With funding cuts forcing councils to make some difficult decisions, it's no secret that libraries across the country have been coming under threat. Yet take a look inside and you'll find that those still open remain thriving cultural hubs for their communities, offering an increasingly diverse range of services.
Think the library isn't for you? Think again: there's more than just space to read and study at stake.
Brimming with literary inspiration, libraries are the natural home of creative writing groups, and Kings Norton, Hall Green and Erdington all host regular writers' meetings. However, there are also plenty of other ways to create and collaborate in bookish surroundings.
For those who prefer to perform stories rather than write them down, a series of storytelling workshops for grown-ups recently ran across Birmingham community libraries, aimed at parents and carers looking for ways to inspire their kids. At Frankley and Yardley Wood, you can participate in regular arts and crafts activities, and Spring Hill also runs a craft group for over-50s, while at Druids Heath and Perry Common avid knitters can have a natter and share a ripping yarn or two.
On Saturday May 16, there'll also be a chance to buy and sell creative makes at Northfield's Craft and Gift Fair. Got green fingers? You might want to check out Hall Green's Amateur Gardeners' Society, but if you'd rather photograph beautiful scenes than plant and grow them, perhaps Ward End's Camera Club will be the group to capture your interest.
From Balsall Heath to Weoley Castle, most local libraries run support groups or one-on-one sessions to help beginners learn the basics of computing, but the opportunities for learning don't end with the ability to get online or type a letter. Selly Oak's Pi Club provides a place for technophiles to socialise and share their skills: improve your own project, help out a fellow techie, or test-run ideas on one of the library's own Raspberry Pi units.
Unearth the past
Whether you're looking to trace your own ancestry or find out more about your area, community libraries are a great place to start digging. Local history groups meet regularly at Frankley, Harborne, Hall Green, Kings Norton, Selly Oak, Shard End, Sheldon, South Yardley and Acocks Green, while groups at Druids Heath, Mere Green, Northfield, Shard End and Yardley Wood offer great starting points for those drawing up their family trees. At Erdington, find out more about your lineage from one of four groups tailored to your level or area of interest.
Acocks Green is also home to the Birmingham Railway Heritage Study Centre, boasting one of the UK's biggest railway resource collections. There, train enthusiasts can find themed books, periodicals, photographs, postcards, tickets, maps and plans, as well as scale models of railway carriages, based on Birmingham-built trains that formerly operated in four different continents.
Keep an eye out for temporary exhibitions, too: Small Heath is currently hosting Women's Work, a Women and Theatre exhibition about female factory workers during the First World War, which transfers to Northfield on May 5.
Chase that career
Looking for work? You can get help with the job hunt at many local libraries. Glebe Farm and Hall Green run their own support groups, providing help with writing CVs and applications, interview preparation and finding training and volunteering opportunities, while jobseekers' Enterprise Clubs are also held regularly at Aston, Birchfield, Handsworth, Kings Heath, South Yardley, Sparkhill and Spring Hill.
If you have an entrepreneurial streak, Catalyst groups at King's Heath, South Yardley, Sparkhill and Ward End offer the chance to have your business plans and ideas reviewed, as well as opportunities to attend workshops on legislation, finance, marketing and PR to help you achieve your goals.
Credit: Women & Theatre
Mind and Body
Being in a library needn't mean sitting sedentary: if you've made a resolution to get healthy this year, then South Yardley's Keep Fit classes or Hall Green's Health and Well-Being Yoga group could help. New mothers can also get friendly advice and support with weight-management from Weoley Castle's Well Moms group, while Yardley Wood's Tai Chi classes offer something a little more out of the ordinary.
There's more to keeping healthy than getting physically fit, and Spring Hill is home to the Birmingham Mental Health Carer Support Service. This relaxed, informal group aims to promote health and well-being, offering support and guidance to carers. A carers' group also meets regularly at Acocks Green and Erdington is host to regular Depression Alliance meetings, while Hall Green provides help with reading and writing for adults with dyslexia.
Your questions answered
With elections now looming, the chance to grill politicians directly could be invaluable. If you'd like to know more about what your local political representatives stand for, you could always ask them in person at one of the many councillors' surgeries and drop-in sessions held at Boldmere, Druids Heath, Hall Green, Handsworth, Kings Norton and Spring Hill. On the first Friday of every month, you can also meet with Labour MP Gisela Stuart at Bartley Green.
If politicians aren't best placed to answer your burning questions, you might prefer to chat to members of the local police force at Druids Heath, Glebe Farm or Handsworth.
Need some help with a sticky situation? The Citizens Advice Bureau runs twice-weekly sessions at Northfield and Perry Common, offering a range of basic legal information and support to help clarify your rights and responsibilities. On Mondays, CAB also runs a Debt Advice Clinic at Kings Heath to help you get a handle on your finances.
Keep the kids happy
From April 27 to May 6, Open House invites small children to visit their local library to learn more about what makes up a home, from the bedroom to the kitchen. This interactive performance involving music, puppets and other surprises will run at a total of 14 community libraries over the course of the week. Kids are perhaps the best catered-for by community libraries, with everything from baby and toddler story sessions to art and craft activities and homework support available. Find dates and times for children's activities at your local library here.
... And relax!
If all that sounds exhausting, don't forget that libraries are places for leisure as well as work and study. Enjoy a cuppa and a chat at coffee mornings at Acocks Green, Bartley Green, Frankley, Kings Norton, Northfield, Selly Oak, Stirchley, Walmley, Ward End or Yardley Wood, or in South Yardley's Swan Coffee Bar.
Informal senior citizens' groups also meet frequently at Glebe Farm, Hall Green, Northfield, South Yardley and Ward End, and naturally, virtually every library hosts one or more reading group or book club.
For something tailored to more specific interests, you could check out the crime fiction groups at Castle Vale, Erdington and Walmley, or Glebe Farm's "dirty, flirty” romance reading group. If you prefer a more academic discussion, you might consider joining the Erdington Literature Group, which is led by a tutor. Older children and teenagers can also meet to discuss books in youth-focused groups at Birchfield, Harborne, Mere Green, Quinton South Yardley and Sutton Coldfield.
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