Where peace and quiet is a real work of art
Dec 26 2007 by Liza Williams, Liverpool Daily Post
TUCKED away from the hustle and bustle of Church Street, three women stitch, clean and polish in an oasis of calm, preserving Liverpool’s literary legacy.
The “library ladies” of Liverpool’s Athenaeum, hidden away on Church Alley, satisfy their love of books by conserving the historic reading room’s 60,000 collection.
Placed on the table in front of them are a selection of shaving brushes, metal hair clips and fine paper – even a soldering iron has a place in their kit.
Neatly stacked alongside are beautifully crafted copies of the Meaning of Relativity, Contributions to Molecular Physics and a volume entitled Chevereul on Colours.
“It looks like we have the scientific books today,” says Susan Gothard, who has been preserving the collection for nearly 25 years.
“Our methods are not very hi-tech but I think that is part of the charm. We will even use Vaseline to get a shine on the front of the books if they need it.”
In the historic reading rooms, Mrs Gothard is one of three women – or “library ladies” – who clean, mend and preserve the volumes every other Thursday.
They are all members of various Merseyside branches of the Decorative and Fine Arts Society (NADFAS) and volunteer at the Athenaeum because they love literature.
Fellow heritage volunteer and head of the group, Joan Moran, said: “It is a lovely feeling coming in here, it is an escape, an oasis of calm, from Church Street. You could be in another world.
“The work is a labour of love for all of us.”
The Athenaeum was established in Liverpool in 1797, and originally occupied the space which is now Primark.
When the council widened Church Street in the early 20th Century, the library moved to its current home and was recreated.
There are 12 library ladies in total, affectionately named by former club member Colonel Cook, whose niece Susan still belongs to the fold.
The other groups help conserve prints, maps and other items the library holds in its possession.
Each volunteer has to undergo regular training, much of which has been carried out at the Conservation Centre, on Whitechapel.
The ladies say they are surprised and delighted every time they take a selection of books from the shelves. Mrs Gothard said: “There is such an array of books here, they often surprise you. My favourite was the Bible in Eskimo.
“We are here for our love of books and we will often read bits out to each other. The art books are wonderful,” added Mrs Moran.
The longest-standing member of the group is Joy Rigby, from Crosby, who joined after hearing about the society on the radio.
“It is such a pleasure to be surrounded by the books and to know you are helping to keep them in the best possible condition,” she said.
“It is a wonderful thing to be able to come here.”