Libraries. The advancement of knowledge, of culture, of community. £188 million can buy a lot of things, including two and a bit Gareth Bales. This week the question is whether or not it was wise to spend this much on one new library. In Birmingham.
Yesterday the BBC posted an article on the opening of The Library of Birmingham. "The new building - complete with an amphitheatre, gardens and hundreds of thousands of books - has opened its doors to thousands of excited visitors. But Margaret Bailey, of Brent, north-west London, said she would not be sharing in the enjoyment." Presumably because she lives in London, not Birmingham. The closure of libraries is a real issue and not one to be taken lightly. But can we celebrate something good when so much around us is not?
I clicked on this story to read about the new library in Birmingham. Instead I got an article full of agenda, not exactly hidden.The UK's second city should have a central library fit for purpose. It should inspire and be inspiring. There most certainly should be "thousands of books"! The fact that this huge public capital investment project was conceived and set in motion in 2007, before the world collapsed, is completely glossed over. The local employment figures for the construction and now staffing of the library would be interesting to read. At the end of the article there are some notable comments in the Editors' Picks and some that, to me, miss the mark. Yes it would be wonderful to build more smaller libraries or schools or hospitals, but would that money also fund their staffing and ongoing upkeep?
The library was officially opened by the courageous Malala Yousafzai. This article in the Birmingham Mail is more celebratory in tone, much more in keeping with such an exciting new venture.
Of course, Malala is the bravest example of a person's right to freedom of speech, so the debate about how to spend public money should continue. When a door closes, somewhere a window opens. A window worth £188million? The people of Birmingham can decide.