Library of Birmingham
The Library of Birmingham is located at Centenary Square, the city’s most important public open space in the heart of Birmingham city centre’s Westside. The site has excellent public transport links and is on a major pedestrian route (it is estimated that up to 13 million people walk past the site annually). 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.
Designed by Dutch architects Mecanoo, the Library has transformed 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 are available on the Library’s public floors.
At 31,000 sq. metres it is around 20% larger than the old Central Library building and is the largest public library in Europe.
With outstanding resources and access to expert help, the Library is a centre of excellence for literacy, research, study, skills development, health information, creative expression and entrepreneurship.
The library has more than 200 public access computers, theatres, an exhibition gallery and music rooms.
An outdoor Amphitheatre, surrounded by wild flower planting, in Centenary Square provides 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 are able to enjoy stunning views from one of the highest points in the city.
A ‘golden box’ of secure archive storage occupies levels five and six of the building and contains 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 have been opened up to the public online and through digital innovations projects using new technology.
A gallery enables 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.
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.
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 the BFI National Archive. Visitors are able to log on at a viewing station and enjoy highlights of the national film collection including a specially curated selection of films and television 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 an West Midlands icon, The Mary Whitehouse Story (2008).
Monday to Friday 8am - 8pm
Saturday 9am - 5pm
Sunday 11am - 4pm
At Birmingham Central Library and City Archives, the Photography, Archive, Early and Fine Printing, Literature, Music, and Birmingham collections are Designated Collections of national importance.
Key artists and exhibits
- Designated Collection
In Camera: An exhibition by Mat Collishaw
- 19 September 2015 — 10 January 2016 *on now
The Library of Birmingham and GRAIN are presenting an exhibition of new work by artist Mat Collishaw. In Camera is an installation created around a series of 12 crime scene negatives made for Birmingham City Police Force during the 1930s and 1940s. Collishaw discovered these uncatalogued images, made to provide evidence in alleged and actual crimes committed in the city, hidden amongst an archive of orphaned police negatives whilst exploring the Library’s internationally renowned photography collections during 2014.
Extracted from their current, obscured institutional setting and detached from their referent case notes, in Collishaw’s new installation these unexceptional, transparent images become fluid, emotionally redolent and unsettling objects. The work prompts questions about the medium of photography, its historical role as witness and the ways in which our reading of images are affected when they shift from the private to the public.
The exhibition is presented in parallel with a major survey of Collishaw’s work being shown at The New Art Gallery Walsall 25 September 2015 - 10 January 2015.
Library of Birmingham
0121 242 4242