Monday, 16 September 2013

Birmingham Library opened by Malala Yousafzai

Library of Birmingham
I was one of the 10,000 who hip bumped into the new Library of Birmingham at its opening ceremony. The launch was a massive PR success with coverage from the BBC and all the national newspapers. Even I was caught by Al Jazeera TV to give my opinion. Media interest is fabulous, but for me, too many journalists are enjoying the hoo-hah around the £190m cost of the building at the expense of debating and reporting on the more important issue of the library service.

The exterior drama of the building is the glory of Birmingham and architect Francine Houben of Mecanoo but inside, 5 floors dance intimately with books, spiralling the eyes, sparkling the mind. The library director Brian Gambles is quoted in the Bookseller (6 Sept issue) as saying "books were at the heart of this project". I have a hunch this is the right idea, if the engaged faces of children I've spotted in libraries across Britain are any sign of what British citizens born since 2003 want for their future.

On its launch, what did Brummies think about their new library? Speeches at any opening ceremony usually expect puffballs of idealistic words from the mouths of suited dignitaries – and then, if the dignitaries are lucky, the crowds will smile and clap. At the opening ceremony of Birmingham Library the microphone voice said the project would "bring people and communities together"... Par! We in the crowd knew it already had. We'd come from our homes in taxis, on buses, trains, cars, chauffeur-driven cars, on our bikes, on foot. We'd chatted to strangers as we waited for the ceremony to start, and shared the excitement of this day in Birmingham.

The crowd were craning to get a photo of Malala Yousafzai

In the crowd, I stood next to Doctor Trueman from Eastenders, and on my other side was an assertive woman in a mobility scooter. Young men's suits and old ladies' shopping bags rustled together, children jumped up and down to see above the heads of the grown-ups and babies fell asleep in their pushchairs. All sorts were here. And everybody was waiting for Malala Yousafzai.

We listened and clapped at the speeches of the other dignitaries, but finally when Malala took the microphone, to officially open the library, the crowd's response to her was a tear jerker before she even spoke.

She told us it was different here than in Pakistan for girls, "even children of 6 and 7 have read more books than me" "I will empower myself with knowledge" "books are the weapons that can defeat terrorism" "books are very precious... some books visit the corner of your heart and some books go out into the universe"… Wow, I want to read the book this girl will surely write herself, one day! And I hope everyone who wants to read it will be able to pop to the Library of Birmingham and borrow it for a while.

Musicians lined up with the books inside the Library