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2013 Year in Review: Liverpool Central Library Re-opens

This is a view of the skylight atop the Atrium of the Central Library in Liverpool, England.  Christopher Furlong took this picture on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 before the Central Library re-opened on Friday, May 17, 2013.
This is a view of the skylight atop the Atrium of the Central Library in Liverpool, England. Christopher Furlong took this picture on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 before the Central Library re-opened on Friday, May 17, 2013.
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

After ten years of planning and over two years of restoration, the Central Library of Liverpool City Council’s Libraries & Archives in Liverpool, England (not to be confused with the Liverpool Public Library in Liverpool, New York) re-opened on Friday, May 17, 2013. To celebrate the re-opening of the central Library, Liverpool held the In Other Words Literary Festival from the 23rd of April to the 19th of May, 2013. It included author readings, book swaps, story-telling events, debates, and poetry readings at venues throughout the city.

More than 4,000,000 items, including documents and books, have been re-housed in the Liverpool Central Library. The project cost £55,000,000.

The Central Library is located at William Brown Street, L3 8EW. It now spreads out over three contiguous buildings.

All three buildings are Grade II Listed Buildings on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest. The Central Library has always shared what is now called the William Brown Library and Museum building (1860) with what is now called the World Museum Liverpool. The Picton Reading Room (1879), beside the William Brown Library and Museum, was the first addition and the Hornby Reading Room (1906), behind it, was the second.

Sir James Allanson Picton (1805-1895), the eponym of the Picton Reading Room and Liverpool’s Picton Road, was a prominent architect from Liverpool, a local historian, and an advocate of public libraries. In 1849, he was elected to the Liverpool City Council, and two years later he became the founding Chairman of the Library and Museum Committee.

Sir William Brown (1784-1864), 1st Baronet, a wealthy merchant, banker, and politician, offered to pay £6,000 to build a dual-use library-and-museum building if the city government would pay to furnish it. Ultimately, he contributed over £20,000 and Shaw’s Brow was renamed William Brown Street in his honor.

William Allom won the design competition but his design would have proved too expensive, so it was modified by a city employee, surveyor John Weightman.

On October 18, 1860, Brown formally transferred the building to the Mayor of Liverpool as the Free Public Library and Derby Museum. This building became known as the William Brown Library and Museum.

J.A. Picton laid the cornerstone for the Picton Reading Room in 1875. It was completed in 1879.

Architect Cornelius Sherlock designed the three-floor domed, semi-circular Picton Reading Room. He modeled it on the British Museum’s Reading Room, which as an organization evolved into the British Library.

Hugh Frederick Hornby, an affluent resident of Wavertree Village who died in 1899, created the Hornby Library with a bequest. He donated his valuable collection of books, prints, and autographs to Liverpool, along with £10,000 to build the Hornby Library as an addition to the Free Public Library of Liverpool. Another city surveyor, Thomas Shelmerdine (1845–1921), designed the Hornby Library, which was built in 1906.

On May 3, 1941, the Luftwaffe bombed Liverpool, which had strategic importance to the British war effort as a port-city, in a concentrated attack, and a 500-pound bomb landed on the Central Library. [Over 3,000 people in Liverpool and neighboring communities were killed in the bombing campaigns in 1940 and ’41.] Thankfully, many cultural treasures from the library and the adjacent museum had been moved for safekeeping in the 1930s.

To remodel and renovate the Central Library, it had to close in 2010. The Brown Library, built in the 1950s, and a 1978 addition were demolished.

The Central Library is now organized into thematic sections: Read, Discover, Archive, Treasures, Imagine, Enquire, and Meet. Most of the books in both the circulating collection and the non-circulating reference collection are in the Enquire section.

There are also public computers in Enquire. According to a leaflet on the Central Library,\

Enquire... is your first stop for information and where you will find most of the library’s books for loan and reference. Specialist books are shelved in the Picton Reading Room, the perfect space for quiet study or research. There are over 150 public computers located mainly around the atrium on two floors and you can use them for e-mail, Internet, Office applications or to access the library’s on-line resources. If you prefer quieter spaces then head for the 2nd floor where the north and south lightwells are set up for your WiFi devices. Budding entrepreneurs will love the Business and Intellectual Property Centre which gives free access to industry standard resources to help you start, run and grow your business. Practical assistance, market research and company information are readily available. Look out for the Patents Clinics that are held regularly.

The Read section is where one will find crime fiction, adventure novels, science fiction, true crime, biographies, graphic novels, large-print books, audio books, and language courses. This also where one would go to borrow an iPad or use the eBook service.

From Read, one can take an elevator up to Meet on the fourth floor (which Americans would call the fifth floor, as in the British Isles the second floor above ground is considered the first floor). Meet is the place to go to book a meeting room or enjoy the view from the new rooftop terrace.

The lecture theater has become the new children’s library, which includes an area for tots under five years old. Called Discover, the children’s library has story books, picture books, and reference books; computers; DVDs, talking books (on CD); performance space; and projection equipment.

The Archive has documents on Liverpool’s history from the 13th Century onward. Collections include newspapers, photographs, maps, and directories.

The staff encourages Liverpudians to come here to do genealogical research or research on the history of the city or its districts. In a leaflet on the Central Library, they state the “new Conservation Studio helps us to preserve… [the collections] in a highly secure and controlled environment.”

The Hornby Library and Oak Room are in the Treasures section of the Central Library. The staff invites visitors to “View the impressive Picton Reading Room, one of the most beautiful libraries in the world.”

This is home to a Double Elephant Folio copy of John James Audubon’s The Birds of North America. Published between 1827 and 1839, most copies of The Birds of North America were sold by subscription to patrons Audubon personally solicited in England and the U.S. The subscribers included King George IV and the Library of Congress.

Over 15,000 rare books include medieval manuscripts, early printed books, beautifully illustrated natural history and travel books, fine bindings, and engraved prints are here.

The Audubon and fascinating rarities are always on display during normal library opening hours with free access or you can make an appointment to view particular items. Interactive kiosks and displays tell you the story of these collections and libraries and further information is available on-line.

The Imagine section is where to go to find movies, music, books on pop culture, and video games to borrow. [Note there is a fee to borrow video games.] One can also listen to music and play video games there or access public computers.

Imagine… is where you can find feature films and television programmes on DVD. Choose from CDs covering contemporary rock and pop, country, folk, jazz, blues, world music and classical. Imagine also has books on popular culture, music, cinema and cult fiction so borrow the film and read about the director or stars, borrow music and find out about the composer or era in which it was written. Totally new to Central Library is GAME, a huge sound box where you can play computer games FREE on the Xbox 360 or listen to music streamed through a Bose© sound system. You can also borrow computer games for a small charge. It is a place where teenagers can meet friends, access free computers for e-mail and Internet or just chill out.

The new ground floor Deli Marche Café is open from 9:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturdays, and from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays. It has an outdoor terrace overlooking St. John’s Gardens.

In addition to the Central Library, Liverpool has eighteen branch libraries. These are the Allerton Library, the Toxteth Library, the Breck Road Library, the Childwall Library, the Croxteth Library, the Dovecot Library, the Fazakerley Library, the Garston Library, the Kensington Library, the Lee Valley Library, the Norris Green Library, the Old Swan Library, the Parklands Library, the Sefton Park Library, the Spellow Library, the Walton Library, the Wavertree Library, and the West Derby Library.

The Toxteth Library is also of architectural interest. It looks like a manor house.

Liverpool City Libraries is one of six libraries in Libraries Together: Liverpool Learning Partnership. The other five are The City of Liverpool College, Liverpool Hope University, the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, Liverpool John Moores University, and The University of Liverpool.

They grant reciprocal borrowing privileges. In other words, someone who has borrowing privileges at any one of these institutions can borrow books at all of them.

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