New Birmingham library is most important cultural project in Europe
The new £188m Library of Birmingham is set to reshape Birmingham's vibrant cultural landscape. In an interview with the Information Daily, Director Brian Gambles discusses the impact the library will have on the city.
How long have you been involved with libraries in Birmingham?
I started on 1 February 1987 at Birmingham Central Library with the job title Forward Planner. I have held a variety of positions in the management team since then.
How have libraries changed during your working life?
One of the jobs I had when I first started at the library was project managing the purchase and instillation of two PCs , I have now seen thousands of PCs come and go. So the main thing which has changed is technology. I've seen the growth of the internet and the introduction of eBooks and smartphones.
How is a librarian of today different from a librarian of twenty years ago?
He or she is now more tech savvy for a start. Librarians are more focused on the bigger picture, how libraries can help citizens lead healthier lives, and have a positive economic impact on communities. There has been a move away from solely focusing on books and reading.
Tell us about the process of commissioning the library.
There have been three phases in the genesis of the library. A new central library for Birmingham was first approved in 1998. Birmingham City Council pursued an option at Eastside, in another part of the city, with a Richards Rodgers design which reached Stage C of the RIBA process. When the coalition came to power in May 2004, they shelved the plans and then took time to review options.
A proposal to build on the car park in Centenary Square was submitted in early 2006 and was supported by a business case approved by the Cabinet in October 2007.
Overall about 5,000 people have been involved directly in making the Library of Birmingham happen. Our first appointment was with a project management team to deliver a business case. Capita Symonds have been with us ever since. They helped us to recruit our architecture and construction partners.
We didn't hold a design competition, but instead looked for an architect who would work with us to develop the design. Mecanoo have worked in partnership with us to deliver a design that meets our needs. We've had an excellent relationship with our construction partner Carillion too. They have been outstandingly good on delivering benefits for the community.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of steering the project?
The people. We have worked with a huge range of professionals and disciplines, who we've learned a lot from. It has been wonderful to see how much buzz the project has proved capable of generating, that people have become excited by a library!
What are you most looking forward to?
The look on people's faces when they come through the library for the first time.
In your opinion, what is the most significant thing a library offers to its local community?
A public space in the city, which is unthreatening and welcoming to all. An opportunity for learning and sharing with other people.