Manchester’s Central Library is up there with the city’s most stunning buildings. Its neo-Classical curves, designed by E. Vincent Harris, were inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, inspiring one critic, after the library’s opening in 1934, to write: “This is the sort of thing which persuades one to believe in the perennial applicability of the Classical canon”.
Between 2010 and 2014 the library’s rotunda domed structure was refreshed, while its inner beauty was revealed with a sympathetic, yet entirely 21st century, refurbishment.
From Art Deco lamps, brass handrails, wooden carvings and the Shakespeare window above the entrance, to the intricate gilded clock and Scagiola columns (they’re hollow; give them a gentle knock) in the amazing domed Whispering Gallery of the first-floor Reading Room – the interior is as glorious as the exterior. A 1930s staircase was revealed in the refurbishment; original ceilings and floors saw the light of day for the first time in years; the “heritage stacks” became visible behind glazing – this revamp thoughtfully juxtaposed old with new.
The library’s treasures include 1846 playbills from Theatre Royal over the road, a hand-written Roman codex unearthed locally and an Elizabeth Gaskell first edition.
Alongside the old there is an impressive Archives+ area on the ground floor, alongside interactive display units and touch tables in the open plan café. Here too, you can watch films in the BFI Mediatheque and North West Film Archive pods. “It’s all about stories,” says Head of Libraries, Neil MacInnes.
The lending library has 110,000 items, a media centre, a unique black history collection (at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Relations Resource Centre), a Secret Garden-themed children’s section and as well as hosting the largest public music library in the country. There’s also an exhibition and performance space, soft seating and 170 computers for public use spread throughout the building. “It’s the city’s study, but it’s also the city’s living room” says MacInnes.