Saturday, 22 March 2014

Manchester Central Library Reopens


The city's largest and most impressive public library has reopened after a 4-year, £48 million restoration, and it's every bit as modern as impressive as you might hope. Today saw the official reopening, so I darted in (during another typical Mancunian downpour) to dry off and have a wander around.

On entering I found a historian dressed as a Somme solider giving a very believable speech about the horrors of the first world war, describing the sheer weight of his backpack. When emerging from the WWI trenches, he describes, a soldier carried so much gear that it was imperative he stayed on his feet. If he fell, his pack would stop him getting back up. Nobody else would help. Also, the soldiers' training taught them to stoop low when advancing on the enemy to duck high-flying bullets. The Germans, however, positioned their turrets close to the ground, and the “crouching running” style favoured by the soldiers meant that they were taking bullets to the face. Hence the disastrously high fatality rate during the First World War.


The library is now part museum in its presentation. Old book archives and notes are displayed behind glass; perspex cases show old student notes found stuffed under desks from decades ago, unearthed during the library's recent huge restoration.

Manchester City Council have grasped that people search for information in a multitude of ways, and the new library caters for a variety of learning styles. There are books aplenty, as expected, but there's also a healthy supply of bookable computers, scrolling LCD displays, information touch screens cordoned off in circular booths, interactive digital signage and librarians on hand.

Manchester Library is much more in touch with what people today need from a library. A room full of books hasn't been the correct resource for research for decades (although that IS one method). Different strokes for different folks, as the saying goes. An impressive and promising redesign.

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