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Liverpool's libraries mustn't crumble

Use your imagination or leave a hole in the cityscape, urges Dr Robert MacDonald

Published on February 3rd 2014.

Liverpool's libraries mustn't crumble

FOR many people the public library was a warm place to freely read the newsapers, books and, more recently, to search the internet on the People's Network. It was for children to learn to read, and for The University of The Third Age to hold reading rings.

Because these libraries were part of the Edwardian development of Liverpool, their demise will effect the existing street structure. Gaps will emerge where gaps did not exist before

No longer! From The Carnegie Library in Crosby to Everton, Kensington, Toxteth, Windsor Street, Aighburth and Lodge Lane, the People's Voice is being silenced and censored. 

Perhaps even the books are being burned? Who knows? Does anybody actually care about books any more?

 Lodge Lane Library was my local. It was where all my learning began, not in school but in a public space. The shelves were lined with books of all classifications and all ages. I could find narratives and stories, physics, mathematics and astronomy. The public library contained all my world on my doorstep. Through a comprehensive school I became a scholarship boy and access to a public library was vital.

Now the public libraries are being decimated, closed and dismantled. Where are the public's books? The still-new Central Library, on William Brown Street, is very popular but does it represent a centralisation of resources at the expense of the local inner city branches?

New chapter: The Carnegie Library at Lister Drive could rise again as part of the Lister Steps project for childrenNew chapter: The abandoned and rotting Carnegie Library at Lister Drive could rise again as part of the Lister Steps project for children. But more like this is needed in other parts of the city says Dr Robert MacDonald 

Literacy is a tool for the extension of knowledge. A survey in America recently revealed that only one third of the population has read a book in the last year. The act of reading depends on bringing people together with two material entries - books and space. This is a social, political and educational organisation for the mass of the public. We need these structures.

In Liverpool, the public libraries were not intended to be elitist and privileged but accessible and open places of quiet contemplation. Easy access was considered vital - as the early Liverpool and Manchester library plans show, for example Harrison's Lyceum (1800-2) at the bottom of Bold Street, also now standing empty.

Libraries became well established civic building types within the urban realm. They were important landmarks but with the rapid evolution of digital media their role has changed. They are closing in vast numbers - and their empty shells are falling into disrepair. 

How a modern library looks: Liverpool Central LibraryHow a modern library looks: Liverpool Central

Because these libraries were a part of the Edwardian development of Liverpool, their demise will effect the existing street structure of the city. Gaps will emerge where gaps did not exist before.

In other cities, libraries are becoming chameleons and changing; idea stores and community based centres are replacing and occupying the old hollow shells. Liverpool needs more community imagination and engagement and libraries should be copies, in miniature, of a world as we would love it to be. 

Let us see them re-occupied in the manner of local museums, with galleries and chapels containing knowledge and local objects.

There will public meeting places for music and poetry. The new libraries will be light and airy. The new libraries will be happy places! 

*Dr Robert G MacDonald, RIBA,  is a Reader in Architecture at Liverpool School of Art & Design, LJMU.

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26 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Webster RoadFebruary 4th 2014.

Aye, good old Lodge Lane library! I was really proud when I turned eight years old and could join. My dad took me there one Saturday morning to get my first ticket. I loved that smell of books and floor polish. Later as a class from school we went in there midweek; I used to ask the teachers to get me ghost stories from the adult section. They were always by Elliot O'Donnell. Is Edge Hill Library still open? It looked closed last time I passed it.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 25th 2014.

Lodge Lane Library closed its doors for good April 2012. I don't know if I can post hyperlinks here, but it is quite easy to find more information if you search Alan Gibbons' website for example.

Capt. W. E. JohnsFebruary 4th 2014.

Surely the local authorities are in breach of contract by allowing he Carnegie libraries to fall into misuse? The Scottish-American philanthropist provided the libraries free of charge in return for an undertaking that the local authorities paid the running and staffing costs thereafter.

Ramsey CampbellFebruary 4th 2014.

Dr MacDonald - if the question isn't too intrusive, could I ask when you were a borrower at Lodge Lane? I wonder if it was when I worked there.

Slightly FoxedFebruary 28th 2014.

"In Liverpool, the public libraries were not intended to be elitist and privileged but accessible and open places of quiet contemplation." No chance of that at the new Central Libary. It's a sort of show-off shopping 'mall'. So as not to spoil the look all the books are hidden and you can only get a quiet place to read by booking it in advance!

Ramsey CampbellFebruary 28th 2014.

"All the books are hidden"? What's happened since the last few times I was there? They weren't then.

AnonymousFebruary 28th 2014.

Central Library looks like a fucking airport

AnonymousMarch 1st 2014.

So who said libraries have to be frozen in time? If we took the lead above, John Lewis would be staffed by old men with a limp and a brown apron with a pencil to work out the bill. And I'm not so sure about our mucker Dr Robert G MacDonald's credentials, for all the time he spent poring over books, he still gets "effect" and "affect" mixed up, and he can't spell "Spacious". 2/10 Doc

Slightly FoxedMarch 1st 2014.

Libraries need to provide two basic elements: 1. ready access to books, and 2. a suitably quiet general environment conducive to reading. The Central Library has neither.

11 Responses: Reply To This...
John BradleyMarch 1st 2014.

The access to the book is fine. The lack of quiet isn't, though it is far quieter on the upper floors it is still to noisy.

AnonymousMarch 1st 2014.

Can I suggest next time you visit library JB, you read "Spelling For Dummies" Books* Too*

AnonymousMarch 1st 2014.


John BradleyMarch 1st 2014.

You can suggest all you like.

AnonymousMarch 1st 2014.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can make it think. Eh John

John BradleyMarch 2nd 2014.

You can do whatever you want.

AnonymousMarch 2nd 2014.

Oooh get you, just trying to help you John boy it's not my fault you've got no shame

John BradleyMarch 2nd 2014.

Nothing to feel shame about.

AnonymousMarch 2nd 2014.

That's not what I've read...

John BradleyMarch 2nd 2014.

Well good for you.

Archbishop Right-OnMarch 5th 2014.

Amazing what you can find with a quick google.

Ramsey CampbellMarch 1st 2014.

Which books aren't readily accessible? Obviously the rarest ones can't be, but otherwise?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 25th 2014.

I think Slightly Foxed might be referring to: 1) The Archive: It had a drop-in service with access to records, photographs, local history library and rare book collection within 45 mins. This is now 24 hours. 2) The Hornby Library and The Oak Room: These were never open to the public before now. It looks like there were a load of books that have now become closed access. This is not the case. They were always closed access. 3) The Clayton Stack: I don't know if this stack was ever open to the public. It is definitely closed access now and has been for a long time before the old Central closed its doors. Maybe this is what Slightly Foxed is remembering.

Slightly FoxedMarch 9th 2015.

Not at all. I am remembering long, gallery-like libraries, with bookshelves filled in the Dewey Decimal system, with catalogues of contents near the door with tables and chairs for study and above all - silence. But that was admittedly in the days before the finest music library outside London was disposed of and replaced by an "audio visual resource" i.e. a noisy children's playroom stocked with DVDs of Steven Seagal films

Ramsey CampbellMarch 1st 2014.

Well, it's very quiet in the reading room except for the wonderful echo.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 25th 2014.

Is this *THE* Ramsey Campbell, master of suspense, teller of terrifying tall-tales?

AnonymousMarch 1st 2014.

There's two words you don't often see next to each other!

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