But Beautiful

Wavertree Library01City Council consultation on Monday 6 October, 6pm to 8pm, The Conference Centre at LACE, Croxteth Drive, Sefton Park, L17 1AA – this will be to discuss Sefton Park and Wavertree libraries.

In 1958 Billie Holiday recorded ‘Lady in Satin’, her last but one LP and the final one to be released during her lifetime. It divides opinion still, many feeling that her wonderful voice is too far gone by this time to be a pleasure to listen to any more. I love it though, and consider it a late work of great dignity. A particular favourite track is the Johnny Burke and Jimmy Van Heusen song ‘But Beautiful’ where she sings these lines of aching longing and regret. They came back to me a few days ago when Sarah and I were standing inside Wavertree District Library:

“And I’m thinking
If you were mine
I’d never let you go,
And that would be
But beautiful, I know.”

The last time I’d been here it was a forlorn place. Half of it was taken up by a City Council ‘One Stop Shop’ of various council services. And what was left of a library was shoved to one side, containing few books, all displayed with their backs to the wall. It felt to me then like it was in its late days.Wavertree Library02

Now it may really be in its late days, it’s in the list of eleven libraries down for possible closure as one result of the Government’s ‘austerity’ policy. But walking in we immediately see that it has flowered again wonderfully.

The Council have moved their One Stop Shop to a vacant building next door, and the whole of Wavertree District Library is a library once more. Just look at it.

Full of books.

Full of books.

Full of life.

Full of life.

Full of light.

Full of light.

Unlike Sefton Park Library which we looked at the other week, also on the list for closure, this one is not a gift from Andrew Carnegie.Wavertree Library10I’m not sure that it’s not a gift from Robert Durning Holt though. He was a local ship owner and philanthropist and the Holt family, it is suspected, had recently given a large piece of land, just behind the library, to the City. This was not for ornamental parkland but for sports and recreation. Which is what it’s still used for. And everyone in Liverpool still calls it ‘The Mystery’ in honour of its mystery donor.

Anyway, more to the point for our observations today, as you’ll see from further down the plaque, is that this is yet another of the City’s libraries to be designed by City Architect Thomas Shelmerdine. And as we know from Kensington and Sefton Park Libraries, his speciality is light.

Because light lifts the spirit, as well as making it easier to read the books.

Because light lifts the spirit, as well as making it easier to read the books.

And just look at the range of books.

And just look at the range of books.

The place is a true ‘community hub’ – that phrase that gets bandied about today like it’s something different from a library. Catering for the needs of all the people who actually live round here.

Not just books either. Essential access to the digital world for people who absolutely need it.

Not just books either. Essential access to the digital world for people who absolutely need it.

Which brings me to my main point.

Asking around locally, the word is that a housing association is interested in taking over the library. For offices. The word also has it that they might, only might mind, run a small library in here too. Thus taking us back, if we’re lucky, to the days of the One Stop Shop.

If ‘the word’ is anywhere near true, then this of course won’t do at all.

This is a library not an office. And if any group or organisation wants to help the City through this onslaught of ‘austerity’ (and good on you if you do) then I believe you should be running it as a library. Not using the opportunity to get yourselves a new and magnificent office out of the City’s political misfortune.

If you are a housing association interested in helping the City and the local community, many of whom live in your houses no doubt, then I can tell you there’s plenty of room in here at the large reception desk for someone dealing with enquiries and repair requests. There’s also a room just behind reception which would make an ideal interview room. All you should need, because the rest of it’s a Library.

And see this person behind the desk?

And see this person behind the desk?

She’s what’s known as a Librarian. Carefully, skilfully and devotedly running the place. A highly trained, paid professional. You’re going to need some of them if you take over the running of the place. Don’t, for example, even begin to think a volunteer or a housing professional could do the job. Just don’t.

This place is a treasure and a great credit to the City.

This place is a treasure and a great credit to the City.

And I understand these are difficult times and I know the government has put the City into an intolerable situation. So I’m not saying the City should carry on funding all the Libraries by taking money off other essential social services, for example.

But I am saying, very clearly and with my whole heart, that if any of the rest of us people of Liverpool can help out and run the places for a while, then we run them as libraries. By all means put in new computers and tablets if we can afford them, to improve the offer to local people. By all means promote and market them well to get people through the doors. By all means promote community participation and the growth of literacy amongst all ages. Thus pursuing your values as a  housing association, or whatever kind of socially beneficial body you are.

But get this straight. You run them as libraries, with full public access to the whole place.

Because these places belong to the people of Liverpool.

Because these places belong to the people of Liverpool.

And they always will.

And they always will.

What was it Billie sang?

“And I’m thinking
If you were mine
I’d never let you go,
And that would be
But beautiful, I know.”

But beautiful.

City Council consultation on Monday 6 October, 6pm to 8pm, The Conference Centre at LACE, Croxteth Drive, Sefton Park, L17 1AA – this will be to discuss Sefton Park and Wavertree libraries.

 

21 thoughts on “But Beautiful

  1. robertday154

    I wish the “highly paid” bit were true of rank-and-file librarians!

    But then again, what do I know? I qualified as a librarian in 1978, but only ever managed ten months on a professional job creation scheme in the dying days of the Callaghan government. I was then unable to secure employment in that profession, thanks in part to the austerity measures of the Divine Margaret’s government. And in the 35 years since then, I’ve not done one bit of librarianship for money.

    What was that I heard from successive governments of all political colours about encouraging people to acquire vocational qualifications instead of all this theoretical stuff?

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Well said Robert. sad how we’re all still walking in the Divine Margaret’s shadow, since all the country’s leaders since have pretty much imitated her.

      And I didn’t mean to imply the librarians are highly paid. As Unionised employees of a local authority I’d expect them to be reasonably paid, but I doubt it’s high!

      Reply
  2. Gerry

    Superb post, Ronnie. I hope they listen. And this needed saying, loudly:

    “She’s what’s known as a Librarian. Carefully, skilfully and devotedly running the place. A highly trained, paid professional. You’re going to need some of them if you take over the running of the place. Don’t, for example, even begin to think a volunteer or a housing professional could do the job. Just don’t.”

    Reply
  3. Tim Morton

    Wonderful post Ronnie
    Speaks to my heart, I spend a lot of time in libraries less in bookshops.
    Glorious photos too

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Thanks Tim. Me too. I love independent bookshops but the only books I want to own are books that are continually useful as references (by which I mean the detailed history of Liverpool!). But most books, even very good ones I’ll only read once. So why keep them here when there are libraries can store them so other people can be reading them?

      Thanks for the ‘glorious photos’ – I think Mr Shelmerdine and his wonderful light contributed there.

      Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Very little. The UK Government is drastically reducing city budgets here, so all public services are being cut. The only chance for this Library is if someone else, a housing, health or community body could take it over, at least until more enlightened political times.

      Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      Well it’s still open as of now, but we need to find another organisation to run it for the future as the Governmnent has taken the money needed to run it away from the City Council.

      Reply
  4. doctorbob2014

    One can only hope! I have a greater interest in the derelict lister drive library that has been left to rot and is now derelict. I sincerely think that it is criminal on behalf of the city council to allow buildings of such grandeur to be neglected in such a fashion. there are plans for lister drive and I hope they come to fruition.

    Reply
    1. Ronnie Hughes Post author

      It is amazing Maria, but in danger of reaching the end of its life as a working library. so we’re all working and thinking hard here to keep it open and as beautiful as it now is.

      Reply
  5. Robert S. Eilers

    It is sad to hear a library is on the chopping block because of budget concerns. Today’s libraries offer so much more than just books. They offer a service to those unable to benefit from having their own access to the internet. So many jobs are now advertised online instead of the newspaper. They are learning centers offering free classes on everything from crafts to computer literacy to historical discussions. Libraries should not be considered expendable. They serve just as much purpose as the housing authority or other social service entities.

    Reply

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