The kindness of public librarians

A librarian at work.
A librarian at work.

I’ve often written about public libraries but not for some time. I have been spending a lot of time in them though lately, as I’ve been writing a book. It’s a book on the 50 year history of Liverpool Housing Trust, one of the ‘Cathy Come Home’ era housing associations and a place where I first volunteered and then worked in myself for 20 years from 1975. No doubt when the book comes out, which will be soon, little hints of what’s in it or long bits of what turned out to be too long to go into it will appear on here.

I’m not writing it on my own mind. My friend and ‘proper’ writer and publisher, Fiona Shaw of Wordscapes is doing much more of the writing than me and also editing the whole thing. But we divided up the bits we’d do and mostly write on our own, getting together occasionally to see where we’re up to.on-national-libraries-day22

And I’ve done most of my own writing of it in public libraries. In our grand and lovely Central Library when I wanted to lift my spirits and get going on what felt like a big project. Then most often in my local library at Allerton Road as I’ve settled into the work and enjoyed every minute of it.

Enjoyment much helped, as it’s turned out, by the kindness of public librarians. Continue reading “The kindness of public librarians”

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. Continue reading “But Beautiful”

Wallasey: A Tale of Two Libraries

Having been keeping a very careful eye on Liverpool’s libraries over the past few months, I decided I go and see how our neighbours are getting on with their’s over the water in Wallasey.Wallasey24I don’t know Wallasey very well at all. I know New Brighton, which is part of it, and was last there a few weeks ago, but to get to know as much of the rest as I reasonably can in an afternoon I decide to walk around, almost aimlessly, other than knowing I’ll try and find a couple of libraries in the course of my wandering.

I think walking is the only way to really get to know a place. To see it and feel it and work out how it fits together and how it’s doing. So let’s go.

But I can't walk on water, so have to walk through town first.
But I can’t walk on water, so have to walk through town first.
Then get on a bus, the 437.
Then get on a bus, the 437.
And through the tunnel to Wallasey.
And go through the tunnel to Wallasey.

Continue reading “Wallasey: A Tale of Two Libraries”

Closing the libraries? Well no, we’re not going to

Update 10th November, ‘no Liverpool Libraries to close’

After several months of consultation with us all, Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson announced this morning that no Liverpool Libraries will now close. Some will shorten their hours and it seems that seven out of the threatened eleven will now be run by ‘partners’ (still to be announced who these are). So very good news or a positive spin being put on a situation of continuing uncertainty and financial fragility?

Well obviously we’ll all be watching very carefully. But for now, well a limited library is still a library, can still expand back to full services one day. Whereas closed libraries would be gone forever.

Here’s what Joe Anderson said.

So, well done so far City of Liverpool. By which I mean everyone. Parents, children, protestors, potential partners, politicians and particularly the City Libraries staff who have been running most of the consultations and so borne the brunt of our concerns. Well done all. Now let’s sort out the details.

Update, 15th August, Eleven Liverpool City Libraries set to close

The Proposal outlined below was approved at the City Council Cabinet meeting this morning. There will now be a period of further consultation to see what might be possible by working with community groups and other potential partners for the eleven of Liverpool’s libraries now threatened with closure.

Unless these efforts can be successful, as things stand there will be no public libraries in the North of Liverpool between Central Library and Norris Green. As you’ll see below this gives me particular concern. The loss of any libraries is deeply injurious to the City, but to have such a vast area with no local service gives me great concern for the futures of all children, claimants and the less mobile in Kensington, Breckfield, Everton, Vauxhall, Walton, Kirkdale, Anfield, Fazakerley and West Derby. Surely as a City we can sort something out here?

I’ve heard from a City Councillor that there is to be a special meeting about the issue on 10th September but don’t yet have an agenda for this. Will update as soon as I have but suspect it may be the meeting of the Cultural Select Committee called for by the Green Party and the Lib Dems, as reported by the Liverpool Echo.

Full Liverpool Echo report including a statement by Mayor Joe Anderson here.

Well the news is in and the news isn’t good. On 15th August a proposal will go to the meeting of Liverpool City Council in the Town Hall to close eleven of our nineteen libraries.

Liverpool Central Library
Liverpool Central Library

Before I list those threatened and those to stay, a bit of context from when I attended one of the public consultation events back in May. I wrote then:

“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) 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.

Later in the year 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.”

Continue reading “Closing the libraries? Well no, we’re not going to”