Win Tickets for the 2013 Birmingham International Tattoo
Sunday 1 December 2013 - 2.00 pm
Doors open at 12.30pm
The NIA, Birmingham
win four tickets
With over 1,200 performers, Britain’s biggest indoor military tattoo will bring together marching bands, gymnasts, dog display teams, field gun and many other performers to the NIA in Birmingham.
Answer the following question:
A tattoo features music from (a) Goth punk genre (b) Welsh male voice choirs or (c) military
Email answers to firstname.lastname@example.org by Wednesday 27th November 2013 2pm
Birmingham's new library. Academic inspiration ...it gave me none.
|Never mind the escalators ...give us the books|
I finally got around to visiting Birmingham's new library in Centenary Square this afternoon with my 11 year old daughter.
I went with an open mind, despite the worthy arguments I have read in the past few years about keeping the old central library open and refurbishing it, also the fact that Mike Whitby's Tory/Liberal council had pressed on with building this £189 million glorified art sculpture when they knew full well that Birmingham's finances were on the edge of a precipice it has subsequently tumbled over. Charities and community groups losing their 'supporting people' funding from March 2014 were recently told, it's either street lighting or support for vulnerable people and the Council has decided on street lights.
I'm certainly no philistine when it comes to arty modern architecture either, personally I think that the new library does look great at night and sits well next to the bright lights of the ICC and the Rep. So I can see why it might have caught the eye of the media recently with the likes of the New York Times advising Americans to try Brum, alongside wide shots of Centenary Square. However, call me an old traditional but I thought the function of a library was for people to read, study and learn in, not to be the £189 million West Midlands version of the George Pompidou Centre.
My visit to 'the library' today was very disappointing for two main reasons. Firstly inclusion, right from the wholly inadequate revolving front door which took about 10 minutes just to get into the place, to the inaccessible layered children's amphitheatre. How can any local authority in the year 2013, 18 years after the Disability Discrimination Act, think that a live reading and performance area with layers of platforms but no ramped access to them be even vaguely acceptable?
A disgrace, though not I guess a surprising one given Mike Whitby's horse blinkered rush to leave his own mark next to Sir Dick Knowles' far more visionary yet inclusive Convention Centre.
From the front door onwards, the experience of the new library was like a futuristic cattle market as a long procession of soulless looking drones made our dreary way up and down escalators in search of academic inspiration. After 15 minutes we gave up looking for it and took our chances with the big wheel and the German market instead.
The second thing I want from a library is functionality. Books, maps, resources, exhibitions, photos, ok yes computers (very useful and I'm no luddite either), desks, chairs, study spaces and friendly library staff to help you when you can't find what you want. What is striking about the new library is the absence of most of the above. The old library may have been looking a bit shabby and threadbare in recent years and most of us wouldn't have argued too much with Prince Charles's description of the outside as looking like a bunker for the burning of books. But in it's defence it did have an abundance of ...well, 'books', ample quiet study space and relevantly sign posted floors and departments.
Whenever I see the sign 'discovery area' I immediately think of that little area they have in the larger MacDonald's restaurants where unsupervised kids stamp on bright lights on the floor and the management throw in a few pamphlets about the environment. The same was done when they dismantled the old Science Museum and hung the beautiful old Spitfire over the James Watt steam engine and the great old locomotive, completely taking away the context of every item for the visitor and the space to enjoy them. The modern concept seems to be to cram as many gimmicks into a small a space as possible and call it a discovery area. But discover what? You're prone to claustrophobia and a short fuse?
Could £50 million not have cheered the old library up and made it look less like a concrete bunker whilst keeping its useful library-like functionality rather than spending three times that on creating a glass monument to Mike Whitby with a few books scattered here and there and staff behind desks whose body language would have made them into great extras in the video Where did you get that blank expression on your face? by The Specials.
In fairness, the spin-off cattle market from the German market and the article in the New York Times may have clouded my experience of Lord Bearwood's barbed wire bedecked tribute to Crystal Palace and I am sure there will be those at the new library who will want to tell us that books are becoming obsolete and electronic technology is the only road ahead. But in which case, why spend £189 million building a bloody library? Couldn't it all have gone online and that way the city could have continued to employ the 100 staff that they made redundant last year to upload what is after all the tax payer's property, but for a fraction of the cost?
One feature I did enjoy in the new library was the brightly coloured room in the front reception area where lost and forgotten books have been turned into art sculptures. Clearly the commissioning officer who came up with that idea had a very subtle sense of satire which may just have gone over the heads of her or his seniors.
Rather like the Emperor's New Clothes, for me the new library has been found out. It looks great nestled behind the big wheel at Winterval, the rooftop garden is probably nice if you are determined enough to find it, but I wouldn't have too much confidence in finding and borrowing such a thing as a book.