Begun in 1779 at the house of John Lee, a button manufacturer, then living at 115 Snow Hill, this private lending library was reorganised in 1781 by Joseph Priestley, pioneering chemist and discoverer of oxygen. Two moves in quick succession, to Swan Yard off High Street, and to the Upper Priory in 1790 were followed in 1797 by a further move to purpose-built premises in Union Street. There the library remained for just over a century and in 1899 came the final migration to its present Margaret Street home, then a brand new building. There it was joined in 1965 by the Birmingham and Midland Institute, itself ousted from its original Victorian premises in Paradise Street by the ringway building programme. Extensive alterations to the Birmingham Library were the result of this amalgamation.
What The Library Holds
The library has a total holding of over 100,000 books including:
18th century volumes from the earliest years of the library.
19th and 20th century purchases, including books on history, literature, natural history, science, travel and fiction, with a strong holding of late 19th and early 20th century novels.
6000 biographies and autobiographies.
In recognition of the Charles Darwin anniversary the Institute has purchased a complete set of Darwins works. This set of 20 volumes includes Darwins autobiography and an index. It is shelved in the members room but is available for reference.
A complete set of brief biographies of the 20 British Prime Ministers of the 20th Century has also been purchased.
A music library with a remarkably comprehensive range of classical LPs and over 3000 classical CDs.
Many books not available in other libraries which may be borrowed for private use at home.
The library's holding is being steadily increased by the regular purchase of new books, principally in the field of the humanities and modern fiction. It continues as it has in the past to benefit from gifts and bequests made to it by generous members. Many of these acquisitions are of considerable value.
For a list of the recent additions to the library, please click here.
Who May Use It
The library is available only to BMI members, who may borrow books, LPs and CDs free of charge. In addition, some of our local history books may be purchased as facsimile copies on CD in a joint project with Midlands Historical Data - please visit their website for more details.
The Institute has received a bequest of over 3000 books from the estate of a former member Mr Robert Deeley. This collection, which consists of books in the fields of Architecture, Church History, Landscape, Archaeology and Topography, is housed separately. It may be visited by arrangement with the administrator.