The CILIP ARLG NW group enjoyed a fascinating and informative tour of the newly refurbished Manchester Central Library following the Group’s AGM on Tuesday 1 July.
Chief Librarian Neil McInnes not only showed a fascinated group of FE/HE librarians around the building but also gave a detailed account of why the Library was refurbished including some alarming details about a fire and the resulting risk assessment! Plus the features, content and atmosphere they have tried to create been based on staff and customer feedback, observations of how people use their public library and taking into account new technologies on offer. This included:
- A range of seating and working areas throughout the Library, for both individual and collaborative work/discussion.
- Re-use and opening up of previously out of bounds rooms and areas for multi use e.g. the Chief Librarian’s Office.
- Innovative use of the Manchester theme in areas of the library e.g. the rolling shelves in the Reference section, bearing images of well known Mancunions.
- Opening up a wealth of archive materials, making them interactive and to stimulate interest in Manchester, linking with other local institutions too.
- Linking with the BFI to provide pods for accessing its archive here in Manchester.
- Creating a lighter, brighter and more open building for public access everywhere.
- Creating spaces which reference areas of the city, such as the Northern Quarter.
- Introducing non-traditional technologies into the Library such as the mixing desks and instruments in the Henry Watson Music Library.
- An interactive children’s library area.
- The beautiful Shakespeare stained glass window is now the centre piece of the entrance area.
- The circular reading room is restored to its original glory and remains an enduring (and still quiet) feature of this famous building.
- Archival materials are now safely stored and preserved in fit for purpose storage and can be accessed more readily.
- Local information is in a more prominent setting on the ground floor, opening this area up.
- The cafe is located in the middle of the ground floor so that users can explore resources with a coffee and cake! Another new cafe will open in the Town hall extension area once the building and tram works outside are completed.
There were some interesting approaches to the use of the library and staffing.
- The reading room is unstaffed, if users need assistance they need to leave the reading room and find a staffed desk. This maintains the quiet in the reading room and they find that it polices itself very well.
- Not all enquiry desks are staffed all the time, staff are identifiable by lanyards and may staff different areas depending on demand.
- Security staff do patrol the library, but it’s subtle – until they are needed!
The Library has had 300,000 visitors through the doors since it reopened this year, staff are still keeping an eye on how things are working and how people are using the spaces , with an eye on the future.