Why Manchester should be called: ‘City of Libraries’

They incorrectly call Manchester the city of rain, but I think it should be called City of Libraries, as there four major historic libraries in the city centre. They are open to visitors and I went to all four libraries in one day in order to research this feature and take the photos.

John Rylands Library Manchester

At first sight, the John Rylands Library looks like an ancient cathedral but it is a relatively modern building.

in the first year of the twentieth century and was one of the first buildings in Manchester to be fitted with electric lights. After John Rylands died in 1888, Enriqueta Rylands founded the library in memory of her husband.

A modern extension was added to the rear and as you walk from the entrance up the stairs and into the original building, there is an interesting transition from bright modern to dark neo-Gothic. Many exhibitions are held at the John Rylands Library and anyone can go in and work there, I sometimes do.

It’s part of the University of Manchester Library. One of the locations in my Anglo-Chinese novel Stargirl of the Edge is a library inspired by the John Rylands.

There is unfortunately one negative aspect: The modern low energy light bulbs are less photogenic and atmospheric than the clear light bulbs that were used from the early years of the library until around 2013.

www.library.manchester.ac.uk/rylands/

John Rylands Library facade

Interior of Chethams Library, Manchester

Chethams Library is the oldest public library in the English speaking world and is housed in a 15th century building that’s part of Chethams School.

The library is a perfectly preserved time capsule from centuries ago, and is full of the atmosphere of the past, with its dark wooden walls and corridors. It’s not difficult to imagine Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels sitting in one of the alcoves by the window.

The Chethams website showcases many of the hidden treasures of Chethams Library. It is a remarkable place. Anyone can visit during opening hours. You just need to go to the main entrance to Chethams school. It’s best to check the opening times on the website and to phone up to make sure there are no events happening.

Go to www.chethams.org.uk

Chethams Library 2004

Interior of the Portico Library Manchester

The Portico Library is located on Mosley Street in a building with a Greek style portico which gives the library its name.

I’m impressed with its mission statement ‘The Portico Library is open to all and aims to enhance and develop life-long learning by providing and promoting access to knowledge and education in Art, History, Literature and Science.’

The Portico Library is located on the corner of Mosley Street and Charlotte Street. To enter, just ring the bell on Charlotte Street. You go up the stairs and when you get to the top, you will be amazed at the beauty of the interior. It’s virtually unchanged since the early 19th century.

The Portico Library has a friendly, homely atmosphere. The staff are welcoming and very helpful. It’s possible to become a member, and support the work of this institution, that has been a part of Manchester for over 200 years.

www.theportico.org.uk

The Portico Library on the corner of Mosley Street, Manchester

Restored reading room in Manchester Central Library

The Central Library is my favourite building in Manchester and like many, I used it during my schooldays.

It was opened in 1934 and apart from the cleaning of the exterior, remained mostly unchanged until the renovation of 2011-2014, which transformed the interior. The magnificent main reading room was restored but the book stacks below it were taken out to make way for a circular reception area with a cafe which is now a regular haunt of mine.

The Archives+ area is a high tech facility combining the local history collection with the North West Film Archive and other resources. The reading room has been restored and looks almost exactly as it did before the renovation.

The new Central Library has lost some of its 1930s character and eccentricity, its distinctive smell and the tiny lift. Now there are fast lifts housed in a glazed lift shaft. The building meets present day standards and is a striking mixture of old and new. The floorspace is much bigger than it was, extending under Library Walk into the neighbouring town hall extension. There are meeting rooms and spaces for events.

The only negative aspect of the renovation is the controversial modernist-style glass link building, which in spring 2015 is not yet open.

Apart from that, the Central Library is in my opinion the best public library in the UK and remains my favourite building in Manchester.

www.manchester.gov.uk/centrallibrary

Manchester Central Library exterior

So there we are, four major, historic libraries in one city centre, all open to the public and free for everyone to use. Definitely a reason to visit Manchester.
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Aidan O'RourkeAidan O'Rourke has been active in photography and online media since 1995. He has documented the development of the local area in his Eyewitness website (1997-2005) and as a contributor to books, publications and the Manchester Evening News. He runs photography walks in Manchester and Liverpool.