Model Programme for Public Libraries

Kultur styrrelsen



Case: Library of Birmingham


The Library of Birmingham opened in September 2013. A combined Library and Archive, it was designed to be a new icon for the City of Birmingham, a visitor attraction, a community space, rich with events, used for business and social meetings, valuable to the corporate and professional sector and to homeless people alike.  We wanted to prove that the Library is alive and well and offers hope and pride to a community. We have done so, and we are proud too.

Three key principles guide the design brief for the library:

  • The challenge to be welcoming, inclusive and accessible to all in a very young and diverse urban community
  • The idea that the library is public realm, and there should be a very strong and very visible relationship between the public realm inside the library, and that outside
  • The conviction that learning is a journey of discovery and excitement, and so should the journey through the library be too.

The library in the city

The Library of Birmingham is located on Centenary Square, the main public square of the city and directly on the main pedestrian route running on the East-West axis across the city. Over 15m people walk by the library each year. We challenged the design team to deliver a landmark building for the city, one which redefined Birmingham through its visual imagery and through its representation of the values of culture, reading, learning and community. Creating transparency and permeability between interior and exterior was crucial to the vision of the library as part of the public realm of the city. This is achieved through the performance amphitheatre (pictured below), deliberate use of light and glazing to open up the library, two large garden terraces and a rooftop viewing area.

On arrival

The foyer of the Library is critical. It is deliberately conceived as a very generously proportioned landing strip, both to allow mingling and meeting and an event/exhibition/activity space to develop, but also to remove the sense of intimidation that a narrow portal-style entrance and foyer can create. The library designs invites people inside, and allows them space and time to consider their surroundings and their options. It does not immediately force choice upon those who are outside their comfort zone in a large cultural institution.

Children and young people

Birmingham is the youngest city in Europe, by age-profile of its citizens. The Library is designed and conceived to address firstly the needs of children and young people for improved standards of literacy, better ICT skills, and higher standards of health and well-being and better access to the skills and techniques necessary to succeed in the job market.


Learning, and the inspiration to learn, are at the core of all that the library does. The light, airy and attractive design of the building is an encouragement to people to stay longer and get the most from their visit. Many people who visit stay for the whole day.


The Library is designed to deliver on the vision of an event-rich environment. We are planning over 2,500 events each year, ranging from small, regular activities to major one-off conferences and events. The design of the interior and exterior spaces of the Library is critical to success in delivering events. Pictured below is the Amphitheatre with an audience of several hundred in the square drawn to the library by an operatic performance.

Social spaces and café

The Library of Birmingham is designed for flexibility. We have tried to allow users a wide range of choices for seating, but also enable them to “colonise” spaces and form new norms of behaviour. The Library has become a meeting destination, whether for social encounters or for business meetings, corporate events or community group meetings.

The Library Café is an important aspect of the service. More than just a source of refreshment, it helps to create the coffee house atmosphere that is critical to our community engagement strategy. Already the café area has been self-populated by reading groups, study groups and even a knitting circle. The serving area on the square and a secondary service point on the third floor allows people to take drinks outside and encourages the engagement with the public realm that is vital. And, not of least importance, the café provides an important source of income to the library.

Services and facilities

The library offers a wide range of services, for example a fully conditioned exhibition gallery, music practice rooms, a recording studio, a dedicated archive search room, conference facilities, a 300-seat theatre, and business incubation services

Digital and physical

An aspiration for the Library was to demonstrate how digital technology could be effectively integrated with a powerful physical building. Allied to a digital strategy which featured both a revitalised website and new content management engines, based largely on new mobile platforms, we adopted an approach which allowed large screens placed strategically to engage customers with library content, give them a strong visual experience, and reinforced our marketing initiatives. Thus collection content and event advertising carries almost equal prominence.

18. Sep 2017 at. 13:59

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