Visit to the Library of Birmingham 7th February

I visited the Library of Birmingham on 7th February.  I had 2 particular reasons for the visit.  Exeter Central Library has been under £4.5 million redevelopment for 1 1/2 years and reopens on 22nd May.  Therefore I wanted to see what had been achieved at the Library of Birmingham (for 188 million), good practice and what the difficulties had been.  The new Exeter Library will have a Business and Intellectual Property Centre for the first time and I will be part of a team of 4 with responsibility for the centre so I wanted to learn about the Business and IP Centre at the Library of Birmingham and how it worked, the databases they used and which were most useful, any difficulties they had and what they would like to change. 

Yvonne Barker, Business & Learning Manager, gave a very informative 2 1/2 hour tour of the 11 floors of the Library and a good insight into the thinking behind each area.  Having seen many images of the library I had this picture in my mind of a cube covered in metal rings and hadn’t realised this iconic building was actually in 3 tiers.  This had been planned to allow for 2 gardens, the Secret garden on floor 7 and the Discovery Terrace on floor 3.  I thought that the outdoor space to read, relax with friends and enjoy the views was very relevant to the new Exeter Library where a new entrance to the rear of the building has been made to allow access to the park behind.  A lot of thought has gone into the outside areas in Rougemont Gardens but the visit has inspired more creative thinking about the balcony area on floor 2.  The Shakespeare Memorial Room, Skyline Viewpoint, Book Rotunda and Ampitheatre were amazing but for me the most significant impression I have is of half empty or completely empty shelves.  The shelving length was designed to equal the books that had been bought for the new Birmingham Library and of course with over half the stock out there are these huge gaps and no money to buy more stock.  As part of the stock team for Exeter Library I will be discussing extra stock and where to store it with the team.  In addition to the worries over cuts to services in Birmingham Yvonne had a big problem with IT.  There are still rooms not in use as the outside company who has the one million pound annual IT contract for the library hasn’t completed the work yet.  When we moved into the temporary library I put forward that it was essential that IT be done early so that it could be tested and any problems solved and this visit has reinforced this necessity for the move back into the redeveloped library.

On the Business and IP side I learnt that not all planned activities were in place yet.  Yvonne explained that some, such as the Learning Suite not yet up and running, were due to the IT not being completed but others due to time.  The first month after opening on 3rd September staff spent all their time on crowd control and it wasn’t until November they really started to get business and IP activities going.  This demonstrated to me the need to have everything not only in place for the opening of the new Exeter Library but to have organised the next few months after opening.  Yvonne also discussed impact and signage as you walk into the Business, Learning and Health floor and ideas on how to improve what they had at present.  This I found significant and was a timely reminder to step back and look at the Business and IP Centre from the customer’s viewpoint, particularly is it professional and does it give people in business/job hunting confidence in the expertise of the library.   I then had an instructive session with Carol Wallace, the Business Co-ordinator, about the Business & Learning databases the library subscribes to.  This included popularity, uses of the different databases, costs, etc.  This information is very important to Exeter Library as there is a lot of discussion at senior level about which databases to open the new Business and IP centre with.

I took lots of photographs of the interesting and the amazing and the more mundane notices, signs, leaflets etc to feedback to the development team.  Taking the photographs helped me focus on what I was seeing and caused me to think about why I was taking that photograph and what I wanted to achieve in showing it to the development team.












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