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Central Library - from old to new
The Council approved in principle the building of a new library in 1938, but nothing happened because of the war. The problem grew more acute every year. In 1960 the Birmingham Mail reported that the library had been designed to hold 30,000 books, but now held 750,000. Books in the basement were shelved three deep, many books in the public area could only be reached by the staff climbing very high ladders. Women staff were not allowed to wear trousers; a woman member of staff remembers that they were also not supposed to wear mini-skirts, but some of the younger ones still did!
In the 1950s and 60s many of the old buildings in the centre were demolished, for example Mason College, as better access to the centre was needed. It was finally decided to build a new library; the reason given in the John Madin Design Team Report, June 1973 was: 'The Old Central Library has to be demolished to make way for the new road construction'. The foundation stone of the new library was laid on 5th June 1970. By 1973 the main building was ready. Materials were moved across the bridge linking the old and new libraries, one section at a time. The only part of the old building to be saved was the interior of the Shakespeare Memorial Library.
The new library was in use from mid 1973 onwards; the official opening was on a sunny Saturday morning in January 1974. Harold Wilson first visited the children's department, and chatted with some of the borrowers there. He then unveiled a plaque for the official opening, and gave a brief outline of the development of library services in Birmingham from 1860 onwards. He toured the building, exchanging words with some of the students and users. But he had to leave for London before the official buffet lunch reception - it was his wife Mary's 58th birthday, and he had not yet seen her that day!
The old library was finally demolished in October 1974, after the interior of the Shakespeare Memorial Library had been reconstructed in the new building.