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.
We walk up William Brown Street, past grand buildings. One seems empty and one houses the Liverpool museum.
And arrive at the library. Pleased to observe that the ground floor café (OK it’s a Costa) has outdoor seating.
We go in.
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 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.
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.
It really is a splendid library and contains a vast array of ancient books.
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.
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.
We move on…. to the jaw-dropping, staggeringly gorgeous Reading Room. A reference library.
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.
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 up to the final floor where there is access to the roof and views across Liverpool.
But we’re hungry now, so we head back down for some lunch on the ground floor.
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.
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.
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.