Birmingham’s libraries must be transformed in to a service dedicated to inspiring a new generation of users, a major conference in the city was told.
More than 250 librarians from 21 countries gathered in Birmingham this week for a conference on the future of library services.
The event at Birmingham’s Town Hall included a tour of the new Library of Birmingham, due for completion in 2013.
The library’s project director Brian Gambles and its designer Francine Houben, of Mecanoo Architecten, also addressed the conference in a key note speech.
Libraries worldwide are grappling with funding difficulties and digital innovations that make it easy to access information online from home.
In Britain, a survey showed that 50 per cent of the British population had not used a public library in the past 12 months.
While in Birmingham, 37 per cent of the city’s population saw no reason to ever visit a library.
Henriette de Kok, a library director from The Netherlands, said: “We don’t know what libraries will be in the 21st century.
“People and politicians are saying: do we need a public library? Everything is digital, everybody has e-books. I don’t agree. I think it is very important to get a balance between the physical library and the digital library.”
She believed the “core task” of libraries is to give free access to information.
“In my library, in a town of 300,000 inhabitants, we did an investigation and 70 per cent of visitors are not coming to borrow books from our library,” she said. “They are looking for information, to meet people, to study, for the wi-fi, to read magazines or read with children.
“So it is not the only task of a library to lend books.”
Ms de Kok said the Library of Birmingham was a “very attractive concept”.
“Birmingham has a concept for what the library will be in the future,” she said.
Jay Jordan is president and chief executive of OCLC, a library technology company that has operated in Birmingham for 30 years and organised the conference.
He said: “Libraries are under huge pressure around the world from a budgetary standpoint. How do you optimise the physical space and the digital offerings that you can provide?
“[The library] is not a book repository anymore. It cannot be – then it will go away. I think most librarians around the world understand that.”
The 10-storey development in Birmingham’s Centenary Square will feature an outdoor amphitheatre, garden terraces, a recording studio and free access to the National Film Archive.
Traditional lending services will be complemented by 24/7 online access, a hub for writing CVs and gaining qualifications, children’s storytelling and arts and crafts workshops. It will also be physically linked to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre.
“We want to redesign the service. We want to be inspirational,” said Brian Gambles, project director for the Library of Birmingham as he spoke to the conference.