I’ve always loved libraries, almost every Saturday when I was little involved going to one library or another with my father to stock up on reading material for both of us. Both voracious readers we could spend many happy hours browsing, reading and enjoying the peaceful calm which surrounds spaces of many books. The library at my boarding school wasn’t great, but when I was old enough to be ‘let out’ after school I would very often pop down to Bushey Library which was most definitely of the old-school, unexciting variety of library but I still found plenty to interest and would regularly lug a bag full of books back up the hill to enjoy at my leisure.
The splendid library at Staffordshire University, where I spent three years completing my degree in Graphic Design was always my first port of call when we were given the brief for a new project (pre internet) and I would spend many happy hours surrounded by teetering piles of books and journals to find the nuggets of information and inspiration which would help my work. It was a place where you could bump into friends from all departments, have a catch up and a chat of where I could usually find my favourite tutor if he wasn’t where he should have been in the studio.
When I left Stoke and returned home to Hale in Cheshire, the small and old fashioned but perfectly formed library in the village became a favourite haunt at lunchtimes to read the papers and to potter around the shelves of seemingly always old and out of date books. I still managed to come home with plenty to keep me busy.
From Hale, I moved into Manchester city centre which is when I first visited the iconic Manchester Central Library. If you’ve ever been to Manchester, you can’t fail to notice the beautiful round building with it’s columned entrance and imposing dome you’ll know what I’m talking about. I joined up, but despite always enjoying visiting as it’s such a dramatic space, I found it impossible to find what I was looking for so I tended to pop in for a potter around when I had nothing better to do rather than actually use it as intended. Then I moved out of the city centre and stopped going to libraries all together with the advent of internet research, cheaper paperbacks and my Kindle. Shame on me! But, that’s all changed now with the re-opeing of the Central Library after a comprehensive programme of refurbishment which saw our city landmark swathed in plastic, hoardings and scaffolding for four years. I took a photo of it from the roof of Peter House, about nine floors up in November 2012, so about half way through and you can see the mess it’s in!
The grand reopening was last weekend and we weren’t disappointed, the Shakespeare entrance has been opened up with the beautifully restored stained glass window showing off some of his most loved characters leads to a newly open plan atrium with a cafe (delicious shortbread!), interactive displays of archive material and local history, comfy chairs and, right in the centre, a glass panel in the ceiling giving a view up into the centre of the reading room (the round space under the dome with the dramatic echo which makes every cough or rustle sound like a clash of percussion). It was a bit too busy to have a play with the displays as the place was packed with visitors and there was definitely no chance of enjoying the British Film Institute (BFI) Mediatheque which offers over 2000 films and television programmes which depict life in Manchester and the north west where every single station (in cosy little booths with screens and earphones) was packed full of people plugged in. I’ll look forward to having a browse through some of the titles when things have quietened down a bit.
The famous domed reading room essentially hasn’t changed and looks much the same as it always has, the same reading tables, chairs and lamps are there, all lovely dark wood and shiny brass, beautifully restored but there are new artworks dispersed in between the books on the outer curve of the room which depict various details of the restoration work in the very interesting Citizen Manchester exhibition by Dan Dubowitz and Alan Ward which continues in display cases throughout the building.
The Henry Watson music library is now a fun place, with electric keyboards and even an electric drum kit to play with (headphones required) and even a ‘real’ piano (headphones most definitely not required) for musical visitors to entertain readers.
The basement, where the much loved Library Theatre used to live is now a seriously impressive lending library, packed with brand new, clean, plastic wrapped paperbacks and non-fiction books on any subject you could care to look for, it’s all wonderful, spacious and tempting. There are computer terminals all over the place and the Media Lounge which is a state of the art technology suite that is home to a host of iMacs, PCs and gaming consoles and even Adobe Creative Suite software, which is pretty impressive stuff!
I’m looking forward to revisiting our ‘new’ library again soon and taking advantage of all it has to offer.