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On Sunday 9th June, we visited Liverpool’s newly-refurbished Central Library. Although I spent 3 years in Liverpool as an undergraduate and have visited many times since, I had never been to Central Library. Despite not knowing what it looked like before, it is fair to say that they have done an AMAZING job. We all “wow”ed as we walked in, but we are all librarians!
Two things struck me about the library: it is service-led, not design-led; and it is a spectacular library.
To say it is service-led is not to denigrate the design – it is a breathtaking building and the design is wonderful. What I mean is that the design becomes almost invisible, because it is doing its job so well. All the separate areas make sense, are visually appealing and work. That’s the simplest way to say it: as a library it works. And as a library it offers a lot of services, so to integrate all these services in a seemingly effortless way is particularly impressive.
The Picton Reading Room is gorgeous, and we had a good browse of the bound volumes of Vogue (going back to the ’40s!). The children’s section is also lovely; spacious, comfortable and inviting. Those sections stick in my mind as diverse, almost conflicting spaces, which exemplify how the library is meeting the various needs of Scousers.
And talking of Scousers.. how lucky are they to have this library?! Before this visit, I thought it was a waste to spend so much money on a Central Library when branch libraries are under threat. I spent most of my childhood in branch libraries (which are also now under threat) and that was enough to cement my love of reading. But I also have happy childhood memories of visiting large bookshops in Manchester that, due to being a retail environment, were bright, comfortable and welcoming. To have this feeling in a library space, where there is no pressure to buy, is wonderful.
My reservations about the cost of the refurbishment have been totally quashed – it is an inspiring space, and to spend so much highlights the value of libraries and the benefits they can offer to society. I am in love.
I agree with Siobhan that Liverpool Central Library has done an excellent job creating an environment that is service lead, modern and bright. For example, the games room which features game consoles and software editing equipment, combined with the cafe at the front of the library, the roof terrace and the Hornby Library; Central offers ports of interest that extend beyond the traditional purpose of visiting a library (studying, reading for pleasure – although rest assured these are all well catered for).
I was particularly impressed by how technology had been integrated into the service, simple things such as having a PC that was for printing only, or the semi-circle of iPads that encourage users to browse the catalogue (whilst saving space & maintaining the stream-lined appearance of the ground floor). Ideas like this can and should be adopted by all library sectors, particularly University/College libraries where deadlines and space are issues within the service.
In short, Liverpool has created an attractive and well-thought out service; one that appeals to the needs of the modern public. With this in mind, we’ll be keeping a keen eye on the refurbishment of Manchester Central Library, fingers crossed they can provide a service that will match that of Liverpool.