Turning Over A New Leaf? The Re-Opening Of Central Library

Meeting your gran and finding she’s turned into Beyoncé? Joseph Viney explores both the splendour and the knock-on effects of the new Central Library…

Bookworms rejoice! After three long years, the new Liverpool Central Library has finally opened its doors to the public and it takes pride of place as the core of the city’s literary apple.

Undoubtedly the centrepiece of last Friday’s Light Night, the reopening caught the attention of the press at local and national levels, and rightly so. With refurbishment costs totalling a cool £50 million (or a ‘Torres’, in football parlance), the city had both a reason to brag and a case to answer to. In a time of economic cuts and other ‘budgetary concerns’, the undertaking of such a huge project has to be justified financially and by the general populace.

Aesthetically, it is difficult not to gasp as you enter the building, which has been demolished and restored in equal measure by companies including Shepherd Construction, Cofely and Austin-Smith:Lord (the latter also responsible for the design of FACT and aspects of the Bluecoat refurbishment). Gone are the creaking wooden struts and shelves, the musty smell of yellowed tomes; replaced by a multi-storey spiral of staircases, elevators and bright lights straight from the Philip K. Dick imaginarium. The main lobby and its upper levels are replete with brand new wipe-clean books isolated in perfect order, the pick of world cinema on DVD and countless musical rarities on CD.

“Gone are the creaking wooden struts and shelves, the musty smell of yellowed tomes”

The blending of the old and new, arguably what Liverpool is best at on an architectural level, is seamless; the Hornby Library wing incorporating the old library’s external brickwork. The works on display within are enough to interest anyone from the hardiest collector to the passive bystander. Letters autographed by Elizabeth I, Shakespeare anthologies from the 17th century and countless reference books on wildlife and botany from the earliest of our natural scientists and explorers all take their deserved pride of place.

Dense pedestrian traffic mulled in and around the library, each floor festooned with the sounds of local singers and musicians. In the children’s section, a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party took place; that’s the thing with kids and books, make sure you get ‘em early on.

It promises much and it will surely deliver. A city with a student population as vibrant and steadily increasing as Liverpool’s demands the very best in civic resources, and the rest of the population can only benefit from such a spacious and well-stocked centre of self-education and exploration.

…but (remember, there’s always a but), we cannot allow such a grand occasion to pass without bringing forth a few points of order.

In 2010, the Liverpool Daily Post reported how the new Central Library will contain 30,000 FEWER books than previously. Those deemed surplus to requirements were put up in a fire sale or sold to a ‘social business’ with the aim of shifting them online. “…but we have plenty of libraries. They can be redistributed, surely?” Well…

“Mayor Joe Anderson announced in February that 10 of the city’s 19 libraries are to close within this current financial year”

Mayor Joe Anderson, perpetually embroiled in a dangerous economic game of ‘look what you’re making us do’ with Westminster, announced in February that 10 of the city’s 19 libraries are to close within this current financial year. This will save the city council a projected amount of £938,000. Can we really accept that some portion of an outlay of over 50 times that amount could not have been earmarked to save our local libraries? Are we to stand by as the city’s residential outposts are deprived of not just a basis for literary learning, but community meeting points that serve countless interest groups?

Alas, as special and welcome as the reopening is, we turn to face it against a backdrop of strange and upsetting consequences. As the city pumps staggering amounts into preserving and renovating one grand old building, we may well be forced to stand idly by and watch others fall into disrepair, misuse and ultimately dereliction.

Indeed, it looks like a matter of taking the rough with the smooth; a fine analogy for the refurbishment of Central Library if there ever was one.

Last, and perhaps least, author Frank Cottrell Boyce claimed the refurbishment was akin to “going to meet your gran and finding she’s turned into Beyoncé”; a comment as confusing as it is a Freudian nightmare. Let’s leave the analysis of that up to the real scholars, shall we?

Joseph Viney

All images courtesy Mark McNulty for Central Library

Open 9am-8pm daily

Posted on 23/05/2013 by thedoublenegative