21 things you might not know about Birmingham’s libraries past and present


As the Library of Birmingham marks its first anniversary, we look back at the history of library services in the city with 21 fascinating facts

Celebrating the first birthday of the new Library of Birmingham, here are 21 things you might not know about the city’s libraries past and present.

We have also delved into our own library of images for a gallery of 37 pictures marking the anniversary.

Here are 21 things you might not know about Birmingham’s libraries:

1. The very first Birmingham Library was founded sometime between 1635 and 1642 by puritan minister Francis Roberts.

2. It was one of the first public libraries in England.

3. The building was put up in 1655-1656 and it contained only books that the puritans would allow in it. Books deemed to be unfit for a public library were given to clergymen and schoolmasters in Moseley, King’s Norton and Wythall.

4. The library was disbanded when the English, Scottish and Irish monarchies returned to power in the Restoration of 1660.

5. Birmingham’s first central library came just over 200 years later when the Birmingham Reference Library opened on October 26, 1866.

6. A fire in 1879 destroyed all but 1,000 books of the 50,000 in the building. It was rebuilt and reopened in June 1882.

7. As the collection of books grew, it was decided in 1938 that a new library was needed. But then World War II broke out so plans were out on hold. Eventually, the new Central Library opened in Chamberlain Square on January 12, 1974.

8. The Central Library was the largest public library in Europe. And in 2010–11 it was the second most visited library in the country (after Norwich) with 1,197,350 people passing through its doors, and was also Birmingham’s busiest building.

9. But the Prince of Wales didn’t like it. In the October 1988 BBC documentary A Vision of Britain, the Prince said the library, designed by John Madin in Brutalist style, looked like “a place where books are incinerated, not kept.”

10. Central Library closed on June 29, 2013, as its collection was moved to the new Library of Birmingham in Centenary Square.

11. Built for £189million, the Library of Birmingham is the largest public library in the UK, the largest public cultural space in Europe and the largest regional library in Europe.

12. Initial plans for the new library had it split across two sites – with the main lending library to be in Centenary Square and the archives and special collections at Millennium Point. But that idea was scrapped.

13. Dutch architects firm Mecanoo and BupoHappold Engineering won a competition to create the new library, and in 2014, the Library of Birmingham was named West Midlands building of the year by the Royal Institute of British Architects. Patrick Arends from Mecanoo was named emerging architect of the year while the library’s owner Birmingham City Council was crowned client of the year.

14. In addition, Birmingham City Council’s assistant director of culture, Brian Gambles, who worked on the library project, was made an MBE for services to libraries, saying that “over 5,000 people have worked one way or another on creating the library and it just gives you a tremendous warm glow when you experience the reaction of visitors.”

15. The Hobbit, by JRR Tolkien, who spent his childhood in Birmingham, was the first book to be put on the shelves of the Library of Birmingham

16. The building has nine floors – six of them open to the public – and can hold 3,000 people.

17. Since its opening, there have been more than 400 events and 32 exhibitions in the building.

18. The library’s most valuable books are editions of Shakespeare’s First Folio and John James Audubon’s Birds of America, worth between £6million and £7million each.

19. There are about a million books in the library – and 316,000 books, DVDs and CDs have been borrowed in its first year. That’s almost twice as many as in the last full year (2011-2012) of the old Central Library.

20. More than 2.7 million people have visited the Library of Birmingham since it opened, compared with the 1.2 million in the last year of the Central Library.

21. There are more than 200 computers for public use in the building. Visitors use the computers 21,000 times a month, and nearly 5,000 people use the free wi-fi each month.

Gallery


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The Library of Birmingham as seen from the Hyatt Hotel on Broad St.

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Stone laying ceremony in June 1970 at Birmingham’s old central library.

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Endless lines of books in a cramped Birmingham Reference Library in 1967.

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Birmingham’s old central library.

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Birmingham’s old central library in June 1973.

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Children are read to at Birmingham’s old central library.

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Architect John Madin outside the Birmingham Rep (designed by Graham Winteringham) where the new Central Library may be sited, in 2007.

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Architect John Madin outside the Birmingham Central Library which he feels has been ruined by shops, in 2007.

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16 year old Malala Yousafzai who survived an attempt on her life by the Taliban in Pakistan, makes a speech outside as she opens the new Library of Birmingham in 2013.

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The Library of Birmingham in Centenary Square, in 2013.

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Laura Norton reading a book in the children’s section of the Library of Birmingham, in 2013.

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Workmen work on a transparent lift shaft near the dome at the Library of Birmingham in preparation for its official opening on September 3rd 2013.

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Amaan, Aaliyah and Asad Hussain in one of the reading pods a the newly opened Library of Birmingham, in 2013.

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Musicians from Super Critical Mass perform at the opening of the Library of Birmingham in 2013.

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Malala Yousafzai speaks to the crowd at the opening of the Library of Birmingham in 2013.

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The Library of Birmingham celebrates its opening as thousands of people turn up to view its fantastic new facilities, in 2013.

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The Library of Birmingham celebrates its opening as thousands of people turn up to view its fantastic new facilities, in 2013.

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Bizarre characters in red outside the Library of Birmingham for the 4 Squares Weekender.

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Barbar the elephant celebrates his 80th birthday at The Library of Birmingham with lots of local children.

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HRH The Duke of Cambridge visits The Library of Birmingham and meets children from Chandos Primary School in Highgate.

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Shelan Abdulla from Craft Space at the Story Meadow Exhibition at the Library of Birmingham.

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Birmingham Central Library from the book Lost Victorian Britain by Gavin Stamp.

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Jeff Lynne, ELO rock legend, with Jasper Carrott, attending a reception at the Library of Birmingham in aid of Jeff’s place on Broad Street’s Walk of Stars.

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Jeff Lynne, ELO rock legend, attending a reception at the Library of Birmingham in aid of his place on Broad Street’s Walk of Stars.

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Rai Singh and Bryan Adams attending a reception at the Library of Birmingham in aid of Jeff Lynne’s place on Broad Street’s Walk of Stars.

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Jeff Lynne, ELO rock legend, with Jasper Carrott and the Lord Mayor, attending a reception at the Library of Birmingham in aid of Jeff’s place on Broad Street’s Walk of Stars.

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Jeff Lynne, ELO rock legend, with Roy Wood, attending a reception at the Library of Birmingham in aid of Jeff’s place on Broad Street’s Walk of Stars.

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Aston Villa footballers Grant Holt and Jed Steer visit the Library of Birmingham to help promote reading amongst primary school children.

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The Library of Birmingham, which has made the shortlist for the 2014 RIBA Stirling Prize for the best new building.

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Hollywood actor David Harewood on top of the Library of Birmingham promoting the Pride of Birmingham awards.

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Birmingham Reference Library at Ratcliffe Place, in March 1961.

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Students at work in Birmingham’s Central Reference Library in February 1960.

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Birmingham Reference Library at Ratcliffe Place, in 1960.

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‘Zombie’ Kazz Anwar at the Library of Birmingham for a tour in preparation for a big zombie walk in Birmingham.

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The Library of Birmingham under construction, as seen from the corner of Brindley Drive and Cambridge St.

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Birmingham’s old Central Library.

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The Library of Birmingham.

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