We Explore the New Central Library

Words: Andrew Tucker
Photos: Perm Ghattaura
Sunday 03 December 2023
reading time: min, words

Nottingham's new Central Library, located within the developing Broadmarsh complex, is now open to everyone, and we were lucky enough to head down to the opening event last week...

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"The seeds of dreams are often found in books," said the indefatigable queen of country Dolly Parton, whose charity Imagination Library has been circulating these dreams to children by the million for decades now.

To our pleasant surprise, after years of reading the backs of cereal packets for want of books, it was Dolly Parton who opened the new Nottingham Central Library. She had teleported in via a specially-recorded broadcast to give her blessing to the new building alongside councillors and the city’s most bookish literary bods. Reading, reading, reading, reading, Dolly said, more or less. Please take the books out just because you can.

had been lucky enough to be invited to take a midweek spin around this new ten million quid home for tomes, now open to everyone within the developing Broadmarsh complex. As well as displays of local artists and a well-buffed espresso machine, there’s a walk-around exhibition detailing Broadmarsh’s history, a sensory room in which you can disguise yourself within a pod of whales (and about time too), free Wi-Fi with 55 computers on which to type and surf (the net, not with whales), and we think we’re forgetting something - oh yes, nearly 200,000 books.

Like that brazen redhead Jolene, the new space is ‘beautiful beyond compare’ - designed in part by Paul Smith, it’s bright white, open and welcoming - in its combination of parallel lines and circles with an entrance overhung by a hovering chandelier, it has a hint of where retro sci-fi artists like Syd Mead and Ralph McQuarrie dreamed we would end up as a society. This is what the future should be. 

In this brave new world our Central Library does Friday night gigs, and so we skate in for their inaugural ‘Sound at Central’ session. Nottingham’s favourite working poet Henry Normal - whose work is quoted in silver on a new library wall - delivers a barnstorming set featuring the very applicable My Heart Will Not Be Shushed. This being week one, there are not quite enough chairs, so some of us stand on steps or peer between elbows to see him, giving Henry the impression of a cardiganed lieutenant or a particularly affable Midlands cult leader. The Jam Café team are there to spin some vintage vinyl with a smile, and eclectic seven piece fusion band Salmagundi headline with brass, pizzazz and a song called The Market Economy Got No Soul.

Well, quite. The sociologist Ray Oldenburg suggested an idea of the ‘third place’: that we need to have rich surroundings away from work and home in which we can meet one another and be ourselves. These are the places we’d go to with no sense of obligation, that feel to us conversational, wholesome and personable, that give no emphasis to our social or economic baggage. Where else but a good library?

"The thing about tonight," Henry tells us in a brief gap between signing books, "is that we’ve made a memory."

From cuneiform tablets to flammable Alexandria and onwards, we’ve valued libraries as the places where our memories are stored, pigeonholed in scrolls and dossiers. But this is not just that. The Central Library isn’t just old memories, although we’ll treasure those. It’s a living building, a place for us all, and it’s where we’ll go now to make the new ones.

Nottingham's Central Library is open now

Carrington Street, Nottingham NG1 7FG

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