So Long, Farewell, Auf weidersehen, Adieu…

New Central Library under construction in 1973

Central Library under construction in 1973 near the Old Reference Library (WK/Lib55)

Birmingham Central Library finally closes the doors forever on 29 June 2013.  Love it or hate it, the John Madin designed inverted ziggurat with lending wing, has served the city for almost 40 years.

The building was opened on 12 January 1974 by the Rt Hon Harold Wilson MP (then Leader of the Opposition). He toured the building, spoke to a few users, but wasn’t able to stay for the buffet lunch because it was his wife’s birthday and presumably he had to get back to blow up the balloons.

The proposals for a new library, first made in 1938, interrupted by the 2nd World War, by the 1960s became a necessity. Space was at a premium in the old Victorian Library, the original capacity for stock having almost trebled.

The foundation stone for the building was finally laid on 5 June 1970 and building work began. The style of the building is described as an example of the Brutalist style and was to be part of a civic centre scheme with high walkways bridging roads between offices, shops, civic buildings, all floating in Paradise (Circus). Sadly, not a lot of the plan worked out and the space below the central atrium of the reference library was missing the gardens, pools, waterfalls, fountains etc and became a space to hold on to your wig as it turned into a veritable wind tunnel!

The outside of the ziggurat, originally proposed to be clad in Portland stone or Travertine marble, was downgraded to a limestone, aggregate, cement mix as an economic measure.

The 1980s heralded a time of improvement, with the building of the Library Theatre, the construction of a footbridge across to Centenary Square and in 1989, the enclosure of the atrium, thus creating Paradise Forum. An additional bookstore area was also built at the bottom of the building in the space that was to accommodate the bus depot, creating much needed expansion space.

But by 2000, the roof was leaking, the hair net went over the crumbling concrete and the wheels started dropping off! Time for a new one!

This old building came to life with our staff and customers. We accumulated experiences and memories through shared experiences. We celebrated the new Millennium with a decade of celebration, we stayed open all night with Harry Potter, we shared family days and we went Pink.

Personally, I remember the sinking of the Titanic, dressed in Edwardian costume whilst singing ‘Abide With Me’ down to the bottom of the Library at the end of the first Millennium Day in 1991. I also remember coercing number 2 daughter (with the promise of a monetary reward ) to dress up in an Andy Pandy costume (who’s Andy Pandy?) and parade around on a family day… the things you do!

For those of us who have spent time in this building, we all have our different memories and experiences. But, most of all we remember the friendships we have made along the way, the colleagues we have known and loved and lost.

Feel I should end this with a soul searching piece of poetry, so here goes…

Now is the time to say Goodbye
Now is the time to yield a sigh
Now is the time to wend awayee
Until we meet again some sunny day…

Over in the new Library!!
Judy Dennison, Archivist


4 responses to “So Long, Farewell, Auf weidersehen, Adieu…

  1. I’m List Admin of, one of the country-wide series of genealogy mailing lists. It has ~700 subscribers.

    It would be great if you were to post there, or send me emails to post – or give me permission to reproduce your blog posts, please.

    Many thanks


    • macgregorrachel


      Thanks for getting in touch. We’re right in the thick of it with the move at the moment but we will be back in touch soon!

      Best wishes,

      Rachel MacGregor
      Collection Curator

  2. An early version of an All Nighter at the Library was held on 2nd November 1993. I was sat at the top of the main escalator between floors 1 and 2 (by the old ticket issue desk) with my chair spinning wheel. Someone came along later and adorned me with a pair of Angel wings and a Halo and took a photo of me.
    It was overall a very quiet night and the only visitors I remember we’re a young family who turn up after they’d had a fire alarm at their own home.
    I had the next day off and on the Saturday morning Richard and I flew off to Hong Kong for 10 days holiday. My funds for the trip coming from an inheritance from my late Mum who died in November 1992.

    Hilary – retired 2007

  3. Pingback: 200 and Counting! | The Iron Room

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