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The Central Library

The Central library in William Brown Street re-opened on Friday 17th May 2013 after an extensive three-year £50m refurbishment project. Designed by architect Austin-Smith:Lord, the new library provides five floors of accommodation, a state of the art conservation studio, a much improved records office and microfilm section, and, a public roof terrace and a coffee shop on the ground floor. All of this in a restored historic shell dating back 153 years that forms part of a Unesco World Heritage Site and contains the UK’s first circular reading room based on architect Sidney Smirke’s iconic 1857 original at the British Library. On the opening night I took a trip down there to take some photographs to record this historic event. The refurbishment was the result of a decade of planning and it took four months to re-stock four million books, prints and paintings, the library originally opened in 1860.

More than 100,000 people visited Liverpool’s  new Library in the first month, up to 20,000 people a week passed through the doors of the building, in William Brown Street,  since it re- opened to the public. 

Rare treasures include the original 1207 Charter signed by King John, which granted Liverpool city status. There is also an "extremely valuable" copy of The Birds of America, by naturalist and painter John James Audubon, as well as paintings by the 19th Century artist Edward Lear.
A new inscribed granite carpet, or Literary Pavement, has been laid out with a whole host of international book and film titles within it. Together with the internal modernisation of the interior, the other major task was the restoration of the Picton Reading Room, Hornby Library and the Oak Room. Expert conservationists were brought in to restore the ironwork and gilded features, including the time-honoured clock. The soft echo is still there though. All the woodwork has been french-polished with authentic paintwork matching the original Victorian treatment. Another major feature was the transformation of the International Library [now Discover] which is now a dedicated childrens library and theatre space. No “shushing” allowed there, obviously. Kids and parents will love it.

The Oak Room is, now, home to the special display of an Audubon “Birds of America” volume. Incredibly rare and valuable, it’s one of the Crown jewels of the Library’s collection. Each page will be turned once a week in a highly-delicate operation. On the other floors are the Record Archive and Repository containing some 17kms of material, making it  the largest archive outside London, a high-tech conservation studio, community meeting rooms and roof terrace with a spectacular view across the back of St Georges Hall and St Johns Gardens. To the rear of the library is a wall panel with the names of 53 writers who have a strong connection with Liverpool. You actually get a better view of this as you drive down the Churchill Way flyover.

The opening event was spectacular with actors in costume walking around inside the library as well as entertainers from singers to acrobats topped of with an amazing light show to fit in with the ‘Light Night’ event taking place across the city. Giant books were be projected onto the facade and whenever a book was chosen from a carousel below, it appeared on the walls with its own animation, the animations included ‘Alice in Wonderland’ where Alice was seen leaping from window to window, peering inside.

Below are some of the photographs I took at the opening.

Click on the first image to view them all in 'Lightobox (tm)

Robert F Edwards
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