Manchester Central Library

I was lucky enough to get a tour of the refurbished Central Library for Manchester after the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians conference in June 2017. A whole group of law librarians were shown around the Grade II listed 1934 building which underwent a major refurbishment in March 2014.

We congregated in the hall that had very impressive stained glass windows while we awaited our tour guide. When he arrived and told us about the refurbishment and pointed out that before the refit only 30% of the building was accessible to the public but now it is 70%. This was partly achieved by moving staff offices to a town hall extension.

We were taken up to the fourth floor which is a big circle. All around there is electric powered mobile shelving (it would be inaccurate to call it rolling stack – even though I want to). A really nice touch is that they have put pictures of well known Mancunians across the stack ends which really dresses up the shelves in what would have otherwise been a very boring vista. Every few metres there is a break in the shelving where there are some tables, chairs and study space – all of which were occupied (this was a Saturday afternoon).

There is an enormous reading room in the centre of the library which was packed with students revising for exams. The reference desk is still a feature in the middle but is no longer staffed. In fact it has a glass floor to let some light into the floor below.

We saw the former Chief Librarian’s Office which has now been converted into a meeting room with secret doors. There are other function rooms where they can hold ceremonies. The second floor has a Business and IP Centre run with the British Library to encourage young entrepreneurs. There is a mini lecture theatre where Google have held some talks. The library even has a 3D printer.

There are community dance rooms that can be hired and there was a troupe rehearsing in there while we are looking around. There are restaurant-style circular booths where people can watch footage from the North West Film Archive.

There is a very impressive music library with people playing drums and pianos in amongst the book shelves.


Useful study rooms off the corridors.

Manchester (20)

There is more book stock and the children’s library in a lower area that feels more modern, however it is less lit by artificial light and feels a bit subterranean. There was also a Nick Sharratt exhibition on outside the reading room.

There is a sizeable café and a local museum section plus the archives area which we didn’t get into.

An incredibly impressive library and community hub. There are similarities to Liverpool as there is the traditional reading room and modern areas. I don’t think I can choose between them.


Stockport Central Library

Stockport Central Library looks and feels like a Carnegie library because it is one! Inside it has an amazing domed roof, collumns inside and stained glass windows.

There were plenty of people still studying and using the library even at 3:10 on a Saturday. There’s a reference and reading area. Upstairs are the computer and local studies facilities.

The children’s library and a magical looking Narnia door:

There is public art all over the library which gives it a great feel. Including a “knitted jungle”.


I’ve seen stained glass windows like this before.

Hammersmith Central Library

Hammersmith Library was swathed in scaffolding. But despite the noise and disruption was still full of people. The children’s library looked inviting.

There were plenty of terminals and desks – although all in use. A reading room with local studies and reference material was housed upstairs plus a quiet reading room. I couldn’t go into the reading room as I had bags and did not want to disobey the sign telling me to put them in the locker! The upstairs landing had some special wooden bookcases full of William Morris books. There were some beautiful stained glass windows too.



Ipswich Central Library

We entered the library through a modern glass automatic door and then discovered that there was an old entrance at the front of the building. From the front this library reminded me of Croydon Central Library, a red brick gothic style, with a new interior behind the façade.

This library building was originally opened in 1924 and is a “Carnegie library” (built with money from the Carnegie Trust). It was then refurbished in 1994. However, upstairs they have retained the Northgate reading room in the original style which felt very grand. It had lovely solid desks, and bookcases, a vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows – you can even get married there. I can see how it would be a wonderful place to study particularly if you wanted a studious environment with some gravitas and history. It was packed with people and I felt I couldn’t intrude and take a picture.

As I had my two daughters with me I spent most of my time examining the children’s section. There was a really extensive collection of teen and young adult literature. There was a junior novel sections and “Grabbit books”. Lots of displays of books to tempt people and there were plenty of items we wanted to take home.

Ipswich 4


Ipswich 3

I was also impressed that they still have a dedicated music and drama section with enquiry desk. Admittedly, nobody was at the desk on this Friday morning but the main customer service desk was a long low inviting desk so I felt I could easily approach the staff there.