Dear, Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham is a beautiful building, nonetheless, I had my doubts that it was going to be functional from the start.

Having coped without a weekly visit to the old library for nine months, like many, I counted down the weeks to having access to a local library again. The excitement remains even while in the queue to squeeze into Birmingham’s shiniest gem. And during the time it took to get to each of the nine scintillating floors. There are escalators which then turn into a travelator and then lifts or stairs–your choice. I spend the whole day in there trying to see it all; now that I’m back in, you just try to get me out! 

During this day, I notice there were only three lifts for a building that fits 3000. We didn’t have 3000 people waiting to get in though so why the delay – too few doors?

Similarly, 3000 people trying to get to the bathroom is tricky. On the map, it’s delightful that there are facilities placed everywhere – I mean every corner you look. Except most of these are single occupancy lavatories so there’s either a wait or ‘cleaning’ sign to greet you. (If you’re in a hurry, by the way, the best ones to use are on the ground floor in the Rep. Plentiful and functional)

Some solutions

With the opening hours reduced this Spring, we’ll cast aside the reported £1 million wasted on an average website and the number of empty meeting rooms spotted.

In its first year, Birmingham’s newest tourist attraction is said to have received three million visitors, more than twice the previous library.

Surely, the idea is to get as many people in as possible to spend money and make this a sustainable public building it can so simply become, but what to spend cash on? There is only one coffee shop.

The days of libraries earning revenue from unpaid fines are gone – we can now renew books online or pop them into the external book deposit. There are plenty of other ways for the library to earn it’s living in order to retain its status as the must-see community building for all to access seven days a week.

Coffee/wine

Three million people deserve more than one coffee shop by the entrance. How about a fine dining restaurant, preferably with a view or a decent cafeteria with something for all at an everyday price? (see Amsterdam PL (Cost €80m). Another coffee shop/bar on one of the floors will bring in people to watch the sunset with a glass of something. Well they will when the library extends the hours to 10pm, like many cities around the world.

Have coffee served by people who love customers, promote the loyalty card (did you know they have one?) and install coffee machines that are not designed for self-service. They  do work in the ICC, which by the way is the same company, operating a cafeteria and their staff provide fantastic service.

Room Hire

With the view and the state of the art facilities, the library shapes up to be an impressive place to hold events. I was one of those sucked in by the glamour and then regretted it when it took me two months to book rooms. I saw empty rooms everywhere but I was told they were booked up.

The event service needs to be on a par with the hundreds of fantastic venues across this city. They need to match up to the friendliness of quirky Studio Venues, the food offerings of Etc. and the professionalism of ICC.

Eventually the library staff are responsive and I book rooms for several events. On more than one occasion I find I’m unable to have the air conditioning in this green library turned off without calling maintenance and waiting ‘up to four hours’! The staff bend over backwards to help you but just seem to be poorly trained and this  just capped a catalogue of errors over the course of several months.

I’ve organised events for years and worked with some fantastic venue people. We just need to get a few of those in and make the events department a winner here.

Be welcoming

Refrain from using hesitant council language (these chairs are for the use of library café customers only) to welcoming, customer friendly speak (you are welcome to come and purchase drinks and snacks from the café and enjoy them sitting here).

Call me old-fashioned, but a sign that says ‘lending library this way’ would be helpful in a library, right?

Business Centre

This can be the go to place for business starts ups – drop in, have your questions answered or be sign posted to someone that can help.

I understand we're in a community building and knowledge should be free. Nevertheless, how about charging a nominal fee for those who can afford it? Would you pay £10 for a drink and some mingling with lovely views? Or £15 for a workshop to learn some skills while admiring the busiest public library in Europe?

And the study rooms – can we just pay to book some of them for meetings?

Volunteers

For those of us (me) that adore libraries and reading, volunteering here is a dream gig. Who wouldn’t want a few hours of their month spent here? Only, at the time of writing, the library is not offering any opportunities.

Any cost factors to train volunteers are surely offset by the better service to customers = more customers = more revenue = more opening hours.

I say bring in an army of enthusiastic volunteers to over shadow some of the (understandable) gloom. 

Heritage

Sadly, the last couple of times I’ve made it to the top, I’ve noted the Shakespeare room no longer has a person sitting at the desk watching over this key piece of wondrous heritage. It’s lovely to have someone there to answer questions or just have banter with. A perfect role for a volunteer. Frankly, I’m happy to move into that room!

Any more suggestions? Please, let’s hear them.

By Rickie J,  library geek, founder & editor of Birmingham Favourites

@RickieWrites @BrumFaves