The Friday Walk: To the Library

Eventually we’ll be arriving here for a very difficult conversation about the future of public libraries in Liverpool.

Liverpool Central Library.

Liverpool Central Library.

In fact this was going to be a walk around several of our beautiful public libraries to get me in the mood for the conversation. But in the event, knowing that the conversation might be about some of them having to be closed down, I don’t have the heart for it.

Instead I set off for the river. To think, about money and ‘austerity’ and what we might do. But also because I know there’s something special there to see.

Through Liverpool One, where much many people's money is spent.

Through Liverpool One, where much of many people’s money is spent.

Down to the docks, where the money that made Liverpool came in.

Down to the docks, where the money that made Liverpool came in.

An enterprising idea. The old lightship has opened as a café.

An enterprising idea. The old lightship has opened as a café.

Then round the corner at the Pier Head I see it.

Dominating the Waterfront. The great liner.

Dominating the Waterfront. The great liner.

When I was little I’d be brought down here to see the great passenger liners that would still do weekly sailings to New York. These stopped nearly 50 years ago. But I knew that liners were back now, cruise ships. So I’ve come here to see one.

Victoria

The Queen Victoria

A floating tower block.

A floating tower block.

It’s carrying 2,000 passengers on a round Britain cruise.

Cunard

Cunard, back in Liverpool

Cunard-poster

A rare sight to see on our river.

A rare sight to see on our river.

A good few years ago I remember talking with the City’s then political leaders. And them envisioning ‘the return of ocean liners to the Mersey’ as a sign that the city would then have become prosperous again.

Well they're back.

Well they’re back.

And bringing prosperity with them? For someone maybe. But I’m on my way to talk about not having enough money to run our libraries. So something’s gone badly wrong.

This is an amazing sight to see though.

This is an amazing sight to see though.

Then something simply weird grabs everybody's attention.

Then something simply weird grabs everybody’s attention.

Libraries13

See that little drone thing above the ship?

Well it's a camera and he's controlling it.

Well it’s a camera and he’s controlling it.

Which is fantastic in itself. I’d heard about these and am very pleased to see one up close. Then the weird thing happens. I see he’s filming a man who appears to be flying.

Yes, flying.

Yes, flying.

This is Jay St John and he appears to be saluting the ship.

This is Jay St John and he appears to be saluting the ship.

In fact, round the side I can't see, he's saluting its Captain. As this Liverpool Echo photograph shows.

In fact, round the side I can’t see, he’s saluting its Captain. As this Liverpool Echo photograph shows.

The old ticket office at the Princes Landing Stage looks on in bemused bewilderment.

The old ticket office at the Princes Landing Stage looks on in bemused bewilderment.

It never thought it would live so long to see such strange goings on.

Still being filmed.

Still being filmed.

What he’s doing is apparently called ‘flyboarding’. It was only invented in 2011 and the flyboard rider stands on a board connected by a long hose to a watercraft. Water is forced under pressure to a pair of boots with jet nozzles underneath which provide the thrust for the rider to fly up to 15 metres in the air or to dive headlong through the water.

We are suitably amazed.

We are suitably amazed.

Jay's pretty pleased with it all too.

Jay’s pretty pleased with it all too.

But I’m still even more amazed by the flying camera, so go for a closer look at it when it comes in to land.

The flying camera.

The flying camera.

The company doing the filming are IronBird, a Liverpool company by the looks of their showreel:

I am fantastically impressed. And reminded of what an innovative and entrepreneurial lot we are. So surely we can work out how we can continue running our libraries?

But now its time to leave the big ship and walk on.

But now its time to leave the big ship and walk on.

Past lovely Oriel Chambers.

Past lovely Oriel Chambers.

By innovative Liverpool architect, Peter Ellis.

By innovative Liverpool architect, Peter Ellis.

Past the cleaned up Town Hall.

Past the cleaned up Town Hall. Where the decisions about the libraries will be taken.

Looking well.

Looking well.

Along Dale Street.

Along Dale Street.

Nearly there. Nearly time.

Nearly there. Nearly time to talk about the libraries.

This is a tremendous city.

This is a tremendous city.

Rightly proud of itself.

Rightly proud of itself.

Just about to hold this International Festival of Business.

Just about to hold this International Festival for Business.

And as I sit and think before going into the library, I reflect on how much of this magnificence came through philanthropy. Rich Victorians, perhaps attempting to atone for where their riches came from, slavery and exploitation.

And building much of the richness around me today.

And building much of the richness around me today.

Through philanthropy.

Through philanthropy.

And I think of the wealthy of today. Much, much richer than their Victorian ancestors. And using their greedy and rapacious system of global capitalism to force their tame governments to impose ‘austerity’ on their populations, so they can re-stock their almost ruined banks by stealing the wealth of nations.

Time then, to go and talk about our libraries.

I go in.

I go in.

To the most beautiful library I have ever been a member of.

To the most beautiful library I have ever been a member of.

A place that raises my spirits every time I enter it.

A place that raises my spirits every time I enter it.

A place everyone I know loves.

A place everyone I know loves.

And up on the fourth floor, I sit down in a room with around 20 other people. And we talk about the libraries.

It feels like an ancient and sacred discussion. Like the village elders holding our wisdom carefully, knowing that what we are talking about today will reverberate down the generations who follow us. There is anger and confusion in the room. And there are tears, mine. Not one of us wants to be in here talking about this.

But it is well done, greatly to the credit of the people who describe the political and financial position and then listen and respond to all that we say:

  • Louise Gray, Assistant Director of Community Services
  • Councillor Wendy Simon, Cabinet Member for Culture and Tourism
  • Ron Odunaiya, Director of Community Services
  • John Keane, Divisional Manager Libraries & Information Service
Louise Gray, Wendy Simon, Ron Odunaiya and John Keane.

Louise Gray, Wendy Simon, Ron Odunaiya and John Keane.

Liverpool gets 76% of its funding from Central Government. And they’re going to cut this by half by 2016/17.

Therefore the City Council has been forced to decide to cut its mandatory services, including libraries, by 25%. And its discretionary services, like sports and culture, by 50%. In the case of libraries this will mean an annual budget of £10m being reduced by £2.5m.

The Council has been running a survey (which I’ve written about before and which ends today) to gather facts and opinions about what might be done. And have run five open meetings around the libraries, of which this is the last. They tell us they’ve had 3,500 surveys completed and have also been gathering thoughts and ideas from these meetings.

In July the council will decide what to do.

And I found the meeting almost unbearably sad. We talked all the way around the kind of things that could happen. About not automatically closing the less well used libraries in less well off areas. I even brought up the possibility of a bit of philanthropic help to see us through until we can elect a better government. But it was pointed out that though philanthropic money can still sometimes be found to build things, it never pays the costs of running them.

I talked particularly about the children as I did on my post about the survey, as did others. And the fact that no one in the room wanted to see a ‘Big Society’ approach where volunteers take over the jobs of paid staff. We didn’t come up with any easy answers, nor did I feel this was all empty talk about decisions already taken. I felt I was in a discussion with people who are as passionate about libraries as I am.

So I’ve now written and said my bit, as a citizen of this city. I’ll think and say more if anyone asks me to. Otherwise I’ll await their findings, ideas and decisions. With trepidation, but confident in the knowledge that the best that can be done will be done. This is a fantastic place that does very good libraries and we still will, within the constraints of an economic system that appears to despise us.

I walk back to the bus through Liverpool One.

I walk back to the bus through Liverpool One.

Thinking about that big ship.

Thinking about that big ship.

And that wonderful flying camera.

And that wonderful flying camera.

And hours later, typing this at home, I realise that I have spent this afternoon on the front line of the class war. Not something you expect to happen in a meeting room in a library. But we were all only there because the Government of our country has decided to use austerity as a political weapon. Training it unfairly on the cities where, as it happens, its opponents live.

All photographs by me except for the one borrowed from the Echo and the lovely one just above here of the camera and the ship, from the website of IronBird, the camera’s proud owners.

9 thoughts on “The Friday Walk: To the Library

  1. stan cotter

    Fantastic work there Ron, I love it. As for you raising some points on this site, so what, isn’t that what its all about? We’re all different with differing attitude and opinions and all entitled to be so.

    These photos of the Queen Victoria are absolutely fantastic. Thank you for them. What an incredible state of affairs that now a liner of that magnitude can dock right alongside the stage and unload with using lighters in the river. I look forward to so many more coming to our city, thanks again.

    Reply
  2. robertday154

    I qualified as a librarian in1978. But i have only ever worked for ten months as a librarian. All the time since then, I’ve done other jobs because successive governments have not seen libraries as a priority. This government, acting without a clear mandate from the people, is merely the most recent and most nakedly obvious gang of criminals to target services that they consider to be of no value to “their” people.

    I have no objection to rich people putting their money to work for the wider benefit of all. Many Victorian entrepreneurs fell into that category. But now the tyranny is that of the corporate directors, whose priority is “shareholder value” and the wider good of the community comes way down the agenda, if it appears at all, because that cannot be expressed on a balance sheet.

    Knowledge and information is now a commodity like any other. These things merely exist on many people’s horizons as just another asset to be sweated. Librarians’ jobs in the wider economy have been considered disposable, first through cuts and later through the invention of personal computers and later the Internet. We cannot turn the clock back; but unless we remember that the fruits of human endeavour should be employed for the benefit of all, then in due course, a reckoning will be extracted from the exploiters.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Yes, it was upsetting, to say the least, to be in the library yesterday trying to make the best of such relatively small sums of money in one of the richest countries on Earth.

      I view e-books as an additional way of reading, as do the library people. In no way a replacement for the serendipity of browsing through a treasure trove of the real things. As Helen says below, this is about power and depriving us of it.

      Reply
  3. Helen Devries

    My father was a librarian in the inter war period – at least, that was his day job – working in the libraries funded by philanthropy and run by local government.
    He saw at first hand how people could empower themselves through access to books…no wonder our modern governments want to reduce that access.

    Reply
  4. Stephen Sullivan (@Oplyst)

    To fully appreciate anything it has to be available to all of the senses.

    For example…

    I watch football on TV with my two boys (11 & 13) as too expensive to take to the game. We “see” the action & “hear” the roar of the crown and the commentator’s comments second hand. Fed to us via an electronic device.

    However, to actually go to the game feeds the senses on many levels.

    Sounds such as the click of the turnstyle, the banter between fans & the referees whistle. The “smell” of the hot dogs (cough, splutter) & the “feel” of the programme in your hand. On a really good day a hug from a stranger as you celebrate together a moment in time. Two people connecting in “real” time.

    We can never replicate fully the match day experience by watching it on television.

    On entering a library you know why you are there. It’s the match day experience but on a different level. Essentially a cognitive one but enhanced greatly by a whole sensory experience. The sight of the book, it’s smell & feel. The greatest sound of all & most often available in a library? A shared silence! In my opinion of equal value to conversation & neglected at our peril.

    The internet, e-books and audio books have their place but can never replace the real thing.

    Stephen

    Reply
  5. lindsay53

    A really wonderful, maddening, saddening post, Ronnie. So many varied things in there to tug at the emotions. Things to wonder at (like the drone camera & the ‘flying man’). Things to amaze, like the sheer size of the liner & questions like ‘just how does that stay afloat?’. Just like the sort of things you could see and find the answer to in libraries.

    Which are not just libraries but centres of connection and as such, dangerous places in the eyes of the government!! We just can’t have the peasants being too knowledgeable or educated. Not too cocky, confident nor getting organised!! Your pointed and accurate comments about the cynical way governments control ‘their people’ are so on the mark. Austerity used as class war weapon. Absolutely. Throw the peasants a few pennies and watch them scramble to try and grab what they can for their particular projects. That’ll keep them busy. Keep their eye off the ball. Leave us free to continue to line our pockets without being disturbed. And yeah, whatever happened to philanthropy?

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Hi Lindsay, and thanks.

      I’d thought philanthropy might be a possible help through all this. But apparently even the Victorian philanthropists thought the buildings kind of ran themselves after they’d paid for them to be built. So all we need is a better government, a better economic system and rich people and companies who actually pay their taxes. Not too much to ask is it?

      Reply

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