“A palazzo of human thought,” is how Birmingham city council’s leader describes the new Library of Birmingham, currently under construction. The library, designed by fabulous and innovative Delft-based Dutch architects Mecanoo is vying to outdo the other new “Super-Libraries” sweeping the UK. There are already such libraries in Liverpool, Newcastle and Cardiff. The Â£193m (primarily public funds) building will boast “State of the Art IT Facilities”, and a “Mediatheque”: effectively a “digital jukebox” of BFIâ€™s national moving images archive collection that library patrons will have access to in on-site individual viewing pods. There will be a 300 seat studio theatre, meeting and conference rooms, and the requisite over-priced cafes and restaurants. When the library opens in 2013, visitors will be confronted not with dusty books stacks and hushed reading rooms but with touch-sensitive computer screens and voluble learning groups. Of course, there are the requisite “green credentials” to worry about so the library will utilise an “aquifer ground source system” as a source of energy, lowering its CO2 emissions.
In the swanky Liverpool library, a â€œliterary carpetâ€ featuring the names of famous books will lead the way to the entrance (I love that), and the restored stonework and masonry will be specially lit at night to complement the library among its William Brown Street neighbours including St Georgeâ€™s Hall, the Walker Art Gallery, and World Museum Liverpool.
Poet Laureate Andrew Motion hailed Newcastleâ€™s new library as a “shining light for all cities across the country” at it’s opening ceremony. The library, costing Â£40.2m, is fully self-service and has a 24-hour library vending machine which opens on to the street and holds up to 400 books, CDs and DVDs . There is wi-fi throughout the building and multiple download music stations.
Cardiff’s ultra modern library has over 10,000 CDs and DVDs available, offering two listening hubs and over 90 PCs for public use. Designed to be energy-efficient, this library takes the cake for sustainable development. The building incorporates a hipster friendly sedum grass roof to improve insulation and reduce rainwater run-off, coloured glass panels and solar shading to prevent excessive heat gains.
The growth in spending on large libraries in the UK comes amid a flurry of smaller library closures. “The current period is shaping up to be the equivalent of the great library building boom of the early part of the 20th century,” said Bob Tolliday, a spokesman for the Museums, Libraries and Archives council. “If you look at the new libraries built or being planned in Norwich, Manchester, Birmingham and Newcastle, they are quite a different breed.”
A different breed to be sure. Is the best way to save libraries through trendy architecture and $17.95 chicken salad sandwiches? I dunno, maybe. Sure I prefer the musty old haunted stacks with cranky librarians forbidding drinks and snacks, but you have to give people what they are clamoring for and that’s less reading, more sipping drinks, surfing the web and generally looking trendy amidst the modernist trappings. To that there is no argument.
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