Imagine, Liverpool Central Library.

A post from Sarah, on today’s visit to Liverpool’s new library.

*

It’s Sunday, it’s the end of our seemingly endless heatwave, and finally cooler. Last night it rained. Lovely, heavy summer rain. It smelt divine. Today showers are forecast, and I’ve known it was going to be like this so am not planning on visiting Plot 44. Instead, we’re going into town, to the ‘new library’. This is Liverpool’s Central Library, which re-opened in May this year after a huge refurbishment. Ronnie wrote about its opening here. Me, not being one for crowds, didn’t go along, but was looking forward to my first visit.

Today we drive into town and park above the entrance to the ‘old’ Mersey tunnel, Queensway, which opened in 1934, and for such a utilitarian piece of architecture (a road under the river Mersey), it is a lovely structure.

Above the 'old' Mersey tunnel.

Above the ‘old’ Mersey tunnel.

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Mersey tunnel entrance overlooked by King George V (Queen Mary is on the other side).

We walk up William Brown Street, past grand buildings. One seems empty and one houses the Liverpool museum.

Lovely stone balustrades...

Lovely stone balustrades…

... and grand porticos and wildflowers.

… and grand porticos and wildflowers.

And arrive at the library. Pleased to observe that the ground floor café (OK it’s a Costa) has outdoor seating.

Liverpool Library.

Liverpool Central Library.

We go in.

The approach to the library...

The approach to the library…

... the ground floor...

… the ground floor…

... and the view up to the roof.

… and the view up to the roof.

I’ve seen pictures of this, I’ve read about it, but nothing has prepared me for the sheer magnificence and beauty of this building. It’s both open and exciting.

And the rarest book in the world lives here.

And one of the rarest books in the world lives here. More later…

We are encouraged to explore.

We are encouraged to explore.

There's a whole room specially for children.

There’s a whole room specially for children.

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Everywhere you look it is a visual feast.

This is the music library. Of course. Imagine.

This is the music library. Of course. Imagine.

And everywhere the open bookshelves make you feel like you are in a spacious and endless reservoir of books. Which you are.

The open bookshelves.

And everywhere the open bookshelves make you feel like you are in a spacious and endless reservoir of books. Which you are.

Next, we are going into a ‘secret’ bit of the library. This is the Hornby library, which was previously closed to the public. It’s a separate building, but now it’s been ‘joined’ to the main library.

The Hornby Library entrance.

The Hornby Library entrance.

Magnificent.

Magnificent.

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And full of ancient books and bookcases.

The dedication plaque.

The dedication plaque.

A plaque informs us:

“This library and its contents of books, prints and autographs were the munificent gift to the city of Hugh Frederick Hornby, a merchant of Liverpool. They were formally dedicated to the public on Friday October 26th 1906 by his sister Mrs Madden of Sandown Hall Wavertree.”

Thanks Hugh. Obviously from the days when women didn’t have first names. But I have to say, that’s a very nice frame.

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Hugh Frederick Hornby’s frame.

It really is a splendid library and contains a vast array of ancient books.

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Herpf, Hernricus: Speculum aureum… – the Golden Mirror of the Ten Commandments. 1481

A medieval chained book from Belgium, bound in pigskin on a 75cm chain which would be bolted into a rail, to allow ‘limited movement’ along a desk. It’s 532 years old.

More books.

More books.

And a whole other floor of books, note handy reading shelf.

And a whole other floor of books, note handy reading shelf.

But the ‘piece de resistance’ of this collection, is the book advertised on the ground floor. John James Aududon’s book ‘The Birds of America’. It’s a very rare book of illustrations of birds, in 2000 a copy was auctioned for $8.8million – a record for any book at auction.

Audobuns bird book.

Audobon’s bird book. In Liverpool. Pages are turned weekly.

We move on…. to the jaw-dropping, staggeringly gorgeous Reading Room. A reference library.

The reading room.

The Reading Room.

Delightful spiral staircase.

Delightful spiral staircase.

And equally delightful curved bookshelves, full of books.

And equally delightful curved bookshelves, full of books.

Ancient histories of British counties.

Ancient histories of British counties.

And...

And encyclopedias.

And all the patents.

And all the patents filed. Ever. If you fancied reading them.

Don't know why this got a shelf to itself.

Don’t know why this got a shelf to itself?

And just in case you were wondering what was on TV on a particular day in 1974, they have the whole of the Radio Times (and TV Times), all bound and available to inspect.

Radio Times: the complete collection.

Radio Times: the complete collection.

I opened the volume for 1978 and was immediately transported back to being 15… of course, we only got the Radio Times in our house, because ITV wasn’t allowed.

We continue up the stairs to investigate all the floors of the library. Local history next.

And a complete record of probate.

And a complete record of probates issued.

That was a good year. (Ronnie was born).

That was a good year. (Ronnie was born).

And up to the final floor where there is access to the roof and views across Liverpool.

View from the roof of the library.

View from the roof of the library.

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View of the Hornby Library – obviously once a separate building, now joined seamlessly.

And this floor also has meticulously maintained public toilets.

And this floor also has meticulously maintained public toilets.

But we’re hungry now, so we head back down for some lunch on the ground floor.

View to the ground floor.

View to the ground floor.

We take the lift.

We take the lift.

And have lunch.

And have lunch.

We have a graze around the ground floor book selection, both saying we could have spent much longer than the two hours we’d put into the car parking machine. And then make our way to the counter to get the David Attenborough DVDs. (All book checking out is done at self service stations, but DVDs are done by a human). I have dug out my Liverpool libraries ticket – unused for years because although I do get library books out, I’ve lazily just let Ronnie put them on his well-used ticket. Only to find, they’ve deleted me! But it’s OK, because I am swiftly issued with a brand new library ticket. A nice bluey-purple one.

My new library ticket.

My new library ticket.

And with that, we check out our books and leave. Ready to go home and explore the world of green roof planting, a graphic novel of ‘The Kite Runner’, the decline of vinyl, essays on the death of a child, a crime fiction called ‘Truth’, and a novel by Kim Stanley Robinson.

And all these amazing words, stories, opinions, historic records and more, are here, in Liverpool. Thank you.

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Leaving the library. We’ll be back next Sunday.

Ronnie has a particular love of libraries and has written about his personal mission to defend every library, which are being threatened in ‘austerity Britain’, you can read it here.

2 thoughts on “Imagine, Liverpool Central Library.

  1. stan cotter

    That’s the first time I have seen inside the new library. It’s a fabulous building.

    Re the Costa, do you know they tried to open a Costa branch in Totnes, Devon? And every resident
    and resident shopkeeper fought them until they backed down, apparently every shop in Totnes is locally owned and run by a person and not a distant company.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes

      This was Sarah’s first viewing of it too, Stan, that’s why we thought it would be interesting for her to do the post.

      The people working in the Costa were perfectly nice, straightforward Liverpool people. But the food was the average stuff you could get anywhere. So, as we’re particularly good at running our own cafés and coffee shops in Liverpool, it would be good to see a local independent take over at some point.

      Reply

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