Sunday, 24 November 2013

LibCampUK13 - the essentials.

Library Camp UK 2013 - otherwise tweeted at #libcampuk13 - took place on Saturday 30th November 2013 inside the new Library of Birmingham, in central Birmingham, England. Here are some notes that were made for people going; even though the event is long gone now, they may still be useful to visitors to the library. Some links may not work, some details be out of date, and so forth.

Waiting to open

I'm writing this because I've been in the new library a lot, am familiar with Brum, and realise that the event will be better with some forewarning about the good, bad, and opportunities.

The essentials
  • Please keep a close eye on the official twitter account and wiki.
  • The library is to the west of the city centre. It's easy to walk from the centre and from New Street train station. However, there is a mega Christmas market between there and the library, filling most of the streets. Apart from early morning, the streets are usually packed. Really packed.
  • It is a Saturday. The library will be busy. Seriously busy. There will be queues and congestion; also tourists taking photos. Yes; in the library, of the library.
  • Moving around the library is easy up to the fourth floor. After that, it gets to be a pain as the lift system is inadequate, even on quiet days. Thankfully, most interesting things, and all the libcamp stuff, takes place in lower floors.
  • The library has wifi, which is mostly reliable. There's also cafe options inside, but these entail a long wait on Saturdays and are not cheap. There are many many food options nearby.
  • If you can't make library camp, even shortly before the event, please cancel your place to free it up for someone else. There's nothing more annoying at an event than seeing a load of unused badges, and knowing that those people didn't show and didn't cancel and others could have had their place.
  • Bring food to the event.
  • The library opens until 5pm on Saturdays. However, Library Camp attendees do have use of the bar on level three afterwards (am assuming / hoping that also means the adjacent outdoor terracing as well).
  • The huge German Christmas market is open until 9pm. There is also an ice rink and a big wheel right outside the library. The Bull Ring shopping centre (15 minutes walk) is huge. Plan this well and allow enough time and you can get some of your Christmas shopping done on this trip.


Currently (the thursday before) the forecast for Birmingham on saturday is sunny but cold.

Getting to the library

This will probably be the worst part of your Library Camp experience.


The library is in Centenary Square, about half a mile roughly west of the city centre. Note you want the new library, not the old one (which you may pass). It is not signposted; Centenary Square, the ICC and Symphony Hall (the latter both a minute walk away) are, so follow signs to them.

If you want to get a taxi from the train station, it should be no more than a fiver. Confirm the cost with the driver first, as a few people have been allegedly stung. Otherwise, walk it; a fast walker who can carve through crowds can do it in ten minutes:
  1. Come out of the station and head uphill and slightly to the left. Within a minute, you'll hit the Christmas market; lots of wooden sheds in the middle of the street.
  2. Follow these uphill and west-ish. In the early to mid morning it's not too bad. The rest of the day it is like this.
  3. Walk past the coliseum-like Town Hall on your left and head for grey concrete the old library, up ahead. Generally, follow the flow of people.
  4. Walk past the old library and go through the laughably-named Paradise Forum. When it's crowded, this is a pedestrian choke-point. You'll now find yourself under some of the old library, and you'll pass a MacDonalds, Greggs, Nandos, Wetherspoons, and an okay coffee place near the end.
  5. Come out the other side. Walk along the walkway, passing yet more Christmas market stands selling ostrich burgers and various tat.
  6. A minute or so along, you'll see the big wheel ahead, and a weird metal box-stack building to the right of it. That's the library.
You can try taking various shortcuts and loops, but there's a chance you'll end up on the wrong side of a dual carriage way.

Libcamp in the library

According to a couple of tweets, Library Camp is on the ground and first floors. When you see the crowds around the building, you'll be glad it isn't more spread out.

We start off in the studio theatre. Go through the main entrance, hang a left, walk past the little shop of souveniers, and it's on the right.

The other rooms are on the first floor; 102, 103, 104 and 105. One thing about some of these rooms is that they are not totally private/enclosed; glass walls mean members of the public can see in to some of them. Occasionally, members of the public may wander into your session if they feel like it. Be also aware that there may be a bit of public noise coming into these rooms.

Wheel, ice rink, Symphony Hall

What's in the library - functional
  • Wifi - use a false name and email address to avoid your details going into some database, and spam. It's (usually) reliable, and obvious which one it is. Having said that, a few people say the signal drops right down in the main auditorium used in library camp.
  • Lockers - you can find these on several floors; they take a £1 coin (returned) and are of a decent capacity. The ones near the front of floors 1 and 2 i.e. looking out over the square, are good. Damned useful if you have luggage.
  • To use the PCs, you need a library card which requires proof of residency.
  • Oh there's also books yadda yadda yadda if you are into that sort of thing.

Bright light

What's in the library - interesting

This library is big; you cannot explore it in ten minutes. Allow at least an hour; if you do it on a Saturday, and want to do it thoroughly, allow two hours. If you are here on either the Friday or the Sunday, then the library will be less busy then.
  • The terracing on the third floor give some interesting southerly views of Birmingham and beyond.
  • The well-signed "secret garden" terracing on level seven gives a pretty damned good view of the north and west of Birmingham and well beyond. This is an ace place to watch sunsets from. Good news - the weather for Library Camp day looks good, so get to here by around a quarter to four or so and you *may* see a nice sunset.
  • The archives section is interesting to have a poke around.
  • The children's library on the lowest floor is, on a Saturday, packed. Check out the reading and activity steps in this area.
  • Also on the lowest floor is the music library, the outdoor arena (sometimes mini events going on which can be watched from outside or in), and some egg/pod chairs which couples sometimes use to do whatever couples do.
  • On one of the lower ground floors at the back, is the Library of Secrets - my favorite part of the library. On this stand, write a secret and put it into one of the books. Then read other people's secrets, and you'll get a nice and occasionally scary slice of humanity.
  • The Shakespeare room is on level nine. This involves either a long lift wait, or lots of stairs. It's the room from the old library; if you like wood panelling you may like it, but there's little else to see. There is also a glass walled view south. Whether this is worth going to the top is debatable.

Moving around the library

Up to the fourth floor are the blue-lit escalators. Quite nice to use and it means not waiting for a lift. When on the escalators, look up, look over the edge, look around you.

Above the fourth floor there is - accessible to the public - the seventh and ninth floors. To get to those, you'll need to either climb the stairs, or figure out - and queue for - the lift. One other option is the glass exterior lift, which holds half a dozen or so people and goes from the door into the fourth floor, to the seventh floor. The slowness, and the Saturday queue, means this may take a while (there's usually only a small queue to come back down, though).


In various places, such as the main doors and the doors out onto the level three terracing, there are revolving doors. These are a pain as one breath of air on them and they stop. The normal doors next to them are usually quicker.


There's a cafe on the ground floor of the library. It's usually rammed on a Saturday, and takes ages to get served. It can be a bit pricey; here's the menu. If you decide to go for it, then check out today's offer on their Facebook page. You can wander around the library with closed cap drinks, or sit in the terracing outside. Alternately, note the set of steps in the cafe area; go up those to a seating area that's usually a lot quieter than around the cafe.

There is also a bar on level three of the library, just by the way to the terracing. Opening hours are a bit limited; they also do coffee, cakes and a few other things at times.

However, by far the quickest option for grabbing a drink is the (limited selection) kiosk inside The Rep theatre. Walk through the barrier connecting the Library to the Rep, and it's a few seconds away, on your right.

Other nearby options, of which there are many, include:
  • The ICC, one minute walk to the west of the library on the edge of the square. Inside that complex you'll find a cafe, a starbucks, and a WHSmith.
  • Walking through the ICC and crossing the bridge over the canal, you get to Brindley Place. Lots of bars and cafes around here.
  • Many many stalls and stands in the Christmas market outside. They can be a little pricey, but whatevs. Plenty of places in the market serve drinks as well, from beer beer beer to mulled wines.
  • Paradise Forum (see Getting to the Library) for cheap eats.
However, an increasing number of people just bring sandwiches and if the weather is good, eat them on the level three terracing.

Adult fiction

Other stuff to do
  • The German Market itself is a good place for presents, though prices and quality varies.
  • The Big wheel outside the library is £4; the adjoining ice rink (prices) seems to be quiet a lot of the time.
  • The Bull Ring shopping centre, a massive mall, is about 15 minutes walk away, at the other end of the German Market. It's big.
  • Have a look at the Symphony Hall, one minute walk away. Go in to the ICC, and it's on the left. If there's nothing going on inside you can usually have a peek round the door.
  • Just beyond and outside the Bull Ring, the outdoor markets of Brum, and the old markets, are good value.

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