I’m a final year student, and I’m currently mid-way through writing a 6000 word essay on whether one can assign moral weight to a random collective. This writing process certainly requires a certain amount of brain power, and typically the best places for the little grey cells, as a Belgian detective might refer to them, are in a university library.
If you are living in the West Midlands, you are well blessed for university libraries to visit. The largest one near where my parents live in Dudley is the University of Birmingham, which is filled with some beautiful premium desk space to work in. However, there are an additional three libraries sitting in the centre of the city: the library of Aston University, the library of Birmingham City University, and the library of Birmingham.
I found myself working this afternoon on these 6000 words inside Birmingham library. It’s a new building, opened three and a half years ago and feels still like a beautiful new building, although it’s starting to show a few signs of wear and tear. I haven’t been through the city centre since the summer, however, and what shocked me was the view that looked back into the city centre.
That view was the fact there was a complete absence of the gargantuan, gigantic Birmingham Central Library. Completed in 1974, the library sat as a concrete hulk over one corner of Birmingham, moodily observing the passing city that moved beneath its feet like sea water moving beneath the giant cliffs of the sea. There was something in those scaling grey walls of concrete that felt eternally rooted on the side of Chamberlain Square.
I can remember, as a five year old, walking into the Central Library with my mum. I remember how large the building felt around me, the weight of the concrete that pressed in around my ears, the colourful delight of the children’s book area that waited for me a little further in. The library, for me, has always been part of the city and part of the city centre.
Now it is ripped out, soon to be replaced with a shopping centre covered with glass panelling. Which I’m sure will be an impressive piece of architecture in itself, yet it won’t have what Birmingham Central Library had: strong character. It won’t have the raw feeling of brutalist brick that met the eye as it soared above the town house. It won’t reflect the spirit of what Birmingham is: just another bland reflection of how the second city wants to turn more into London.
I’m not as upset as I may seem about the library being gone. But I think it is sad that Birmingham has thrown this piece of its history onto the garbage heap of history. It’s a little like trying to get your parents to leave you behind when you have to go to school, too worried of being seen with them at the school gates. The Birmingham accent may be funny and the city centre may have odd architecture, but that culture is worth celebrating and hanging onto. With this empty plot of land, we forget just about where we came from.