel's Travel Blog

klahanie said...

Hi Hilary,

The Birmingham Library, subject to controversy and mixed, opposing opinions. I appreciate the history lesson. It saddens me to read about the disinterest by some of the staff at the library.

I suppose, at least it's a library still open. This lunatic government wants to close down the one in Leek.

Hope you adjusted to the Birmingham accent, the one in England, of course. Then again, the Birmingham, Alabama accent might well be a challenge.

I'm rambling and thus, cheerio for now, Hilary.

Gary

Botanist said...

That's a sad story, Hilary. I love libraries and hate to see (or hear of) them in a state of neglect. Thankfully our library system still appears to be in good health, and if you want a real eye-opener look up images for the Seattle library. We discovered it quite by accident when we visited a few years back.

Karen Lange said...

What rich history! Sorry to hear about the sad state, though. Glad you shared the info, and happy also to hear you had a fun visit with treasured friends. Have a good week!

Paula Kaye said...

The library is incredible. I simply love the façade. I think libraries across the world are suffering. I image it is the Internet. I love to walk around in an old library. The smells are amazing. And just looking at books and their titles can take me ages. I always want to check out so many. And then I don't get them read. Sadly, I don't often go anymore.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Beste - I didn't know the history when I started writing the post, but had wanted to visit from the enthusiasm the new library was getting during the build a few years ago. I sincerely hope all will be well - it's shabby and lacking funds for now.

@ Hart - yes it does look so different and so 'I'm here .. come in and read some books' ... and really should be amazing and much loved. You've raised an interesting idea ... about the clerestoried reading room and the British Library's history in London - it has a new building - which I love: red brick.

Brutalist architecture - I hadn't come across the term .. but now I have and a few of you have picked up on the description ... the 1970s and 1980s era ...

@ Ana - it is a sad tale - I too couldn't live without my books ...

@ Jo - I enjoyed the architecture ... but perhaps the overall concept doesn't quite work together with what's going on inside. I'm glad the local library is such a good one - you're lucky ...

@ Nick - I know exactly ... we can't please everyone. I enjoyed the brief amount of research I did on the library for the post - and coming across the term 'brutalist' was definitely a find. Concrete was big - and now fairly detrimental.

@ Diane - I know the ending and my visit re the library was not good and I couldn't wax lyrical ... I hope they sort things out. We shall see how local services, such as libraries fare in the coming few years .. I hope they last. I'm not sure why I never did spend time in libraries .. we had plenty of books, and when I was at school the library was there ...

lunch with god-daughter coming up on Friday!

@ Sharon - yes ... sad tale, but one I enjoyed finding out about ...

@ Anabel - you must see and know about lots of these libraries, and I couldn't agree more about the detrimental effect on other local libraries. Birmingham developmentally seems a bit of a mish-mash - perhaps dating back to the post war development ... and subsequent phases ... let's hope it improves.

@ Gary - lovely to see you. I'm glad you appreciated the post - despite its sad tale of woe ... it is still open ... and I know lots of libraries are being looked at to close - which is very sad.

Fortunately I was with some friends from South Africa with English as their home language - so we were fine ... and we got fed and watered! The people at the library struggled with me and I with them in our mutual understanding of my needs at the end of a day: indicative of their unhappiness.

@ Ian - I know. Gosh the Seattle library is amazing - and that history would be fascinating to read about; they are Carnegie libraries, so have extra funding - and presumably from Microsoft. Loved the building though.

I'm glad to see your libraries over the border are in good health.

@ Karen - yes the history is quite long isn't it ... nearly 400 years. I'm happy to have the information in the blog .. and we had a lovely time together - the food was good too.

@ Paula - thanks - the facade does look amazing and I'm sure can be seen from strategic points around the city. I agree - the collections of books in some of our large houses are just so amazing, with their special effect on the feel and aroma of the house is just lovely. Some of the much smaller museums and libraries have that effect too ...

Oh - I've got lots of books to read around the house ... mind you if I get one out of the library, then it needs to be read!

Thanks so much to you all - it's great you enjoyed the history of the Birmingham Library ... cheers Hilary and I'll see you for lunch on Friday!

Deniz Bevan said...

Ooh, Birmingham! Of all places, it's actually a city I'd like to visit, mostly for its Tolkien connections. Will add the library to the list of sites to see!

Diana Wilder said...

I do love the reading room Your comment, though, about how attention to detail has made the whole suffer made me pause, consider, and nod thoughtfully. Rather like being concerned about the speck in someone else's eye and not realizing that you have a log in your own? Perhaps so.

Judy Croome | @judy_croome said...

What an amazing library Hilary - but sad to read that it's not in great repair and may be demolished. Our libraries are struggling too - the impact of the technological age and eBooks,

Hope you had a great lunch with the botan prof & your god daughter!

Judy
“a stranger in a strange land” poetry by judy croome

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Deniz - well you made me check on Tolkien's Birmingham .. and it looks like an area I should visit ... perhaps I'll do that one day .. with friend and perhaps the boyfriends as he's into literature.

@ Diana - I think I got the after-effect once I read various articles about the build .. and how there wasn't one organisation leading the development ... hence the fact the whole is now suffering ... I wonder what the City Council are doing to hold things together ... budgets I know are a constraint.

But your comment and reply to yourself ... seems right they don't seem to realise what's happening ... and perhaps even worse are turning a blind eye - mind you if the log sits there much longer - the eye will be blind and the Library more decrepit. Thanks for picking up on my thoughts ...

@ Judy - good to see you ... your holiday looked wonderful - loved the photos. I don't think they can demolish this library just yet ... but they could keep it in a better state of repaid inside ... obviously cash is a serious worry.

I gather the infrastructure in South Africa is getting much worse and really awful in places ...

Wait and see about my lunch .. it was such fun ... and you'll laugh - the Botanical Professor is a great find!!

Cheers to you all - great to have the added commentary to my post .. Hilary

Julie Flanders said...

I'd never heard of Brutalist architecture but what a horrible term! But it does seem to suit the style. Looks ugly and harsh.
The Shakespeare room in the current incarnation is so lovely! What a shame the library is struggling again. I hate to read that about any library, I love them so.

Looking forward to reading about the next phase of your visit. Hope you had a great time. :)

Crystal Collier said...

I ADORE libraries and reading about the 50K books reduced to 1000? Ouch. Such beautiful wordwork...

Christine Rains said...

That is so sad. I'm also a library lover. To think such a thing... I shudder.

M Pax said...

Wow, that was a lot of books lost in that fire. Sad that it's declined so the last two years. Libraries are so awesome.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

That's an interesting and complicated history. Too bad that things are not being run as well as they should be. Libraries are so important and should get better funding.

DMS said...

Wow! This library has been through a lot. I love libraries and hope this one will finally rise above its past. :)
~Jess

Susan Scott said...

Hilary, I wish there was a way to receive your blog posts when they come up. I see you've written 4 this month already! I'll go back and check them - always a delicious and fascinating read thank you.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Julie - I hadn't heard of Brutalist architecture before this post - but felt I needed to put the term in ... it is succinct! The Shakespeare room is amazing ... I'd have liked to have spent more time there ... perhaps another day, as I'd like to see more of Birmingham.

I know it's sad about libraries as a whole here in the UK at the moment - some are thriving, but others not so well. We had a great lunch ... it's a fun post!

@ Crystal - yes libraries are wonderful aren't they. I know the fire really took hold ... but the woodwork has been re-created as per 'old days'.

@ Christine - it is shuddering time - well it was here .. it should have been pristine and new, and everyone should have been so proud, sadly not so.

@ Mary - I know .. but fire in a building would be so likely to happen - electricity was so new in the late 1800s. I hope Birmingham Library can get their act into gear .. and get it sorted out.

@ Susan - I'm glad you appreciated the history - it was an interesting journey line for the library ... so many reincarnations ... sadly this one isn't doing too well. I'm not sure where this went wrong - but I hope they can recover themselves ... two years is not long.

@ Jess - yes lots of libraries over the centuries - and exactly as you say - I hope it rises above its past ... it should do.

@ Susan - good to see you again and I've emailed re Feedly ... hopefully that will solve the problem. Thanks for going back too. Glad you enjoyed the read ...

Mary Montague Sikes said...

Thank you, Hilary, for yet another interesting and comprehensive article. I wonder how you clean that massive ornate exterior.

Chrys Fey said...

That is the fanciest library I've ever seen! The artwork and architecture on the outside is amazing!

It's terrible that the library burned down and so many volumes were lost. This library sure has a history.

Gattina said...

It's a pity that they had such an awful taste for buildings in the 60th/70th the building looks really ugly to me. How terrible that so many books had burnt !usually I love libraries inside it smells so good !

Jeffrey Scott said...

I do so love libraries. And the more interesting, the better. This sounds like a great place to visit. At least before a new library is commissioned. ;)

I keep telling myself the next time I'm in London I will visit the library there. At least it will be a nice quiet place to do a bit of blog posting.

New Release Books said...

So sad. Libraries are a book lovers haven.

TexWisGirl said...

interesting exterior design on that place.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

@ Monti - glad you enjoyed it ... and re the cleaning - I've no idea!! I can't believe they polish the aluminium?!

@ Chrys - the outside is certainly impressive. The old days ... they loved beautiful things, but couldn't keep them safe in those early days of indoor gas lights, electricity, piped water etc ...

@ Gattina - some of our architecture from those times was terrible and the tower blocks we have today reflect it. Not much could be done to protect the books 130 years ago ...

@ Jeffrey - I really should visit more libraries ... something that I think I'll put on my bucket list. I don't think they'll pull it down just yet - but certainly it needs a leading hand to pull it together.

I hope you can get to London .. the British Library is amazing - and there are other libraries around.

@ New Release Books - I know the Birmingham Library's situation is sad

@ Theresa - the exterior does stand out and announce itself.

Thanks so much for visiting .. cheers Hilary