Library of Birmingham – largest public library in UK

The Library of Birmingham – the largest municipal public library in the United Kingdom, opens. It has been described as the largest public library in the United Kingdom, the largest public cultural space in Europe, and the largest regional library in Europe.

The Library of Birmingham is a public library in the city centre of Birmingham, England. It is situated on the west side of the city centre at Centenary Square beside the Birmingham Rep (to which it connects, and with which it shares some facilities) and Baskerville House.

Upon opening on 3 September 2013, it replaced Birmingham Central Library. It is estimated the library cost £188.8 million and is seen by Birmingham City Council as a flagship project for the redevelopment of Birmingham.

Malala Yousafzai opened the Library of Birmingham

Malala Yousafzai, the 16 year old education activist and campaigner for the rights of women and girls around the globe, opened the Library of Birmingham on 3 September 2013. Before unveiling a plaque that will be placed in the floor of the Library’s foyer, Malala talked about the need to speak up for the “57 million children” who “are out of school”.


“We must speak up for peace and development in Nigeria, Syria and Somalia” she said. “We must speak up for the children of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, who are suffering from terrorism, poverty, child labour and child trafficking ….. Let us help them to read books and go to school.”

Addressing “honourable and distinguished guest and fellow Brummies”, she also spoke about what Birmingham, “the beating heart of England”, means to her. “The teachers of this town strived to rehabilitate my educational career, and the great people of this city gave me great moral support.”

She was presented with membership of the Library by the Lord Mayor, Cllr Mike Leddy, and a copy of The Philosophy Shop edited by Peter Worley.

Before the opening, Malala placed the last book on the shelves of the new Library, her own copy of The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. The first book to be placed on the shelves was The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Also speaking at the official opening were Cllr Ian Ward, Deputy Leader of Birmingham, Francine Houben, architect, and Ed Vaizey MP, Minister for Culture.

About the Library

Located in Birmingham’s Centenary Square, the Library is expected to attract over three million visitors a year, with many more visiting online, and will hold a four month Discovery Season of events, displays and activities to mark its opening.

Designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo, the Library will transform the city’s library services and become a major cultural destination, housing Birmingham’s world-class collections of archives, photography and rare books as well as a million printed volumes, the largest number held by any public library in the UK. Of these, over 400,000 books will be available on the Library’s public floors. With outstanding resources and access to expert help, the Library will be a centre of excellence for literacy, research, study, skills development, health information, creative expression and entrepreneurship.

At 31,000 sq metres it is around 20% larger than the old Central Library building and is the largest public library in Europe.

The ten-level Library shares a spacious entrance and foyer as well as a flexible studio theatre seating 300 people with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Sited in Centenary Square it will, along with The REP and Symphony Hall, form a new cultural heart for the city. The Library of Birmingham is a flagship project of Birmingham City Council’s 20-year Big City Plan, focusing on the regeneration of the city and the most far-reaching city centre development project ever undertaken in the UK.

The Library is physically connected to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, sharing a spacious entrance, foyer and flexible studio theatre seating 300 people. An outdoor Amphitheatre, surrounded by wild flower planting, in Centenary Square will provide a performance space for music, drama, poetry reading and storytelling. There are two outdoor garden terraces, children’s spaces and a panoramic viewing gallery at the summit, where visitors will be able to enjoy stunning views from one of the highest points in the city.

The Golden Box

A ‘golden box’ of secure archive storage occupies levels five and six of the building and contain the city’s internationally important archive, heritage and photographic collections. Whilst the Library’s precious collections are kept safe in this protective environment, thanks to an ongoing programme of digitisation they are being opened up to the public online and through digital innovations projects using new technology.

A new gallery will enable select parts of the collection to go on display through a programme of exhibitions. The Library contains one of the world’s largest Shakespeare collections, the Parker Collection of Children’s Books and Games, the Early and Fine Printing Collection and the Boulton and Watt archive.

Shakespeare Memorial Room

Above the golden box, visitors can explore the Shakespeare Memorial Room, an original feature from the city’s Victorian library. The Victorian room with its wooden panelling and glass cabinets has been moved in its entirety and painstakingly restored. Although the Library’s Shakespeare collection outgrew the room in the early 20th century, the collection is still housed in the Library.

Photography & film

The Library of Birmingham’s Photography Collection is one of nine national collections. Recent additions including the Val Williams archive, work from the renowned photographic cooperative, Magnum Photos, and three major exhibitions from internationally-acclaimed photographer, Brian Griffin, who has a substantial collection held by the Library of Birmingham. The Library’s photography hub GRAIN is already researching, developing and delivering new, ambitious high quality opportunities, strengthening photography in the region. GRAIN has also collaborated with the FORMAT International Photography Festival to offer a new Library of Birmingham photography prize.

The Library of Birmingham is also home to a BFI Mediatheque, providing free access to highlights from the BFI National Archive – the world’s most diverse collection of film and television – and partner archives around the UK. Visitors can log on at their own personal viewing station and enjoy over 2,500 complete titles, including a specially curated selection of film and TV featuring Birmingham and the West Midlands – from a university procession captured by Mitchell & Kenyon in 1901 to Julie Walters playing the title role in an account of a fellow West Midlands icon, The Mary Whitehouse Story (2008).

Discovery Season

Curated by Capsule and supported by Arts Council England, the Library of Birmingham Discovery Season runs from 3 September until 31 December. Bringing the Library’s stunning new spaces to life, it has taken its inspiration from the Library’s internationally important archives and special collections, with events, performances, photography, workshops, music and dance for every age and interest.

Australian producers Super Critical Mass will create a large-scale dramatic spectacle to mark the opening of the new library. Around two hundred brass players of all ages, from professional to amateur musicians will fill the air with sound throughout the building.

Highlights of the Discovery Season include ‘The Pavilion’, a specially commissioned cabinet of curiosities created by multi-award-winning artist Morag Myerscough, a weekend of cabaret and cinema to celebrate Birmingham’s long and colourful association with Early Cinema, and a trail of artworks situated across the building, each making reference to the library’s rich collections and archives.

High profile writers including Lionel Shriver and Carol Ann Duffy will appear at the Birmingham Literature Festival in October, programmed by Writing West Midlands.

Libraries in Birmingham

Birmingham has 40 community libraries, a Mobile Library service, a Libraries at Home scheme for residents, delivering books and other library materials to people who find it hard to get out of their homes without help due to disability, illness, mobility of frailty and a Prison Library Service.

The new Library of Birmingham will be an important resource for all the people of Birmingham and will work closely with community libraries to:

• Share a state-of-the-art Library Management system across all city libraries
• Open up access to the Library of Birmingham Collections via its website
• Create opportunities for exhibitions and Library of Birmingham events in Community Libraries
• Showcase community talent in the Library of Birmingham’s performance spaces
• Support the Community Library events, exhibitions, and learning programmes

The Library of Birmingham Trust

The new Library of Birmingham is owned by and serves the people of Birmingham – a “People’s Palace” in the words of its architect and Library of Birmingham Trustee Francine Houben.

The Library of Birmingham Trust was established in May 2011 to support capital fundraising and enhance Birmingham City Council’s annual investment in the city’s libraries. It is able to raise funds from public, private and charitable sources which are not necessarily available to the local authority. The Trust is supporting programme delivery, helping to house fragile collections and supporting the development of new resources for citizens and business users.

The Library of Birmingham service receives high level direction from a Strategic Board which is comprised of members of the Trust together with member and officer representatives of Birmingham City Council. The Board draws upon the advice of key stakeholders including staff, service users and partners to ensure all communities and interests are represented.

Both the Trust and the Strategic Board are chaired by leading business figure Keith Bradshaw. Trustees also include: Sir Dominic Cadbury (University of Birmingham); Sir David Cannadine (National Portrait Gallery); Paul Faulkner (Aston Villa FC); Stewart Towe OBE (Hadley Group); Francine Houben (architect); Dr Christine Braddock DBE (Birmingham Metropolitan College); and Tim Pile (Cogent Elliott).

Trust Patrons include Jasper Carrott OBE; Sir Nicholas Goodison; David Owen OBE; The Rt Rev David Urquhart; Paul Sabapathy CBE; and Lady Susie Sainsbury.

Library of Birmingham, Centenary Square, Broad Street, B1 2ND; Tel 0121 242 4242

Opening hours.

From Tuesday 4 – Sunday 15 September inclusive the Library will open from 10am – 8pm Monday to Friday, 10am – 5pm Saturday and 11am – 4pm Sunday.

From Monday 16 September, the Library will operate full opening hours:

Monday to Friday 8am – 8pm, Saturdays 9am – 5pm, Sundays 11am – 4pm. The Library will be closed on Bank Holidays.

Website of Library of Birmingham :

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