Cradley Heath Library in Birmingham. Not the Super Library.
Finally, the city of Birmingham is scheduled to open its lauded new Super Library, in the works for a decade and tipping the cash register at $301 million. Ten blisteringly new glass and steel floors of amphitheaters, music centers, exhibition galleries, film mediatheques, health and business centers, rooftop cafes, subterranean levels and even a gilded penthouse Shakespeare pavilion. What? Oh, no, no not our Birmingham. Oh my God, no. That would be ridiculous, right?
The library’s launch comes at a time when all over Britain, library users are protesting closures and imminent cuts to branch libraries. Locals are calling it cultural and social vandalism and thousands joined authors like Philip Pullman – Â who described Oxfordshire’s proposal to close 20 of 43 libraries as “a darkening of things” – in protest. In Birmingham, every one of the 40 branch libraries is “under review”, and decimating cuts to staffing and book budgets are imminent. 481 libraries â€“ 422 buildings and 59 mobile libraries â€“are under threat. In the protestors midst, a humongous series of cages with a bizarre edifice of wire steel circles, looms above Centenary Square in the city centre, on a site where there have been public libraries for more than 150 years. The last one opened in 1974, a loved (by me), and loathed (by most), monument to concrete brutalism by local architect John Madin. Its fate was sealed in 2009 when the government rejected the advice of English Heritage to landmark it. This new one, the cages, is the Birmingham Super Library.
So,Â are libraries the new coal mines? Or tops of mountains? A resource – beloved in its quaint obsolescence – whose time has come? Hasn’t the digital revolution already provided us with all the things that we will need for the rest of our lives? Technology ensures that all but the most chimerical or specialized tomes will be swept under the dust rug within the next few years â€” and that’s good for the environment! Amazon.com has given us the ability to buy almost everything ever printed without ever having to stand up. As for a community meeting place, well do we really need a hanging-out spot for wayward youth when there are still plenty of street corners for them to hone their delinquencies? It’s just a stopping off point on their way to jail, so why not have done with and let them get the legwork in early? As for the more entitled teen, judging from the amount of time they seem to spend on their iphones and iPads, they certainly don’t need a special building carpeted, lit and heated at the taxpayers’ expense in which to hang out and play their illegal Lady Gaga downloads. Senior citizens Â – if they’re not already interned at old age homes – have their Optimists Clubs and Rotary Clubs, and if all else fails, their AA meetings which are 24/7 and free, and open to anybody. And if the tea baggers are right – Â and we pretty much know they are Â – and “the American people” will be in charge of society’s needs in lieu of government services, and the UK’s Big Society takes off, churches and private charities and neighborhood “groups” will be endowed to act in their own communities rather than shackled to a space claiming to be “public”. It’s time for all the local Mrs. Kravitzes and “arts groups” and NPR to stump up and procure their own goddamn facilities. And it’s way past time for so-called librarians, “book” authors, “story tellers” and puppeteers to get proper jobs. Libraries were fine in the past when there weren’t 200 TV channels to choose from hence levels of ignorance were far greater, and when poverty more acutely visible (and genuine). But now that everyone is smart, rich, educated and digitized to the max, there really is no need for a place for folks to sit around for free. And with the real estate market booming and businesses vying for prime city centre and town sites from which to boost local economies and provide jobs, it’s high time the plastic-slathered hardbacks, the scolding owl overdue book reminder posters and bespectacled spinsters were replaced with modern businesses.
Kings Heath Library, Birmingham. Closed indefinitely.
In truth, libraries may be the last things to encapsulate everything that is or was decent about our society: free of charge, blissful quietude, freedom of ideas, diversity of expression, open to all regardless of wealth, class, race, belief or sexual orientation.You don’t need health insurance or proof of citizenship, just a card. Libraries may be the only existing repository of shared culture, and of the act of “sharing” itself. They are one of the last bastions of decency and civilization in a world crippled by excess, greed, hideousness, poor manners, degradation, mongering, thuggish ignorance and cross-eyed ideologies. The Public Library also hold the distinction of being the one place that we are 100% certain Sarah Palin never crossed threshold.