21 February, 2006

Hear here

I only got round to discovering the Liverpool Central Reference Library in 2001. I had no call to know of its existence before then, but when I found myself needing to look up information in some old magazines for an article I was writing I guessed there had to be somewhere in the city which held just such an archive.

Sure enough, the Central Reference Library had precisely what I was after, and a whole lot more besides: volume upon volume of carefully preserved journals, newspapers and listings magazines, along with innumerable references works and maps, all housed in the most magnificent rotunda right next to St George's Hall in the grandest and most elegant part of the city.

It took my breath away, to be honest, but the first time I visited I was too busy being mortified by the acoustics to remember much else. Even the slightest tap of my pen against a piece of paper was echoed a thousand times. I hardly dared breathe for fear of causing the kind of tiny rustle that would immediately be transformed into a tidal wave of sound.

This singular sensation, akin to that you get when up in the Whispering Gallery of St Paul's Cathedral, contrived to render the place a crucible of mutterings and murmurings and to carpet the building with a hum of gentle, polite activity. It took a bit of getting used to, but I quickly warmed to this striking, if not unique, atmosphere - a kind of cocoon of quiet amiability in the middle of the often raucous, impersonal city, the perfect place for an hour or two of self-absorbed contemplation and information gathering.

I've been there more or less once a month ever since, and today was my last visit. I couldn't quite believe as I left the place that I'll probably never ever step foot inside it again. What will happen to all those bound volumes of Radio Times which only I ever seemed to want to look at? Will they ever take down that interminable exotic bird exhibition which has been draped around the walls for what feels like years? Will the giant bronze clock above the fire exit ever start working? And will I ever find a place that boasts the same potent mix of whispered conviviality and long-forgotten knowledge?

No need to all shout at once.


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