Birmingham Central Library

Birmingham Central Library is the main public library in Birmingham, England, managed by Birmingham City Council. The main section, containing the music library, other collections, and Birmingham Reference Library is located on several floors over Paradise Circus, with the main entrance and lending library in a wing fronting Chamberlain Square.

Since July 2010, the outside of the building has been decorated by painted birds, the work of Lucy Mclauchlan.


Special features include the Boulton and Watt collection, the Bournville Village Trust Archive, the Charles Parker Archive and the Railway and Canal Historical Society Library.

The specialist Shakespeare Memorial Room was designed in 1882 by John Henry Chamberlain for the previous Central Library. It contained several early William Shakespeare folio editions. When the old building was demolished in 1974 Chamberlain's room was dismantled and fitted into the new concrete shell of the new library. It is in an extension of the main building alongside Birmingham City University music department's Adrian Boult Hall and used for Birmingham Conservatoire concerts. The room now contains the secondary collection of Shakespearean books and is mainly used as a small meeting room.

History and earlier building

The first municipal library occupied the northern half of a site on Edmund Street and facing the Town Hall. The site had been acquired from the Birmingham and Midland Institute (BMI) after they had commenced construction of their own institute building on the southern half, which was to include a public library - a referendum under the Public Libraries Act 1850 on the creation of a municipal library having failed. A second vote in 1860 agreed on the building of a library, causing the Corporation and the BMI to cooperate in a joint site. A design by E. M. Barry had been chosen by the BMI but was too expensive for the Corporation, so they chose William Martin to design all but the façade. The library was opened in 1865, but during the building of an extension in 1879 a fire caused extensive damage, destroying most of the 50,000 reference books.

The library was rebuilt on the same site by Martin & Chamberlain and opened in 1882. As the number of books increased, the Council approved the creation of a replacement library in 1938, but it was not until the late 1960s, and the need for the new Inner Ring Road that action was taken, and the current building constructed alongside. The original library and the BMI building were demolished (The BMI moved to premises a block to the east) and the site is now part of the UCE Birmingham Conservatoire and its gardens. The site where the current central library is now situated was originally occupied by Mason College and Liberal Club.


The current building was opened in 1974 and is the third library in the vicinity. It was designed by John Madin, a Birmingham architect and its inverted ziggurat form is a powerful example of the Brutalist style. With the Rotunda tower and the Alpha Tower, it is one of Birmingham's key Modernist buildings.

The Central Library is a complex multi-level structure which extends below the Centenary Square ground level to form part of a busy junction (Paradise Circus) on the Inner Ring Road and was to have included a bus station at the road level, although this was never provided. Originally it was intended that the Central Library would be set in landscaped gardens, with five pools, and that Centenary Square could be extended at full width to the library. However, the sale of the land upon which the Copthorne Hotel and Chamberlain House now stand has frustrated this objective. When built, the main Central Library building was open to pedestrians at ground level making a generous public link between Chamberlain Square and Centenary Square, albeit with a pedestrian subway (since replaced by a bridge) to what is now Centenary Square. This space was roofed and enclosed in 1989 after the footbridge (which carries 11.8m people a year) was built and the inner ring road lowered as part of improvements to pedestrian access to Centenary Square. The area now forms Paradise Forum, containing bars, restaurants and shops and open as a pedestrian route, 24 hours a day.

The appearance of the library building has been much criticised, mostly due to the staining of the stone chip and concrete cladding panels which have not been cleaned or replaced with stone cladding (as was originally proposed). The building has famously been described by Prince Charles as "looking more like a place for burning books, than keeping them". Nonetheless, the Twentieth Century Society is leading a campaign for its retention.

Architectural commentator Jonathan Glancey described the building in the The Guardian in 2003:

Argent Group PLC acquired Paradise Forum and Chamberlain House at Paradise Circus in 2004. Together with major landowners, it says it is working to improve the environment around Paradise Circus. It has produced a masterplan study in conjunction with Birmingham City Council and the University of Central England that would potentially create a 2,200,000 sq ft (204,000 m2) mixed use scheme for the site. Argent states that it has invested £2 million in a refurbishment programme to "improve the physical environment, offer an improved mix of facilities and create a safe and bright pedestrian thoroughfare under the Argent management regime implemented at Brindleyplace".

The northern part of the pedestrian level peters out in a temporary steel staircase, descending to road level.

The City Council proposes to demolish the existing central library building so that a pedestrian street axis extending from Centenary Square to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery can be formed. As part of the scheme, a new Library of Birmingham began construction in January 2010 on Centenary Square beside the Birmingham Rep theatre.

Library of Birmingham

The Library of Birmingham is a new library complex under construction in the city of Birmingham, England, in nearby Centenary Square. It will be the replacement for Birmingham Central Library. It is estimated the new library will cost £193 million and is seen by Birmingham City Council as a flagship project for the Redevelopment of Birmingham. Once the new library opens, the existing Paradise Forum and Central Library will be demolished to make way for the redevelopment of Paradise Circus.

Existing building

In the meantime, Central Library has for the second time failed to gain status as a listed building. When the new library in Centenary Square is finished in 2013, immediate work will begin on knocking down the current building to make way for the redevelopment of Paradise Circus.