We love libraries. We think every home should have one. But if, say, you’re from North Liverpool, Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis would probably recommend you make use of one of Merseyside’s municipal libraries.
Have you heard of them? They offer free books to read. You can pop round there on your way to, say, The Asda, or to get your tags fitted, and, quick as you like, you could have an armful of Barbra Taylor Bradford, or enough blood lust Vampire novellas to dampen any teenager’s duvet.
No, really. We do love libraries, from the old (Upton, above) to the shiny and new (and civic award-winning MBLA designed Huyton, right). And we love North Liverpool. One of us is from here.
It being National Library Day this weekend we’ve been driving round the ‘burbs, Library crawling. And we have to say: we’re blessed with some mighty fine buildings: yeah, they’re home to Dan Brown, after-school classes, internet access and book groups, but as symbols of civic intent, they’re among the most impressive – and diverse – collection of buildings we’ve got.
While Austin-Smith:Lord’s plans for a 21st century Library take shape along William Brown Street, our suburban libraries are taking the strain, and are stepping into the spotlight. So it’s time they dusted down their dust covers, as we judge our libraries by their covers.
The Lord Byron: Walton Library
It’s all neo-Greek columns, semi-circular porticoes, a central dome allowing light to flood into the reading rooms and pedimented windows. With its ornamental stonework, its pilasters and its sturdy stone orbs, this is civic neoclassical at its most democratic and restrained. Although the library was constructed 100 years ago, it harks back to earlier, more romantic times. Lyrical flourishes, and proud socialist roots? It would make a romantic poet go weak at the knees.
The Agatha Christie: Upton Library
With its geometric symmetry, clean cliffs of regimented brick, sleek curves and savagely delineated window tracings, the handsome Upton library is straight out of Vintage period Poirot. This pocket-sized Art Deco treasure was built in 1936, the same year that Poirot and Inspector Japp were hot on the heels of the ABC Murders (main pic).
The Bram Stoker: Wavertree Library
There’s something of the night about Wavertree Library (pic above). Maybe its the Library’s jagged outline, its castellated balconies and mullioned windows. Maye its the sandstone masonry and oversized Gothic arches that lend a whiff of a Whitby abbey. Or maybe it’s the curious, one tonne glacial boulder, dropped off at the library sometime around the last ice age. Some say it’s a meteorite. And by some, we mean George Harrison. He mentions it – and the library – in his autobiography. It’s weird in Wavertree.
Yes, we have our own Elgin Marbles. But they’re made of sterner, more Soviet stuff, and they’re in Norris Green. Still, they’re a nice touch and reveal the library’s mission to celebrate the arts: through images of boys deeply engrossed in a novel, a girl with fabulous 1930s hair engrossed in drawing, and a young Cecil B DeMille directing a new blockbuster. Plato – founder of the first institute of learning and the arts – would be pleased to know his work lives on, just off the East Lancs Road, in Broadway.
You want dystopian modernity? How about a library that looks for all the world like it’s a model kit for a Hornby railway set, then throw in a soupcon of terror by way of a casually placed set of stocks by the bike rack. Yep, that’s the way they roll in West Wirral. If you’re so much as a day late with your Terry Pratchett, public humiliation and rotten fruit await.
Sadly no longer dispensing words of wisdom, Everton’s stunning library is something of a sorry tale. A Miss Haversham on the Hill, this library tells you all you need to know about this corner of the city, and its rapidly changing fortunes over the years. Everton Library opened 1896. At the opening ceremony talk was of how, where the township’s beacon had once guided ships on the river, the library would similarly guide Evertonians to knowledge. Half of the city, feel free to insert you own gag here.
You want a bit of stark sixties realism? Allerton’s intellectual cognoscenti would steer you in the direction of this consistent, principled and class-conscious stand against the Greek Gods of Norris Green, or the Rococo flourishes of Walton. No, in South Liverpool, it’s all about the word. Sillitoe called his autobiogrpahy ‘A Life Without Armour’ – well, this is a library without elaboration. Sadly, it’s not open Saturday nights, nor Sunday mornings. But it’s a striking, light filled slab of 60s functionalism –
If you’re out and about this weekend, check out your local library. Most are holding events for National Libraries Day. In Maghull Library, Zoe Lambert reads about science and literature: distilling science’s love of narrative and delving into the life of experimenters as they stood on the brink of momentous discoveries. In Birkenhead’s central library, as part of Dickens Bicentennial there’ll be readings of the great man’s work by the Friends of Birkenhead Library, and at West Kirby Library, Gladys Coles talks about her vivid novel, Clay, set in the First World War in Liverpool and the Wirral. All these events are on Sunday, 4 February. We asked Liverpool libraries for events details – none were forthcoming. Let’s assume they’re engrossed in something unputdownable, eh?
National Libraries Day