October 2007. The cabinet gives approval to the business case for a new Library of Birmingham.
We’ve covered some hard miles to get this far, aligning political, financial and professional expectations has been challenging, but now we have a site, project managers (Capita Symonds) and a budget.
And a new partner, the REP. And, above all, a clear vision for a new kind of library, one that stresses the visitor experience, and the role of knowledge in empowering people to lead more fulfilling lives – a transformational library.
The milestones follow in rapid succession over the next six years.
We appoint architects Dutch avant-garde “outsiders” Mecanoo and a construction partner, Carillion. An archaeological survey is conducted, planning consent is obtained and construction work starts in January 2010.
We top out the building in September 2011 and set an opening date for September 3, 2013. In May 2013 we take over the building and, in July, move in all library staff.
Behind the scenes is a drive to preserve balance among the holy trinity of construction projects – stay on time, keep within budget, maintain quality. We do.
Then there are myriad essential activities: preparing the collections for the move; managing public and media relations; consultation; legal agreements; contract management; staff reorganisation; specifying the ICT; describing how the library will work; keeping everybody focused on delivering the vision and working as a team to solve the inevitable challenges. And to stay calm when others are panicking.
Now its August 2013 – a week to go.
There’s a sense of enormous pride in what we have all achieved together. More than 5,000 people in one way or another have contributed to the Library of Birmingham.
For many, it will be the best job they ever do. Initial reaction from the few privileged visitors before we open is universally positive: “wow” has become an overused word again.
It’s not all plain sailing: plenty of building details to iron out, a huge staff training programme not fully completed, new ways of working will take time to bed in, and public expectations are sky-high.
We expect huge numbers to visit in our first week.
I hope they will be patient and remember that for all of us the journey to September 3 has been long and arduous and we’ve just arrived – at the beginning.
11am on September 3 will be a historic moment for culture, learning and libraries and a great day for Birmingham.
We are opening one of Europe’s most important cultural venues, its largest public library, and the home to some outstanding cultural treasures; the day is carefully choreographed down to the last minute. We are as ready as we will ever be.
My greatest wish now is that the people of Birmingham take the library to their hearts, and feel pride in what has been achieved.
Six years in the making, it’s their library now.