New library blog

Library study

Our new Main Library opened at the centre of the University of Birmingham on 19 September 2016. The  Library  provides a more efficient use of space, energy and resource as well as 24/7 access to services and facilities; there is a variety of learning spaces and flexible, technology-rich training rooms and state-of-the-art designated research areas. This development will take its place in an expanded ‘Green Heart’ stretching from Chancellor’s Court to the north edge of the campus.

This blog will keep you updated on all the major developments and act as a repository for the future, documenting the old and the new.

There will be opportunities for staff and students to be involved in consultation groups. To get involved email your details to



A successful first term!

December 15 2016

Atrium top

Congatulations everyone! The new Main Library opened its doors as planned on September 19th and since then the building has been a revelation. It’s everything that was expected and more. Interest in the development and in the library service has been phenomenal. Entrances have rocketed compared to last year and everyone is working together to achieve the best possible service in this wonderful new facility. 

Under two weeks to opening day

September 6 2016

New Main LibraryA great university deserves a great library. Opening on 19 September at 10:30, our new building offers a light-filled, inspirational learning environment, where students will study in ways that suit them and researchers will have access to everything they need all in one place.



Looking up

July 8 2016

Atrium top

After many years of planning, the new Main Library is nearly ready to open.

Entering through a light, airy foyer, library users pass the café and the library lounge and turn right into a light-filled, open atrium. Beyond the atrium hundreds of bookable PC workstations stand ready, alongside a variety of study spaces. A power point at every desk enables students to work from their own devices, and wifi guarantees seamless access to a wide range of online resources.

Counting down

June 13  2016


When it’s time to buy your next smart phone, if you add wireless charging to the list of “gotta-have-it” features you’ll be able to take advantage of the wireless charging facilities in the New Main Library. Just one example of the technologically rich environment we can look forward to. 



Counting down

April 26  2016

library cafe

Our new Main Library is scheduled to open in early August and we’re counting down to when the keys are handed over. Things are moving fast and we’re working hard to ensure that everything will be ready.  As well as an impressive range of study spaces, including dedicated space for researchers, there will be fantastic views across campus from the upper floors, and on the ground floor a café will sell a wide range of vegan, low cal, vegetarian and gluten free options.

Work to move the library's collection is in the final stages of planning.  Library Services is responsible for over 2.1 million physical items. During the move c49,000 linear metres of collections will move, which is equivalent to approximately 100,000 crates, including books, journals, newspapers, CDs, DVDs, microform, theses and music scores, all currently shelved across 181 separate sequences and collections. Our removal company, Harrow Green, will have up to four removal teams working simultaneously (up to 30 staff across the project). It's a non-trivial undertaking!



Inside story

February 29  2016

Study space

Work on the new library is progressing fast, lots is being done out of sight internally and the exterior is beginning to look really finished and smart.  Here are some selected facts and figures to show a little of what we can expect:

Total Number of student seats  (all with power)              = 1818

Group study rooms                                                                  = 14

Silent Study rooms                                                                   = 2

Assistive Tech Booths                                                               = 4

And Toilets                                                                                   = 99



Looking back and setting forth

January 8  2016

The new Library  will open this year in the summer after many years of planning. Since work started on the site in 2014 a huge amount has been accomplished.  If you want to see how the site has changed since work commenced  you can watch the new library rise up before your eyes on our time-lapse video . 

New Library January 2015




December 2  2015

 The new library building will be light and airy with study spaces facing out onto campus. Looking towards clocktowerThe views from the upper floors will be impressive! 

View from North Car Park

The building will offer a quiet, comfortable study environment flooded with natural light; every study place will have power and excellent Wi-Fi connectivity. 




Dismantling the last tower crane

 October 16  2015

 Lowering the concrete block

 If you need to remove a giant tower crane from inside the shell of a building you start by placing a large chunk of concrete on the back of a lorry. You'll need this later when you start to lower the crane in sections, ready to be driven off site.

 Craning a section

Next you dismantle the tower crane section by section and lift the sections across to a waiting truck. 

 On the lorry

Once on the back of the truck a section is secured and taken off site. That's how you dismantle a tower crane.



Side by side

October 8  2015

side by side


It’s an indication of how far we’ve come that the remaining tower crane is due to be removed from the site this week.  Progress is such that the new library sits side by side with the existing library building and it’s much easier now to imagine how it will look when it’s finished.
West atrium

When the crane is gone the view from the Ground Floor looking up the West Atrium will be unimpeded. The crane will be disassembled piece by piece and removed from the site with the utmost care. Our two tower cranes have been an important feature in the local landscape for months now, and the departure of the last of them signals how far we’ve come in the project and how much closer we are to completion.


Tower crane 2

August 10 2015

Crane removal

All at once, without any fuss or fanfare, the massive crane at the side of the site has been dismantled and removed. Every now and agaian over the last months, when there were two cranes towering over the site, both in constant use, people would inquire how these monumental items would be extracted, seeing that the new library was being built around them. The answer is that a big tower crane is removed by an even bigger crane. An operation like this (the removal of a tower crane) has to be planned months in advance and scheduled into the build with absolute accuracy.


See-through blinds

June 25 2015

Frontage (2)

The New Library is over half way to completion and (among other things) operatives are connecting up a complicated array of components on the façade of the building. One of the main features is  the boxes that contain the blinds. The blind boxes are going in horizontally along the whole of the building at floor level.

BlindsRemember, these blinds will open and close automatically, depending on the light conditions, they’ll be controlled by a weather station on the top of the building and there’ll be gold fins on the facade to provide suitable shading at different times of the day. Amazingly, the blinds are designed so that it will still be possible to see out of them when they’ve been lowered in place.




Topping out

June 9 2015

Looking towards clocktower

The new library has reached its highest point and on June 4 a handful of library staff from across the organisation joined guests from across the city on the roof for 10:00 to participate in the topping out ceremony. They revelled in glorious views of the campus with the clock-tower at its centre, heard the speeches and saw a plaque laid, inscribed with a quote from David Lodge’s Small World. As Diane Job (Director of Library Services) said in her speech: "We are delighted to reach this important milestone in the construction of what will be a truly inspirational place for people to work and study. Now that the building has been topped out, the scale of what we are creating is becoming apparent and we are all incredibly excited about watching it take shape over the next year."

 Laying the plaque



Clever concrete

May 22 2015


Site visits have been a real success and they’re very popular. Here are some of the reactions:

Hannah says: I really love the smooth concrete pillars and ceilings of the New Library.  The idea of using exposed concrete led me to imagine something that might feel quite austere, but I found the building very soothing on the eye. The natural light flooding in through the atrium illuminates the concrete columns, and you can really sense that the building will feel light and warm. It was interesting to learn that concrete absorbs and retains heat and that it strengthens with age.

Steph says: I was surprised how big the Annexe is. Being there you get a feeling of space.  It was interesting to put a perspective on where the rooms will be. You can look at a flat plan and get a sense of it, but that’s no substitute for being there. We’ve watched the building get bigger and bigger from the staff room and to be actually inside it is amazing.

Steve says: Carollion really care about the safety of their employees. The site is very clean and tidy and the walkways are all marked out and barriered-off.  Reducing risks is obviously a priority.

Andy says: It’s all state of the art Even the concrete is clever. Out of sight there are tensioned steel wires that support the floor slabs and the infrastructure’s going to be high spec, but on the surface it’s all clean lines and smooth surfaces.


Site visits begin

May 1 2015

Site-visitLibrary staff have been watching the new library take shape for months and on 17 April a few of us visited the construction site. A site visit is a fun way to see what’s happening up close and get a sense of how the building is coming together. Staff came away with a feel for the spaces they’ll be working in, the scale of the interiors and they got to ask questions about the techniques that are being used to make it all happen. There's a regular programme of visits starting from now.



The heat o' the sun

April 15 2015

It’s very hot in the Main Library right now and it will get hotter as the summer progresses. The new library will be much more comfortable, cooler in summer and warmer in winter. It will be equipped with see-through window blinds, all controlled by a small weather station on the roof which will lower them automatically when the sun is out and raise them when it goes in.


The gold fins on the facade of the building will provide a degree of shading at different times of the day, particularly on the east and west elevations and the building's exposed concrete frame will help to moderate the temperature (retaining the heat in the winter and keeping the building cooler during the summer). This works a little like the cool stone walls of a cave. 

The building will also be super air-tight to reduce the cost of maintaining the internal environment. And there will be a double lobby to prevent too much heat being let out (or in) via the main entrance. 



Meet the shelves

March 17 2015


Altogether there will be 62km of shelving in the New Library and the Research Annexe; that’s just about enough to reach from Birmingham to Leicester (or to Coventry and back). Some of it (the mobile shelving) will have a graphic on the end, a little like the shelves shown above. All the mobile shelves have passive safety features and they are operated at the touch of a button.


There will be a mix of fixed shelving and mobile shelving in the new library. The Research Annexe will  be equipped with mobile shelving plus purpose built items such as map chests for some of our specialized material. The rest of the shelving will be fixed.

The first stage in installing  the shelving will be as early as this April when the tracks for the mobile shelving in the Research Annexe will be laid; these tracks have to be installed when the floor goes down to ensure the shelving is completely flush to  the floor.


Hats on all round

March 6 2015


Work on the site continues even when conditions are a challenge. At this time of year it’s cold, it’s wet and the days are shorter, but progress is rapid and the site is as busy as ever.

cement-pouringAmid all the activity, it goes without saying that health and safety has top priority. The contractors have a number of ways of protecting their people, including a ‘Don’t walk by’ card, which anyone can use to report a concern; plus they run a ‘safe start initiative’ to ensure the welfare of staff and stakeholders. As a result there is a very low accident rate on site and 44 weeks into the 104 week programme there have been no reportable accidents.



Open Doors Weekend

February 25 2015

Construction of the new £60 million library at the University of Birmingham is well under way and Carillion the contractors are holding an OPEN DOORS WEEKEND on FRIDAY 6thand SATURDAY 7th March. They’ll open their Viewing Platform to display and discuss the construction of one of the most ambitious libraries in UK higher education – and also the many diverse careers that today’s construction industry can offer. Those working on the library project, in all capacities, will be on hand to answer your questions – so PLEASE REGISTER YOUR INTEREST



Compactor at work

January 21 2015

If you want to play with a remote controlled compactor, the first thing you need is a reinforced concrete retaining wall cast in-situ with a trench to back-fill later on:


Next you bond a waterproof membrane to the wall – the membrane is the white sheeting with the writing on it – and after that comes the extruded polystyrene insulation – the insulation is the very light pink blocks in front of the retaining wall:


You back-fill with soil and finally you can have some fun with a remote controlled ‘Wacker Neuson’ compactor:


The wind and the rain

December 18 2014

This is an aircraft engine that simulates a storm crashing against a two storey mock-up of the library at 70 miles an hour. The blue frame behind it simulates a heavy downpour.


It's a blast

December 16 2014

If you want to keep the roads outside the construction site clean and clear, you’ll have to negotiate your lorry/truck/tractor etc. through a high powered wheel wash like this.



A column is born

December 11 2014

This is a column starting out. You use a laser to line it up and get things perfectly straight.


The ‘formwork’ for the columns is like a giant mould of blue metal, bolted together.

formwork1-Cropped-250x187In cold weather, the ‘formwork’ is insulated by a foam jacket to make sure it sets properly.


library-blogSome bricks

December 10 2014


This sample section uses the kind of bricks that we’ll see on the outside of the new library.


On the rise

December 9 2014

These concrete columns will eventually extend right to the top floor of the glass tower.



Mainly about formwork

December 8 2014

This is how you build a wall. First, you crane in your formwork and bolt it together.


Then you pour the concrete. One section of concrete wall takes 6-7 skips of concrete. You use a vibrating poker to level out the concrete and get rid of any air bubbles. The ‘poker’ is the smaller pipe in the photo below, the bigger pipe is from the skip with the concrete.


Afterwards, the formwork is taken away by crane to a holding area until that particular piece of material needs to be used again on another part of the site.



What's going where

December 4 2014


The man with the broom is more or less where books returned by library users will be sorted and the café area is off camera to the left.


We'll be walking there soon

December 3 2014

The ground floor was reinforced with steel before the concrete was craned in and poured.


The skip is craned over into position, the crew grab the hose on the bottom of the skip, pull a rope and pour the concrete out. A skip can carry 2-3 cubic metres of concrete.


This area of the ground floor will be walked on soon enough, but here the contractors are wading through it as the concrete is poured into place. This is the area of the library where the great glass tower will be sited, so there will be a lot more floors above this one.


Great care is taken to ensure that all the surfaces are smooth and defect free.


There can be up to 133 cubic metres of concrete poured per day for the flooring so there is still a long way to go, but the outline and scale of the building becomes clearer all the time.


What the windows will be like

November 26 2014

There’ll be windows and ventilation panels all along the outside of the library. You can see a ventilation panel here: it’s made out of metal and looks rather like a venetian blind.


The actual blinds will be held in the housing at the top of the window (in these photos the blinds are yet to be installed). The blinds will be controlled by sensors, and so when it’s sunny they’ll come down, and then when the sun goes in again they’ll automatically go back up. These blinds are state of the art and barely anyone else in the UK has them!



Progress on the ground floor

November 20 2014

The network of girders and the platform you can see is roughly where the ground floor level will be in the new library. This is what the area looked like on Tuesday this week.


On top of this platform the contractors will construct formwork up in the air into which the concrete for the floor can be poured. This is where we were on Wednesday this week. More scaffolding is going up and you get a sense of rapid progress everywhere on site.



Ready for the floors

November 14 2014

Each floor of the building is a concrete slab cast in situ. The steel beams that we see here are temporary structures on top of which the concrete floor will be constructed. When the floor’s ready the steels will be removed and re-erected on the floor above and so on.


library-blogFloors and columns

November 12 2014


The first photo shows what the site looked like this time last month and the next one shows the same area today, concrete floor, reinforced columns and all.


The concrete columns are going up to what will be the ground floor level in the new building. A mould gets wrapped around the bars, concrete pours in and hey presto!



Pile caps, lift pits and retaining walls

October 28 2014


On the site itself, work continues on the pile caps, lift pits, retaining walls and other elements of the substructure. Trenches and pits are being dug and materials that can’t be craned on to site are trucked in.


Even though the project is still in the early stages there’s a lot of activity to record and the site gets its fair share of visitors and draws a lot of attention from passersby. You’d be surprised how many people stop to take a photo or spend a few hours sketching the scene if the weather’s fine.


That's nice to know

October 20 2014


Right now the easternmost slabs of the lower ground floor of the new library are being worked on and concrete is being poured and the tower cranes are getting going.  The cranes are both controlled by sophisticated computer systems which have been programmed to ensure:

  • That the crane hooks don’t swing over the hoardings by mistake
  • That the hooks of the two cranes cannot be put into a position where they have the potential to clash


Breaking news...

October 17 2014


The eagerly anticipated second tower crane is being put into place today, this one will be 68 metres tall, so will be taller than the one already in place…. and did you know…

Most tower cranes are allowed to rotate in the wind when not in use as it reduces risk of blowing over!


Did you know...?

October 6 2014


This crane, plus the taller one which will be onsite soon, if placed on top of each other, will still not be as tall as Old Joe. The cranes, measuring 41 and 58 metres high (under the hook) respectively, will be just shy of the 110 metres of our iconic clock tower!
Thanks are given to Stephen Ashton in our Estates team for the measurements.
Look out for more ‘Did you know’ posts to come as development continues…



The blog team visits the construction site

August 7 2014

A few days ago the Blog’s photography team visited the site for the first time and we met the contractors and took some close-ups. Here’s what we saw. Looking out across and above the site from the clock tower (more or less the perspective that’s available via the webcam) there’s a newly tarmaced road that runs from the back of the site up towards Pritchatt’s Road. This is for site vehicles to come and go and deliver building materials; these will be unloaded on to the large, broad tarmaced area next to the construction site.


A little further away from the existing library, a new section of ring road is under construction; you can see the line of it from the kerbing – this is going to be the main ‘public’ route to and fro Pritchatt’s Road.


Moving a bit closer to the existing library, there’s a cosy little square of metal piling, open on the side that faces the clock tower. This is to be the base of operations for one of the tower cranes to be used in building the library. The idea is that the crane will swing back and forth over the closed section of ring road picking up materials from the tarmaced area and depositing them on site as and when they’re needed. A second tower crane will be roughly in the middle of the site. Both these behemoths are due to arrive on site sometime in September so we should start seeing big changes around then.

site-visit-31-Cropped-300x457Opposite the existing Main Library, just by the ring road, there’s a section of concrete wall being built. This is a retaining wall and will form part of the New Library loading bay.  So although it doesn’t look like much, the new library building is underway!


It was really interesting to go on to site and see the works from a different perspective – it was only when I was standing looking towards the current library that I got a real sense of the scale of the new library. It’s going to be a big, impressive building.



We have roads

June 30 2014

New roads are appearing fast on the site, tarmac is being poured and we begin to visualise more clearly where the new building will sit on the plot.



Can you dig it?

June 24 2014

All manner of diggers and pile-drivers move in and carve through the soil.




Why do we need a new library?

June 5 2014

The current library was built to house a print-based, pre-digital collection and struggles to meet the needs and expectations of its users. In contrast, the light and spacious new library will provide members of the University and the local community with outstanding facilities and increased opportunities to access our vast collections and cultural heritage.
Here is an architect’s view of one of the double height study spacesinterior-double-height-readers-Cropped-510x283.

Who will benefit from the new library?


  • The building will be a big step towards being able to offer students a 24/7 library experience.
  • The Library will house a variety of learning spaces to cater for different modes of study. Flexible technology–rich training rooms will be incorporated to enable the University to develop the important academic skills support offered by Library Staff.
  • It will be possible to arrange the stock and facilities in more sequential, user friendly and accessible arrangement than is possible in the current library.
  • Stock from the Education, Law and Music Libraries will be integrated with stock from the current Main Library and users of this material will benefit from longer opening times and state of the art facilities.


  • The new building will include a state-of-the-art, designated research area.
  • A ‘Research Annexe’ in the building will accommodate and preserve the low use, but important heritage print collection.

The local and regional community

  • The new library will provide the local community with greater opportunities for engagement with the University, for example it will feature a Cultural Gateway to enable visitors to see examples of the University’s extraordinarily rich library and cultural collections

The environment

The new library will embrace new and emerging technologies to provide a more efficient use of space, energy and staff resource. An atrium running North-South through the building will allow plentiful natural light into the interior. Study spaces will be located along the outer glazed edges of the floors with bookshelves between the light filled study spaces and the atrium.


Furthermore, the new building will transform the appearance of our already pleasant and distinctive campus by making possible the expansion of the ‘Green Heart’ stretching from Chancellor’s Court to the north entrance thus completing the original architect’s vision of what the university would look like when it was designed and built over 100 years ago.


What did campus used to look like?

May 19 2014

Earlier in May, Joe Holyoak, architect, wrote an article in the Birmingham Postabout our new library. In his piece, he explains how the original architectural vision of the campus, beginning with the redbrick semi-circle of Aston Hall around the clock tower, was lost with the building of the current Main Library in the 1950s. In his very interesting article, Joe explains how the plans for the new library restore that vision, and goes on to talk about what the building itself will be like.

We have rummaged about in the archives and have found the following photos.

Firstly, we have a shot from the gate at Pritchatts Road, with an uninterrupted view towards the clock tower and what is now the Law building. The turrets on the Great Hall have been nicely lined up behind to flank the sides of the clock tower, which gives Old Joe almost a rocket-like appearance. Ad alta, indeed.


Although some of the trees were kept, and you can still see them today (these pictures are their baby photos), some were removed to make way for the new building:

tree-bulldozer-e1400239681636-Cropped-200x282And here we have a scene not unlike what’s going on today. The bulldozers moving in, 1950s-style:

before-ml2-Cropped-200x164It’s very interesting to see how different campus looked back then.

library-blogEaster developments

April 29 2014

Since the break at Easter a lot has happened with the site preparation, looking from the top of the current library there is now a clearer definition of the construction site on both sides of the ring road, and you can see that a lot of progress with earth moving and site preparation has been made.


Staff are given regular updates on the progress of the construction, which will when complete, open up the green heart of the university, completing the original architect’s vision of what the university would look like when it was designed and built over 100 years ago. This will then give students entering campus from the North entrance an inspirational view of the centre of campus encompassing the new main library off to the right and the whole Aston Webb semi-circle and Old Joe as the centrepiece.

The main focus of the new main library will be the student experience, including improved access, both to the building itself, and to the collections. More information on this will follow with future blog posts.



Small beginnings

April 3 2014

Work has begun on the new library for the University. Hoardings are up. Diggers are moving in.  To mark the closing of the football pitch to make way for the new build, Associated Athletic (representing the architects) competed against Carillion Crusaders (the contractors). In a closely fought contest Associated Athletic emerged victorious 9 – 6.



Behind the hoardings

March 27 2014

A peak behind the hoardings at the car park site, and plant arrives on the running track.




Hoardings go up

March 20 2014

More hoardings are put up around the running track, road and the closed car park.



library-blogThe first hoardings appear

March 17 2014

Hoardings are put up around the running track.



Work starts

February 25 2014

Trees are cut down on the site of the new library ahead of birds' nesting season (and more will be planted elsewhere on campus to replace them), and the car park closes.