Friday 27 September 2013

Two New Libraries opened in San Diego and Birmingham

Notices of the death of libraries are premature: Contrary to predictions, far from fading away, libraries are more important and vigorous then ever. This month, two large new city libraries have opened to public acclaim in Birmingham and San Diego. Both projects are of an ambitious scale: The San Diego Central Library has a total floor area of 46,000 sq m, and the Library of Birmingham 35,000 sq m. Both are fitted out with modern technology, have facilities such as caf├ęs, and some other intriguing facilities: the Library of Birmingham has a rooftop garden and an amphitheatre, and shares the building with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre; the San Diego Central Library has a sculpture garden and an art gallery as integral parts, and shares the building with a local high school.

Elsewhere, new local libraries are being built, like the recently opened Canada Water library in South-East London, while existing libraries are being refurbished. Urban libraries have turned into ‘urban living rooms’ where people study, work, and socialise, though their original function – a repository of printed books – is still important, as only a small fraction of books has been digitised. The holdings of modern libraries are increasingly varied, adding recorded and sheet music, videos, artwork, board games and changing exhibits.

The crucial point is that libraries that adapt to new technology and changing user requirements have increasing visitor numbers. It is not uncommon for visitor numbers to double after library refurbishments, as in the case of the John Harvard Library in Southwark (AMA survey, 2010), which was redesigned and extended recently, led by AMA Alexi Marmot Associates.

Library of Birmingham (left), San Diego Central Library (right)
(photos: Alexi Marmot, Jimmy Juano)