The actor Mark Rylance won the Best Supporting Actor at the BAFTA’s last night for his role in “Bridge of Spies” and will be off to the Oscars on the 28th where he has been nominated for the same part. Meanwhile he has found time to speak out against the closure of libraries near his home in Lambeth in London.
Libraries are at a crossroads. The old dusty, book-filled library in which silence is deafening is not what is needed in the twenty-first century, though many such libraries such as John Rylands in Manchester are proving remarkably flexible for the internet age. While some authorities are seeking to close libraries to save money, others are investing, recognising that libraries can have a much-enhanced role supporting literacy, literature, community and enterprise – and therefore are key community facilities towards future economic success.
On a wet, grey and cold February day in Liverpool, it is astonishing to walk through the classical 1860 façade of the Central Library into a modern, light, transparent space with escalators and stairs rising up the 6 storey building and daylight cascading downwards. Architects Austin Smith removed the old unsatisfactory 1950’s and 1970’s building and have provided a modern centre of knowledge and information around a new elliptical atrium, while giving new life to the old historic Picton Reading Room (1879), Hornby Library (1906) and Oak Room, with a new space underneath the Picton Reading Room opened up and given a contemporary feel for younger readers.
Opened in May 2013, the £50 million project has been a success – enrolments are up, the coffee shop is a “place to meet” and the library has become a visitor attraction in its own right, especially the rooftop terrace which gives views across the city. While the building has a buzz of activity, acoustics have been well designed to ensure a quiet working environment. In addition, the city now has an archive repository and study area which meets modern environmental requirements and encourages greater use and accessibility with an area for temporary exhibitions. The project was designed to be sustainable and has achieved a BREEAM rating of “Very Good”.
The result is a great asset for the people of Liverpool and an exemplar which respects its historic spaces and provides a modern library for the 21st century.