I was very lucky to have a sneak preview of The Library of Birmingham before it opens its doors to the public on 3 September 2013.
I was a guest at one of a series of soft testing. Members of the public were there to test the knowledge of the staff, some of the services on offer and generally feed back on the building.
Today the photo embargo was lifted and I can now share my photos and thoughts about my visit.
The press have also released their reports, it seems The Guardian hates the library and Birmingham, and the council. The Independent is kinder.
This is my personal feedback, based on what I experienced on the day.
What I hope they have got right by the time of opening is:
The temperature. It was too warm, everywhere. It was a warm day, after a particularly hot few days. The studio theatre we met in was stuffy.
The Shakespeare Memorial Room was sauna like. The rest of the building was certainly warmer than needed. Time will tell if this is a snag or a major issue.
The wi-fi. This was patchy and non existent on either of the terraces.
The lifts. They were so slow, I wasted valuable time waiting for one to arrive.
My other thoughts are:
The Children’s Library is on the Lower Ground yet the Buggy Park is on the Ground Floor. This does not seem very practical or secure to me. Buggies are very expensive and I cannot see parents wanting to leave them unattended. Or take toddlers down two escalators.
The change from escalators to a travelator in the main body of the library was a bit disconcerting, especially coming down. I can’t say why exactly but it confused me a bit. I wear varifocals and sometimes I have issues with stairs and escalators, so perhaps it is just me.
I think there are some accessibility issues. My mom, as her sight deteriorated would have found it very difficult to navigate around the rotunda and on the escalators. The light would not have been adequate for her. For me, as the person who took her out and about in her wheelchair, I would have found it difficult to manoeuvre around the building. And mom would have got fed up of waiting for the lifts. As I am not a wheelchair user nor was with someone who is on the day, I couldn’t test this, I did however ask someone who was there with a wheelchair user. They thought there were some issues too. Again, time will tell how major a problem this is.
So onto the good bits.
The Rotunda of Books is stunning.
Every member of staff I spoke to was enthusiastic and excited about opening to the public and were well informed. They will have a lot of changes to get used to and I think they are up to the job.
The Secret Garden on the 7th floor is lovely and will be a good place to relax. The views are amazing.
I also liked the Discovery Terrace on the 3rd floor.
More amazing views of Birmingham.
I will be visiting the library when it opens and hope that I can organise a special visit behind the scenes for Make Friends with a Book, the shared reading group I helped establish in Sandwell.
In the future I will be trying out the cafe and may even write a blog post from there. So watch this space.