The Gift

Today I want to show you something exquisite. A gift to us, the people of Liverpool, from early in the 20th Century.

A mock Tudor building.

A mock Tudor building.

From 1911.

From 1911.

Resplendent today in the gentle September sunshine.

Resplendent today in the gentle September sunshine.

Extended in the 1960s for the children.

Extended in the 1960s for the children.

A thing of intense and practical beauty.

A thing of intense and practical beauty.

Yes, a lending library.

Yes, a lending library.

Celebrated here in a post card from the time when the gift was given.

Celebrated here in a post card from the time when the gift was given.

Called 'Carnegie Library' then, after the giver of the gift.

Called ‘Carnegie Library’ then, after the giver of the gift.

Now called 'Sefton Park'

Now called ‘Sefton Park’

As you can see from those opening times, the library is already suffering from austerity politics. No evening opening and closed altogether 3 days a week. But things might be about to get a lot worse. Because Sefton Park is one of the 11 out of 19 of our public libraries now in severe danger of closure.

Following last night’s meeting of the City Council’s Culture Select Committee in Liverpool Town Hall we are now entering the final 4 weeks of public consultation before the Council will take its final decisions on what we’ll then have left of a library service.

I lived around Aigburth Road in the 1970s and 80s so this was ‘my’ library.

Entering it now, in possibly its late days, feels more than ever like a sacred privilege.

Entering it now, in possibly its late days, feels more than ever like a sacred privilege.

If you thought it was beautiful on the outside just look at this.

If you thought it was beautiful on the outside just look at this.

A cathedral of grace and learning.

A cathedral of grace and learning.

And light.

And light.

Exquisitely done.

Exquisitely done.

I remember you used to be able to go up there.

I remember you used to be able to go up there.

Though times and equal access have now changed things.

Though times and level access have now changed things.

Up the spiral staircase you'd go.

Up the spiral staircase you’d go.

Then down the one on the other side of the library.

Then down the one on the other side of the library.

The library now threatened by the class war of austerity politics.

The library now threatened by the class war of austerity politics.

A practical place.

A practical place.

With more than just books about computers.

With more than just books about computers.

A place of essential access.

A place of essential access.

To employment, to public services, to self-fulfilment, to democracy. I wasn’t talking lightly when I called this place a cathedral.

Quietly busy in the middle of a weekday afternoon.

Quietly busy, even in the middle of a weekday afternoon.

100 years at the centre of the local communities.

100 years at the centre of the local communities.

You might not have noticed the plaque on the way in.

You might not have noticed the plaque on the way in.

Given by Andrew Carnegie, designed by Thomas Shelmerdine.

The Gift of Andrew Carnegie, designed by Thomas Shelmerdine.

One of 3,000 libraries given to cities and towns around the world by Dunfermline-born philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. As Wikipedia says:

“His method was to build and equip, but only on condition that the local authority matched that by providing the land and a budget for operation and maintenance.”

And until now Liverpool City have happily complied with the conditions of The Gift. Until now.

(And philanthropy is difficult, I understand that. I know from my conversations with City Libraries staff over recent months that even Andrew Carnegie wouldn’t have known, 100 years ago, what it would cost to run the libraries he gave us into the 21st century. But we’re only looking for savings of £2.5m per year, that’s what might cause 11 libraries to close. A couple of banker’s bonuses.)

And Thomas Shelmerdine? City Architect at that time and also designer of Toxteth Library (safe so far), Everton Library (long closed), Kensington Library (threatened), Wavertree Library (threatened), Garston Library (safe so far) and West Derby Library (also threatened).

Full list of threatened libraries here.

No one’s yet saying these precious buildings are themselves threatened. I understand talks are now taking place about possibilities for many of the 11 libraries under threat of closure. But it’s deeply upsetting to see our City leaders seemingly forced into such savagery by a political system that values bailing out corrupt banks over the future of its people.

The people around Sefton Park Library are not letting it go lightly.

The people around Sefton Park Library are not letting it go lightly.

Well done you people.

And leaving the library, I hope it's not for the last time.

And leaving the library, I hope it’s not for the last time.

I would hate it if the day were to arrive when these photographs of mine became some sort of shrine to something precious and lost. We’ve only had The Gift for 100 years, its got many more generations worth of work to do yet.

Thank you Andrew Carnegie, from us here in Liverpool.

Thank you Andrew Carnegie, from us here in Liverpool.

3 thoughts on “The Gift

  1. lindsay53

    Such a beautiful building but not just beautiful, practical, essential as you say, Ronnie. What a privilege to be able to enter freely (at the moment, anyway), such a magnificent place and to partake of the treasures within.

    The idea behind this by Andrew Carnegie was a great and visionary one. These places should be honoured and safeguarded as they are shining examples of free access for all to a world of learning and, in getting the local authorities to match the ‘gift’ by stumping up maintenance costs, he saw a way of securing their future. I truly believe that public libraries are superb examples of inclusivity and diversification. They provide havens of interest for young through to older. They are responsive to changes in the way people learn, communicate and research, providing all those facilities that people are not necessarily able to access in their own homes. Plus they are a social hub which for those who are isolated is essential.

    Such shortsightedness and all for 2.5m pounds, a couple of bankers bonuses, as you say. But it goes deeper than that and I agree with you. This is a class war. This is just one more stab to the heart of the working classes.

    Reply
  2. robertday154

    It wouldn’t be quite so bad if there were those amongst the CEOcracy and their fat cat hangers-on of the same stature and vision as Carnegie. Though of course, for every one Carnegie there were hundreds of rapacious robber barons even then. And that’s the problem with the Right’s vision of philanthropy replacing progressive taxation used for social good.

    Reply

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