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Posts Tagged ‘Library of Birmingham

Closed down and sealed off

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Library of Birmingham twitter announced early closure on 27 Nov 2014, but no explanation

Library of Birmingham twitter announced early closure on 27 Nov 2014, but no explanation

The Chartered Institute of Building organised an event on ‘HS2 and The Benefits It Will Bring’ at Room 105 of the Library of Birmingham on the evening of 27 November. While it was possible to for invitees to attend the event, it turned out that the whole of the main library had been closed down and sealed off for a private business function (Quilter Cheviot) and the general public turfed out at 4.30pm. So much for the Library being a “people’s palace“.

Written by beleben

November 28, 2014 at 8:08 pm

Posted in Birmingham, Politics

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Strange kind of library

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The Library of Birmingham, in the Square of Centenary, is a strange kind of library. One where it is not particularly easy to find books and periodicals, or do any studying.

One of its many oddities is the floor nomenclature, which as can be seen, is self-unexplanatory.

Library of Birmingham, lifts signage, Nov 2014

Library of Birmingham, lifts signage, Nov 2014. The lift indicator on the left shows a lift at floor ‘L4’, which isn’t a floor listed on the signage

Inside the main lifts, the floor buttons have no indication as to what their labelling means, and there are two columns of buttons, which means they do not map to the physical order of the floors (a multi-column arrangement requires an understandable nomenclature).

Library of Birmingham, lift floor selector buttons

There is no explanation as to the absence of ‘floors’ 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9. People are supposed to guess that ‘GF’ is the ground floor, but on reaching that floor, the sign outside the lift says ‘G’

The ground floor sign outside the lifts says ‘G’, which is not a level displayed on the list of floors (presumably, ‘G’ relates to ‘GF’).

Ground floor is denoted by 'G', except when it's denoted by 'GF'

Ground floor is denoted by ‘G’, except when it’s denoted by ‘GF’

Since April 2013, local authorities have been assigned a ‘a key role in improving the health of their local population’, so it’s a bit odd to have massive in-your-face Coke machines in the main library space. There being (apparently) no limitation on consuming food and drink while consulting library materials, sooner on later Coke or whatever is bound to end up spilled all over items of stock.

Library of Birmingham, coke machines

Library of Birmingham, coke machines

The internal layout is not very good for peace and quiet, and there are few carrels. On the 5 November, there was even a brass band playing inside the building. Surely, the town hall or council house would be a better location for receptions and suchlike.

Written by beleben

November 6, 2014 at 6:14 pm

Simulation of an argument

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In his most rambling blogpost yet, Railnews’ Sim Harris wrote

[Railnews blog]

“HS2 could turn out like Birmingham Library and come in 2 per cent under budget. Who knows?”

The evidence from around the world is that transport megaprojects tend to exceed their original budget, and that is particularly the case with rail. One obvious, but not particularly helpful, approach is to pad out or ‘reset’ the headline budget, so that cost escalation gets hidden.

But would HS2 be a ‘success’, if it turned out like the Library of Birmingham?

[‘Six years late and way over budget‘, Steve Beauchampé, Birmingham Press / 3 September, 2013]

The initial cost of building the Library of Birmingham is £188.6m and has been paid for entirely through Prudential Borrowing. Birmingham City Council originally planned to meet much of this cost by selling land at Paradise Circus. It failed to raise a penny through this method, the result of which is that once interest charges are applied (over a 40-year period), the final cost is expected to reach up to £590m (Paul Dale, The Birmingham Post, December 2009). At some future point, that sum has to be met by the city, perhaps through service cuts, perhaps by increasing Council Tax. In December 2009 then finance chief Councillor Randall Brew told the Birmingham Post that the city might be overstretching itself by racking up such expensive interest payments.
When the library’s design was first unveiled, former Cabinet Member for Leisure, Sport and Culture, Martin Mullaney likened its appearance to “three mattresses with a roll of duct tape stuck on the top”. An unerringly accurate description.

Apparently, the library website alone cost £1.2 million.

[‘Shroud of secrecy around the £342,000 a day we pay Capita’, Prof David Bailey, Birmingham Post, 24 Oct 2013]

[…] Were the obviously large amounts spent on the new Library of Birmingham extra to the reported £189 million spent, or part of that? Did the library have no choice but to use Service Birmingham?

Written by beleben

January 7, 2014 at 2:17 pm

Think inside the straitjacket

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Mecanoo Library of Birmingham, under constructionAn article by Steve Beauchampé published on the Stirrer website on 12 May 2009, gave a personal account of the Francine Houben/Mecanoo Library of Birmingham public consultation.

[…] So it was with a genuine sense of open-mindedness that I arrived at the Central Library foyer for one of the ‘focus group’ sessions that forms part of BCC’s consultation process for the new development.

Thirty minutes, eight members of staff, and four floors of searching later (during which time I was repeatedly told that no such meeting was booked and also that neither was Mecannoo’s model of the new library on display, as had been promised), myself and the only two other people who attended the session, were still searching for the correct meeting room. Apparently, the organisation of a similar meeting held earlier in the week had been similarly chaotic.

Finally two women in Library of Birmingham T-shirts (clearly branding matters!) arrived and the meeting started… well, sort of.

Despite T-shirt 1 repeatedly urging us to “think outside the box” and insisting that our comments would “add value” it soon became clear that it wasn’t a box, but a straightjacket that we were being strapped into.

Off the agenda was any discussion of the building’s architectural merits (actually I knew this beforehand but the other two attendees didn’t); also banned were questions concerning the building’s footprint, the number of floors, layout thereof, despite our being told that none of these things had been determined (which is at odds with some of the claims made at the official launch on April 2nd).

Instead, we were to discuss five specific themes, including the welcome visitors might receive, café facilities, would we like a shop… ooh, all the things vital to the world class library service LOB supremo Brian Gambles and his team insist his £193 m budget will buy.

T-shirt 1 would ask the questions, T-shirt 2 would transfer our thoughts on to a flip chart with a big marker pen. Well sorry, but no way! No way had I travelled into town and been messed around for 40 minutes to discuss whether I wanted Costa or Starbucks to sign a ten-year lease on cafe facilities!!

We compromised. It was agreed that we could raise our points and ideas on what we wanted from the new library more or less at random (at least that’s how we played it) and T-shirts 1 and 2 could work out which of their blessed little boxes they fitted in.

Ideas began flowing; from the fairly obvious – more lavatories, wider escalators, better natural lighting – to a proposal that visitors could access computers in reception to find out in which department a specific book or document is stored.

The need to digitise local newspapers, allowing them to be read on computers rather than the slow, awkward and inefficient microfilm and fiche readers currently employed was also discussed as well as need for staff to be visible and knowledgeable.


Mr Beauchampé went on to describe the neglect (and virtual abandonment of the upper parts) of the Madin library in recent years. (As of 2012, the upper floors have been closed in preparation for moving stock to the Houben library — for which, unlike the existing library, there has been no problem finding cash.)

Birmingham Mail, 21 May 2009

Council spends £135,000 on spin doctors

Byline: Neil Elkes

SPIN doctors hired for the glittering launch of the planned new Library of Birmingham were paid a “staggering” £135,000 of taxpayers’ money, it was revealed today.

City council boss Mike Whitby and his library development team snubbed their own press and marketing officials in favour of public relations consultants in a move slammed as “an outrageous waste of money” by critics.

The two firms, S&X Media and Bolton and Quinn, were hired to promote the unveiling of the proposed library designs in April, an exhibition of the designs and a consultation with the people of Birmingham.

The £134,597 cost was revealed in a Freedom of Information Act request by the Birmingham Mail.

It comes just days after an official inquiry into the project found that Dutch architects Mecanoo were paid £10 million for their controversial design.

A member of that library scrutiny team, Labour deputy leader Ian Ward said he was stunned at the amount, which could pay the salaries of FIVE public relations officers for a year. “It is extraordinary, staggering. Consultants should be brought in when there is no in-house expertise. But Birmingham City Council has a press and PR team and a marketing team. It suggests Mike Whitby has no confidence in his own press officers. “I would seriously question whether this presents value for money and will certainly raise it when the library scrutiny committee meets again.”

The cash was paid from the Leisure, Sport and Culture portfolio, which is struggling to meet bills for municipal golf courses, allotments, libraries and swimming pools. At the same time the City Council has a ten-strong press and PR team, headed by the Canadian spin doctor Debra Davis, dealing with hundreds of media inquiries every week ranging from social service cuts the launch of new initiatives. There is also a specialist event marketing team to promote the city’s wide range of public events. But for glamorous projects, fronted by Coun Whitby, it seems outside consultants are preferred, with rumours of a rift with Ms Davis rife in council house circles.

Coun Whitby was today not available to comment on the issue. But a lengthy statement from the city council said: “The £193 million Library of Birmingham is a very major project of national and international, as well as local and regional, significance and our communications strategy needs to be proportionate in scale and range. Investment by the council in the Library of Birmingham will provide a vital stimulus for the wider promotion of Birmingham for job-creating investment.

This is particularly crucial in a recession and globally competitive environment.” It said the council did not have the specialist arts and culture marketing expertise in house nor the capacity to undertake the level of work required. And it claimed the two firms generated press, television and internet coverage worth an estimated £500,000 for the Library project.

“Fees and associated costs paid by the city council to the two PR firms for delivery of the launch events and related activities, including consultation and engagement, totalled £134,597 and included event production for a programme of media and stakeholder events over a four-day period and a range of collateral, including print, exhibition and web-based materials, to reach a variety of audiences locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, not only during the launch but for use over many months following.” Jane Quinn, founding director of of London-based art world public relations specialists Bolton and Quinn, said: “We are delighted to be working in close collaboration with the in-house team on such an important project.”

Roulla Xenides, MD of S&X Media, said: “This is a hugely important project for the city and the people of Birmingham and the scope of work needed to give it the coverage it needs as a world class development is extensive. “Most of the budget spent was not on fees but on the launch events and materials being used going forward to promote the library to local people, national and international stakeholders.” Debra Davis could not be contacted. A second Freedom of Information Act request revealed the council spent more than £14,000 sending a PR consultant and photographer to join Coun Whitby at the MIPIM international development conference in Cannes in March.

On 5 April 2011 the council announced that it had fired S&X Media from the library promotion, and awarded a new £292,000 contract to another company.

Birmingham Post, April 5 2011
By Neil Elkes

The London-based marketing firm behind Harry Potter author JK Rowling and The Man Booker Prize has beaten off competition from a string of Birmingham agencies to win the contract for the new Library of Birmingham.

Colman Getty has secured the £292,000 three-year contract to oversee the promotion of the £189 million library in Centenary Square, replacing Birmingham’s S&X Media, who had held the contract for the previous three years.
Colman Getty, whose clients also include the Saatchi Gallery and Cheltenham Literary Festival, has been asked to draw up a ‘high impact regional, national and international campaign’ for the new library which is due to open in 2013.

Coming back down to earth for a moment

  • “investment” by the council in Houben library PR is not going to provide a stimulus for the wider promotion of Birmingham for job-creating investment
  • S&X and Bolton and Quinn did not generate press, television and internet coverage “worth £500,000”. Television and press are always looking for stories to fill space. So normal PR activity (stunts and press releases, etc) would probably have achieved the same result. (Which has no economic value anyway.)

Written by beleben

March 1, 2012 at 1:41 pm