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Manchester Central Library Is Back: Gallery

Jonathan Schofield and the most important cultural refurbishment for years

Written by . Published on March 21st 2014.

Manchester Central Library Is Back: Gallery

THE RE-OPENING of Manchester Central Library will deliver a runaway success. This is the most important cultural re-opening - with due respect to theatres, galleries and museums - for decades.

'Knowledge is power' was Central Library's opening motto in 1934. That has always been true. This will be a good place to tool up.

Libraries are different.

They are neither commercial spaces like shopping centres nor ones with a specific cultural purpose such as theatres, galleries or museums - no matter how much the latter attempt to diversify. Nor are they religious buildings, but rather the ultimate humanist space. Places for people regardless of creed and colour.

Central LibraryCentral Library

Libraries are also a still point in the city, a pause, a moment of reflection where the conversation can move beyond the mundane. This means of course that alongside thinking big thoughts they promote flirting. All that learning under one roof is electric, love is in the air - as countless Mancunians will tell you about Central Library. 

The way designers, Ryder Architects, have lightened, lifted and calmed an eighty year old interior that had become cluttered since first designed by E Vincent Harris is a marvel. With extra access and spectacular circulation systems including a superb new grand staircase and lift system (can people remember how bad the previous lift was?) the whole building encapsulates civic pride following a hefty £50m revamp.

Meeting RoomMeeting Room

Manchester City Council anticipates around two million visitors a year. Given the scale of this building, its location, its beauty, its collections this seems more than manageable. 

'Knowledge is power' was Central Library's opening motto in 1934. That has always been true. This will be a good place to tool up.  

"I want this to be Manchester's Living Room," says Neil MacInnes, head of Manchester's library service. "I want people to come and read here, see performances, meet up with people, enjoy it any way they can."

He doesn't have to worry.

It's built. They will come. 

Stretford Grammar School enjoying a visit to the archive sectionStretford Grammar School enjoying a visit to the archive section

The facilities include, in the council's own words:

A new Media Lounge, equipped with Apple Mac computers including creative software for would-be filmmakers, designers and gamers. Central Library offers superfast broadband throughout and has almost 200 computers for public use.

The Archives+ Centre, a destination of national and international significance for anyone interested in local or family history, bringing together an array of archives under one roof. Interactive interpretations and viewing stations for film archives will bring history alive.

Opening dayOpening day

This includes the North West’s first BFI Mediatheque where visitors can enjoy a wealth of film and TV for free, including a special collection devoted to Manchester and the region on film. BFI Mediatheques offer a window on the collections of the BFI National Archive, the most significant collection of film and television in the world, allowing unprecedented access to our moving image heritage. Most of the titles are not available on DVD or online. Visitors can watch as much or as little as they like: sit back and enjoy an entire feature film, take a look at fondly-remembered television shows, use the database to search for favourite subjects or discover unexpected delights among the 2,500+ available titles.

The Children's Library, is a 'Secret Garden' waiting to be discovered. Themed on the classic book  by local author Frances Hodgson Burnett, it has been transformed to create an exciting hive of activity for children to enjoy.  Digital interactive screens and interactive floor projections are some of the new technologies being used to entice an inquisitive younger audience into the library - with bees, the Manchester emblem, among the insects that little ones will be able to spot in the 'undergrowth' projected onto the digital wall.

Main Reading RoomMain Reading Room

The Business Library, one of only six Business and Intellectual Property Centres in England and a place where would-be inventors and entrepreneurs can access a wealth of information and one-to-one support from business advisers and even patent attorneys.

City Library, a new lending library on the lower ground floor providing an extra 2,000 sq metres of library space.

More than 5000 people visited the library for the public reopening on Saturday 22 March.

Central Library is open Monday to Thursday 9am–8pm, Friday and Saturday 9am–5pm. Sunday, oddly, it is closed. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield or connect via Google+

Ceiling in the Shakespeare HallCeiling in the Shakespeare Hall

Central LibraryCentral Library

Central LibraryCentral Library

Central LibraryCentral Library

Central LibraryCentral Library

Opening dayOpening day

Opening DayOpening Day


Archive sectionArchive section

Cafe productsCafe products

Cafe in the archives sectionCafe in the Archives section

Archive sectionArchive section


One of the performance and meeting roomsOne of the performance and meeting rooms

Opening DayOpening Day

Opening DayOpening Day

Opening DayOpening Day

Archive sectionArchive section

The old stacksThe old stacks

Places to sit, think, meet and morePlaces to sit, think, meet and more

Opening DayOpening Day

Opening DayOpening Day

Stained glass in the Shakespeare HallStained glass in the Shakespeare Hall

Cool interiorsCool interiors

Reading RoomReading Room

Reading Room

Reading Room

Reading RoomReading Room

Codex Justinianus from the 13th CenturyCodex Justinianus from the 13th Century


More space to display the special collectionsMore space to display the special collections

Illuminating displaysIlluminating displays

The new grand staircaseThe new grand staircase

View to a redeveloping St Peter's SquareView to a redeveloping St Peter's Square

View from the Henry Watsom Music LibraryView from the Henry Watsom Music Library

Groovy light fittingGroovy light fitting

You shift the new stacks around to get to the booksYou shift the new stacks around to get to the books

Books, lovely books, behind pictures of people deeply associated with ManchesterBooks, lovely books, behind pictures of people deeply associated with Manchester


Dome loveDome love

View to the Town Hall ExtensionView to the Town Hall Extension

Central LibraryCentral Library

The delight's in the detailThe delight's in the detail

You can go with your mates to the Henry Watson Music Library and jam - with headphones on of courseYou can go with your mates to the Henry Watson Music Library and jam - with headphones on of course

Central LibraryCentral Library

At last a proper general lending library - under the Town hall ExtensionsAt last a proper general lending library - under the Town Hall Extension

1930s' stairs1930s' stairs

There are books in many languages including naughty ones in GermanThere are books in many languages including naughty ones in German

Central LibraryCentral Library

Central LibraryA floor and a foot in the children's section - it makes a splash when you put your foot in the woodland 

Central LibraryCentral Library

Central LibraryCentral Library

Central Library in paperCentral Library in paper

Central LibraryCentral Library - with a carbuncle growing between it and the Town Hall Extension

Central Library - welcome back mateCentral Library - welcome back mate

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33 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

AnonymousMarch 21st 2014.

Fantastic first look pictures - can't wait to visit

AnonymousMarch 21st 2014.

Looks great, will be checking it out!

linsparkMarch 21st 2014.

Seems like the library's been closed forever, but now we can see what they were up to inside. It looks like the old dear has scrubbed up really well - congratulations to all concerned. I can't wait to see it!

Chris HowsonMarch 21st 2014.

Went to the opening last night as our company did all scaffolding works,absolutely fantastic refurbishment,so much of the building is now opened up to the public,a must place to visit when in town..

AnonymousMarch 21st 2014.

This is what you call an undoubted success Mr Bernstein!

DavidMarch 21st 2014.

Looks wonderful but it should be open on Sundays,when more people could have chance to access its facilities.And if they not the money,use the money they wasting on that entrance on Library Walks.

Patricia CallaghanMarch 22nd 2014.

Looks amazing can't wait to come and see it.

SAZKMarch 22nd 2014.

Can't wait to visit but as David says it's a shame it won't be open on Sundays. Sunday is probably the day I would be most likely to use it

Simon AshworthMarch 23rd 2014.

What have they done! A magnificant building turned into a soulless purely functional space with no architectural interest, apart from glimpses of the original. As a token gesture an amputated reading room has been left to show how great it once was. I saw people straining to get a view between the levels but sadly no vistas had been left open. The walls seemed bare and bereft of books. If you want those you need to go to a subterranan basement. This is a space that doesn't know what it is. Interactive museum, theme park or over priced cafe. Ironically, the urge to embrace the digital age has resulted in a 'library' that manages to lose a sensory appeal that many feel when using e readers. The loss of a sense of awe once experienced by those who remember entering the old library turns into a dull depression on leaving through a retangular white hole which looks like they couldn't be bothered, or perhaps the money just ran out.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
JonMarch 24th 2014.

I haven't yet seen it in person, and it may well be lovely. It is a bit worrying that out of 51 photos only 10 actually feature books though. I hope this is more representative of Mancon than of the new library ...

Jonathan Schofield - editorMarch 24th 2014.

Jon honestly really. Lots of pictures of books would in the end look a little monotonous and also it was the building that was being rebuilt and renewed, they weren't rearranging the chapters in Hard Times. Simon give it chance yea - for instance can you remember how poor the old lending library was? Or how ridiculous the lift was? I love the decluttering of the spaces - look at the 1930s pictures post opening. Beautiful. Light.

Pete McNairMarch 27th 2014.

I walked around for a solid hour, with my jaw frequently on the floor. It's an astounding work of architecture; modern relevant useful spaces sitting comfortably alongside beautiful stone solidity, ready to last for centuries to come. The way it takes you into the Townhall annex, almost without noticing, is also brilliant. it's an inspirational place to take your children. (My one concern was how the heckers we as a country can afford some expensive high end redevelopment)

AnonymousMarch 24th 2014.

Hmmm...no bins? The place will gather litter, just like the litter left by Manchester's finest when the first part of the Town Hall extension was re-opened last year. I'll give it six months before some of the tech is abused and broken. Games consoles? In a library? How very 'with it'.

6 Responses: Reply To This...
GimboidMarch 24th 2014.

Christ, what a utter misery. I wonder what it would take to impress you? Where does it say anything about games consoles?

Jonathan SchofieldMarch 24th 2014.

Gimboid what is it with these people?

GimboidMarch 24th 2014.

Not a psychologist but at a guess it's probably the externalisation of personal insecurity and low self-esteem.

AnonymousMarch 24th 2014.

@Gimboid...'At the new Media Lounge you can expect the latest digital technology including iMacs, PCs and creative software such as Adobe Creative Suite as well as the latest gaming consoles. Anyone can use the Media Lounge; learn new skills, be creative or meet other people into the same things as you. You can book sessions for up to three hours with media lounge staff.' Here's the official link www.manchester.gov.uk/…/what_you_can_do_at_central_library…

Jonathan SchofieldMarch 24th 2014.

It's boring the tit for tat nature of this little row so I'm going to remove several rants here in line with our policy described in October here: www.manchesterconfidential.co.uk/…/Rant-And-Comment-Policy-Manchester-Confidential…

AnonymousMarch 24th 2014.

Well done Jonathan - I think Gimboid's comment at 10:10 is particularly uncalled for. (Are they all like that in the town hall?)

Simon AshworthMarch 24th 2014.

Jonathan. I agree that an update was needed - I think this was achieved sympathetically with the John Rylands & the art gallery, since the essence of the originals have been preserved. In this case, the drive to the interactive & functional seems to have overtaken the need to retain the real character of one of Manchester's iconic buildings. They obviously appreciated the architectural merits of the original since some are still retained but sadly it's the whole not just the parts that matters. I just hope the same planners don't get their hands on the Portico!

DavidMarch 24th 2014.

I am sure lots of people will want to see this building,but unfortunately it is closed on Sundays.Could not a way be found for it to be open on some Sundays ,when library users will not be disturbed,just so people could look around,perhaps with guided tours.I would not mind even if there was a small charge.

AnonymousMarch 25th 2014.

Nice to see the computers being put to good use on opening day...facebook!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Jonathan SchofieldMarch 25th 2014.

I used to go into Rochdale Library and write my journal. I'd come into Manchester Central and read a bit, wander a bit, think a bit. Facebook is fine with me, I don't get your point.

AnonymousMarch 25th 2014.

Perhaps Anon's referring to why someone would access their social network account in a library. Similar in a way to having access to a games console in a library.

ToneSpectra.comMarch 25th 2014.

My first impression was that it looked HUGE and impressive... especially the Henry Watson music library which is absolutely fantastic! It is now very obviously the biggest music library in Europe since more basement books have moved up. (Yes it is!) I'm not sure the labeling has been completed yet, as it seems a bit harder to find books now. I don't mean to be miserable but I do worry that non-musicians may have made some of the decisions, like genre-busting shelving array (although that might be one way forward) and letting people play (electronic) instruments out loud (do they know that musicians read scores and need to hear the music in their minds?) Perhaps it's just tolerated for the opening days, but I think it'd be better to use some of those private study rooms as practice rooms... which would be fantastic too. Well, I suppose people could alternatively 'retire' to the central dome, but I just think SOME of the 'pomp' of the older library was more practical for musicians, but otherwise thanks, it's really brilliant!!! Finally, I have to say that, although musicians are very lucky, others might not have fared so well. I can't understand the use of those electric shelves for other subjects. What happens when two or more people want to look on different shelves and you can't move them along without squashing someone? Also, if you want a shelf that has a few closed shelves against it, you'd have to slowly move them all along individually. Then you look at all the (albeit attractive) spaciousness elsewhere and you think "is this necessary?" And what happens when they eventually get old and start to break down? Some criticisms might be answered by increased functionality, but I'd say the main central dome area looks too sparse and clinical, and the dome itself has been given a horrible 'cottage cheese' like treatment I can only think to reduce the famous echo. There's no atmosphere there now, especially with no staff at the central desk, no newspaper stands and inner desks... it' doesn't 'buzz' anymore. It's also a slight shame you can't enter at the other surrounding doorways and is now more like a lavish half empty reading room for a Lord Rotherham, with shelves of attractive large volumes merely for show, even if not. All that said, I'm pleasently surprised overall! These refurbishments usually put aesthetics last, and although the pendulum maybe swung very slightly too much the other way, it's nothing that couldn't be rectified (unlike ugliness!) Those who criticise it may have forgotten how run down it was getting before. (Also, originally it's was only ever a sub-mediocre pastiche building in the northwest of England, it's not the Parthenon.) So, all things considered... THANKS!

AnonymousMarch 26th 2014.

Being not from this city, but who lives in the centre, the library looks like a Mock Tudor house owner's idea of stately. Manchester, love, take a note from Edinburgh, Bath, Newcastle and London. The place just needed a touch-up. It's a renovation that fits the 'Marbella nouveau riche' culture of the council. By the way council...greenery? Flowers? Any plans to adorn the centre with something other than concrete?

1 Response: Reply To This...
SmittyMarch 27th 2014.

Mock Tudor? You having a laugh?

SmittyMarch 27th 2014.

Some of the comments on here are just astonishing. I popped in the other day and was almost overwhelmed at how amazing this refurb is. I'm glad it was a flying visit, as I'll be able to go back now and just get my head around how fabulous it is. I know this is a bit gushing, but I was blown away! They've done an AMAZING job on it and is exactly what a library needs to be in the 21st century - plenty of books, and plenty of new media

Jonathan Schofield - editorMarch 27th 2014.

Smitty you're right. I've taken three tour groups in already and they were astonished by it. Having the link under Library Walk to the Town Hall Extension is wonderful too as it allows people to also see the Rates Hall. Central Library is already making jaws drop. The criticism probably comes from folk who criticise anything new, or anything the council does for political reasons. They should learn how to use the Library and then they'll enjoy it.

1 Response: Reply To This...
SquirrelitoMarch 27th 2014.

well said. Although with an underground link in place, it makes the installation of the phlem blob ceiling over Library Walk even more inexplicable.

AnonymousMarch 28th 2014.

Why has this reopening of a wonderful building received almost zero national media coverage?

MarkMarch 28th 2014.

Fresh new library card required I think.....Do they still do library cards?

AnonymousApril 3rd 2014.

Just been to this place today to have a look inside. All I can say is Wow! It's brilliant. I went to the Henry Watson Music Library. It's bigger and better than before and more modern. I have not had a chance to look around the whole building yet. I think you would need to spend half a day here at least to look around. Another thing I love about this place is my Library Card. I have access to lots of on line resources. Very useful as I am a Music Student. The only thing that is missing for me is The Library Theatre Company. They should have been aloud to move back in downstairs. This would have been the icing on the cake for me. Congratulations Central Library Manchester. It's brilliant. Look forward to many more visits in the future. Very handy for me as I work in the City Centre.

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