Library of Birmingham

Nichola Jacques
birmingham library

This exuberant, new-build library was commissioned in the pre-recession days of public funding – and doesn’t it show?

Birmingham must know a thing or two about books – or at least how to balance them. Because in a period characterised by cuts and closures, it was surprising that not only was Birmingham able to open a completely new central library last year, it was also able to spend £189 million on it.

It is less of a surprise when you realise that plans for the library – nicknamed the “people’s palace” by its architects – were passed in those much missed, pre-recession days (circa 2007). Then, public funding for the development of new libraries – whilst not without controversy – was still available. In terms of funding, the new Library of Birmingham just about made it through. And aren’t we glad it did, because now we can say that Europe’s largest public library is just a train ride away.

Built to replace an existing central library, a 1970s “brutalist” structure described by the Prince of Wales as “looking more like a place for burning books than keeping them”, the new Library of Birmingham is a three-tiered, cuboid, cake-like structure complete with a golden top hat. Naturally, it houses books (some 400,000 of them) but the facility is also as technologically astute as any 21st century library needs to be.

To this Yousafzai added that, “a city without a library is like a graveyard”

Architecturally, it is a structure decidedly more flamboyant than both its predecessor and its neighbours. On a pleasant day, the library’s façade, made up of 5,357 interlocking black and silver aluminium rings designed to echo the city’s industrial and artisanal heritage, casts magnificent shadows onto the surfaces within. A lively exterior sets the tone for an interior space that is equally energetic; a library this may be, but you should expect neither silence nor stasis.

You may, however, expect to spend all day exploring the library’s ten levels. Highlights include roof gardens, a panoramic viewing platform and (should you make it to the very top, and we recommend that you do) the Shakespearean Memorial Room. This wood panelled, Elizabethan-style structure had been preserved at the Library Theatre in Paradise Circus since 1980 (after being removed from its earlier home at the city’s Victorian library, since demolished). The Memorial Room has been painstakingly moved, piece by piece, to its new home within the library’s golden top hat; it is the icing on the cake.

Speaking at the library’s opening last September, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who survived an attack by Islamic extremists, quoted Cicero for whom, “a room without books is like a body without a soul”. To this Yousafzai added that, “a city without a library is like a graveyard”. This concise and heartfelt statement is justification enough for the continued financial investment in the cultural and educational resources of Birmingham. When Dutch architect and lead designer on the project Francine Houben termed it the “people’s palace”, it was an apt title to bestow. The library is indeed ours to enjoy. And enjoy it we should. While Birmingham stands with Manchester and Liverpool in the list of regional cities still prepared to invest in the creation of cultural centres of this scale, who can predict if and when anyone else will join them?

Centenary Square Broad StreetBirminghamB1 2ND View map
Telephone: 0121 242 4242 Visit Now

Wheelchair and ambulant access

Opening Hours

  • Monday8:00am - 8:00pm
  • Tuesday8:00am - 8:00pm
  • Wednesday8:00am - 8:00pm
  • Thursday8:00am - 8:00pm
  • Friday8:00am - 8:00pm
  • Saturday8:00am - 8:00pm
  • Sunday8:00am - 8:00pm

Always double check opening hours with the venue before making a special visit.

What's on near Library of Birmingham

New Order at Wythenshawe Park

New Order play an all-day outdoor concert at Wythenshawe Park alongside Manchester’s own Johnny Marr and adopted Manc Róisin Murphy.

from £61.60

Where to go near Library of Birmingham

Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Birmingham Repertory Theatre, commonly called Birmingham Rep or just The Rep, is a producing theatre based on Centenary Square in Birmingham, England. It is the longest-established of Britain’s building-based theatre companies and one of its most consistently innovative.

The Custard Factory

The Custard Factory is one of the most powerful collections of creative and digital businesses, independent retailers and event venues outside London.

world of wedgewood summer in stoke on trent
World of Wedgwood

Former Art Fund Prize Museum of the Year Award winner, World of Wedgwood in Stoke-of-Trent houses one of the most important industrial collections in existence and offers a unique record of over 250 years of ground-breaking British ceramic design and production.

trentham gardens stoke on trent
Tourist Attraction
Trentham Gardens

Comprising of 725 acres of land set within a glorious stretch of North Staffordshire countryside on the southern fringe of Stoke-on-Trent, the award-winning visitor attraction Trentham Estate is the last remnant of one of England’s greatest garden estates.

Gladstone Pottery Museum Summer in Stoke on Trent
Gladstone Pottery Museum

The last complete Victorian pottery factory in Britain, Gladstone Pottery Museum in Longton provides a unique insight into the history of Stoke-on-Trent; an area renowned for its world-class pottery and ceramics.

Stoke Minster, Stoke-on-Trent
Place of worship
Stoke Minster

Just a short walk from Stoke-on-Trent train station is Stoke Minster, believed to have once been an important Celtic religious site and where Christian worship has taken place since Saxon times.

Emma Bridgwater Factory, Stoke-on-Trent
Emma Bridgwater Factory

The pottery lover’s mecca, over 1.3 million Emma Bridgwater pieces are produced at the designer’s Stoke-on-Trent based factory every year – each one touched by over 30 deftly-skilled hands. Take an award-winning tour, visit the heavily discounted shop and have a go at producing your own earthenware masterpiece.

Potteries Museum & Art Gallery
Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

Home to the most significant collection of Staffordshire ceramics in the world and the largest collection of Anglo-Saxon treasure ever found, a visit to Stoke-upon-Trent is not complete without an afternoon whiled away in The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

City Central Library, Hanley

Described as “the finest and most distinctive example of Modernist architecture in Stoke-on-Trent”, City Central Library is Stoke-on-Trent’s largest library, home to the city archives.

Bethesda Chapel, Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent
Place of worship
Bethesda Chapel

Bethesda Methodist Chapel in Hanley is considered to be one of England’s grandest surviving town chapels – and it’s easy to see why.

Culture Guides

Teenage Dads
Music in Manchester and the North

Fresh concert seasons, forward-thinking festivals and a revolving door of amazing gigs. Things are looking bright as spring comes into view.

Exhibitions in Manchester and the North

February is a month of love so art lovers in the North - rejoice! There is lots to choose from: two photography festivals, gorgeous crafts and shows celebrating local talent.