Reflections on the Library of Birmingham

Reflections on the Library of Birmingham

Posted on: 6 September 2013

After years of anticipation Europe's largest public library, the Library of Birmingham, opened its doors in September 2013. With days of celebratory events to mark the occasion, a genuine sense of pride to be 'Brummie' was very evident amongst the first hoards of visitors.

"The content of a book holds the power of education and it is with this power that we can shape our future and change lives." - Malala Yousafzai

Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl shot by the Taliban for campaigning for girls' education, opened the library with a compelling speech highlighting how vital a library is to a city.  Choosing Malala to open the library sent a clear message to the world that it intends to "drive a learning-led regeneration."

A decade on from the opening of the Bullring, it is fantastic that Birmingham can be proud of an iconic building that is far more meaningful than a retail space. The library is home to a million books that are surrounded by well-designed playful areas in which to explore them. The library can be seen as a gateway to culture as it is physically joined to the Repertory Theatre and metaphorically to the Birmingham Royal Ballet, the Ikon art gallery, the Birmingham Opera Company and the Birmingham Hippodrome.

Among the Library's many resources is the British Film Institute's Mediatheque; one of eight national viewing stations from which users have the opportunity to view a huge selection of content taken from one of the world's most significant film and television collections. Content ranges from home movies to feature films, documentaries to kids' TV and includes footage rarely seen since it was first released. It offers a window into our nation's history and, of course, there is a designated section for Birmingham. Designed to be easy to browse and discover new content, the viewing booths seemed to be very popular with groups of young people within the first few hours of the Library's opening.

"Film provides such a tantalising view of how the people of Britain lived and worked and played over the past century or more." - Amanda Nevill, BFI Director

The Mediatheque demonstrates the impact that film and video can have. Video captures and presents cultural and historical events and non-events in a unique format. It's ability to engage and inform the viewer is unmatched by any other medium.

The link between video and education is more evident than ever with the rise in popularity of interactive online education such as MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) and the Khan Academy.  They use video as their main teaching tool, allowing them to reach millions of learners around the world.

The archive will grow in the years to come "with a new collection chronicling Birmingham's proud history and culture." - Brian Gambles, Assistant director of the Library

Because of video sharing websites like YouTube, we are now used to viewing a much more candid document of our culture. Captured largely on mobile phones, new content reflecting normal life is uploaded and available to view every day.  Arguably, the window into the ordinary has become far less tantalising and now we strive for something extraordinary.  This leads me to wonder what the criteria will be for the growth of the archive and how we will be accessing video in the future.


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Reflections on the Library of Birmingham

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