Birmingham’s culture chief has said key deals with Google and the Brasshouse Language Centre are crucial to keeping the Library of Birmingham’s doors open.
Labour council cabinet member Penny Holbrook claimed the £189 million library has gone from “difficult” cuts to achieving “amazing things” following the announcement of two major partnership deals.
The council has been under fire for drastically slashing the opening hours amid budget cuts.
Initially, the library had opening times cut from 70 to 43 hours a week – including being closed all day on Sundays.
The decision, which was described as “shameful” and an “embarrassment to Birmingham” by campaigners saw queues forming outside as students desperately tried to secure work stations, and thousands disappointed when they arrived to find the doors locked.
The Post exclusively revealed the Google deal, with the international giant building for a groundbreaking initiative working with businesses called Google Digital Garages.
The second link-up with the Brasshouse Language Centre moving there means the library will be open for 12 hours a day on weekdays.
Coun Holbrook said partnerships like the ones signed recently show there is life for public services despite brutal cuts.
She claimed the deals proved partnership working is not a meaningless line trotted out by politicians.
She said: “When done properly, it is not just words; we can actually achieve amazing things alongside partners. It is possible with imagination and passion to maintain public library services with new models of working. I am passionate that library services should remain public, but I also know people use libraries in different ways today than historically. Access to and the love of books will always be important, but we have to also recognise if we want to keep library services public , we have to think about how we use the buildings they occupy and how people use those buildings today.”
And she defended the ‘controversial and difficult’ decision earlier this year to slash the opening hours and staff by almost half saying that with the council losing £850 million from its annual budget since 2010 ‘the premise that things should stay the same is never going to stack up’.
Writing on the council website, she said: “It is an extraordinary, iconic building and service that’s helped put Birmingham back on the map. No-one ever wanted to do anything that undermined that, least of all the politicians whose job is to champion our city.
“Now, with the announcement that we’ll be opening the doors of the Library from 9am until 9pm on weekdays, we’re back in a much more positive place.”
She argued that the pace of cuts to the council’s government grant meant they could not avoid making the cuts earlier this year or hold on in the expectation of securing the deals.
“I knew people would be upset and angry – as I was – by the cuts to the library’s opening hours, but we couldn’t just sit back and hope that the storm of justified public anger would pass.”
The council has also agreed a partnership with the British Library, and Coun Holbrook added: “Although we already had a strong relationship with the British Library in terms of intellectual property, we approached them about widening that relationship; they particularly wanted to learn from the way we allow public access to our archives.
“Their vision statement says they want a bigger presence outside London, so this was a perfect approach for us to show what we could offer.
“ And now with Brasshouse and Library of Birmingham , we’re moving our language service to this modern, fit-for-purpose setting – and in doing so making savings that will enable the Library of Birmingham to operate a much better set of opening hours.”