Yesterday, armed with an ultra-cheap train ticket purchased through a newspaper promotion — just 50 pence return — Mr Reading Matters and I made a day trip to Birmingham, in the Midlands about two hours north-west of London, where we squeezed in a visit to the new Library of Birmingham, the largest regional library in Europe.
I wasn't sure what to expect, but what I saw hugely impressed me. The building looks fabulous from the outside, all glittery and golden and completely different to anything else around it, but step inside and it's even more amazing — particularly if you're a bibliophile, but even if you're not, there's plenty here to dazzle and delight.
As a public space it is not only beautiful, well thought-out and designed, it felt welcoming and inviting. There were lots of people about too, some merely visiting to have a look around, others using the research facilities and private study rooms, more still hanging out in the children's brightly painted basement, all of which gave the place a real "buzz".
Upstairs there are two balconies: one overlooks Centenary Square and the other, billed as the Secret Garden, surrounds three sides of the building. Both spaces are beautifully landscaped, the perfect place to chill out and relax (preferably with a book), and offer superb views over the city.
The library building adjoins the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, where there is a cafe and restaurant, so it's possible to go to the library, have a bite to eat and then see a show.
At a time when public libraries up and down the country are being closed through government funding cutbacks, how wonderful to see a flagship project like this throwing open its doors. It's an impressive cultural destination and one which the people of Birmingham should be rightly proud.
I took a few snaps on my iPhone, which I thought I'd share. They're not the best quality photographs I've ever taken but they'll give you some idea of the what the building looks like both inside and out.
To find out more about the library, visit the official website.