Manchester Central Library, UK – Think, relax, explore!

Written by Dr Biddy Casselden

Currently on secondment as Head of Library Learning and Research Services (until November 2019), Northumbria University Library, Newcastle upon Tyne UK

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Manchester Central Library sits proudly in St Peter’s Square, and really is a ‘People’s Palace’ to behold.  The creation of municipal architect, Emanuel Vincent Harris, it was opened in 1934 by King George V attended by crowds of thousands of local people.  It is easy to reach, with St Peter’s Square tram stop just outside, looked on from across the Square by a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst, the famous suffragette, born in the Moss Side area of Manchester.

The building is impressive from the outside resembling Rome’s Pantheon, yet is equally of interest inside, with the juxtaposition of old and new, and a welcoming space that allows you to think, relax, explore and feel at home.  The entrance is grand and makes you feel that this is a building to be respected, clearly displaying a level of civic pride that makes you want to look further.

The Ground Floor hosts the reference library with access to local archives, video booths for watching local film archives, and a variety of interactive exhibits to engage with, including picture postcard selection from the archives which can be shared by email.

There is a friendly café, with a good selection of snacks; and a piano in the entrance which anyone is free to play, sending music floating gently through the stairwells and the café.  The whole floor is light, and airy and provides a good balance of technology to interact with, in addition to more traditional archival features of family history research that one would expect to see in a library.

Down in the basement of the library one finds the Fiction section, with words on the wall of the stairs proudly stating ‘32 wards, one heart’ which refers to the 32 electoral wards that make up Manchester City.  The library indeed feels like the heart of the city, providing the distinct chambers necessary for enriching people with information, knowledge and feelings of belonging.

The first floor has an amazing reading room, used by both young and old.  The silence is ‘deafening’ yet not oppressive, it is inspiring and with a calm yet majestic almost collegiate feel.

Skirting around the curved edges of the building are exhibitions, and other collections of books and materials.  Use of space is clever and organic, and feels as though there is a variety of spaces for anyone and everyone.

The Library building provides a feast for the eyes outside and in, and is a delight to explore.  Modern refurbishment inside the shell of the building provides an interesting mix of the old and the new, and inside the use of quality building materials such as Hopton Wood Stone from Derbyshire, Oak, Walnut, and Bronze helps enhance the look and feel of what is a spacious and high-quality civic building.

I could have spent hours in this building.   It felt proud and strong, and connected organically to the Council Chambers next door.

It was fun to visit and I am sure I will return again.

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