While in Manchester for the CILIP Conference 2017 I took the opportunity to book a tour of the Manchester Central Library, the second largest public lending library in the UK. The library was closed in 2010 for refurbishment and reopened in 2014. The library was altered so that 70% was accessible to the public and 30% non-public access, a reverse of the previous only 30% publicly accessible. Its aim to change from a library used by students, academics and researchers but few residents to an inclusive space with greater appeal has seen it move into the top ten Manchester visitor attractions on Trip Advisor.
The library is a wonderful mix of old and new. It now has modern glass lifts, a new Business and Intellectual Property Centre with 3D printer and the new Archives+ Centre with interactive interpretations and viewing stations for film archives and a British Film Institute (BFI) Mediatheque where visitors can watch over 2500+ BFI National Archive film and TV for free.
The original library on this site opened in 1934. The imposing domed circular Reading Room, Shakespeare Hall with stained glass windows and ceiling decorated with heraldic shields and the Chief Librarian’s office now meeting room with false bookcase doors and 1930s furniture all give it a sense of history. The Reading Room was well used and very quiet. The Henry Watson Music Library retains its traditional look but also contains a Dj mixing desk, pianos, drum kits, guitars and ukeles for people to play. Groups of people were using the musical instruments. To give room for the new Archives+ Centre the stacks have moved into the basement, in place of a theatre, and are kept in temperature controlled strong rooms with electric rolling stacks.
Across library walk is the town hall extension which now houses the City Lending Library, Children’s Library, Media Lounge, Race Relations Library, Children’s Centre, Tourist Information Centre and One-Stop-Shop Council Customer Service Centre including Job Centre, Citizens Advice and Job Club. The Children’s Library is designed as a secret garden with digital interactive screens and interactive floor projections. It appeared small for such a large library but touring at 6.30pm at night didn’t allow for seeing how it is used by children.
The library has 3000 – 5000 visitors per day, 4.1 million since it opened. The staff now work in open plan offices with and open plan staff room. There are workrooms for staff, volunteers and partners to work on archive. The drive to be more inclusive still continues. Funding has been found to employ a Communities Officer and Learning Officer. The Communities Officer goes out to deprived areas to break down the barrier of the library appearing intimidating. The Learning Officer goes into schools.
The library was impressive and further photographs can be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/soolibabc/albums/72157686069356545. The incorporation of interactive digital and use of outreach staff need further investigation as they would be great to integrate into Exeter Library and Exeter Stack to increase awareness and inclusion.