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Manchester’s smallest and most diverse library vows to put a library card in every child’s hand

A new dedicated Children's Library has opened at Z-arts in Hulme - and the team have pledged to put a library card into the hands of every child in the area

At just 362 sq ft it is a pocketsized affair, but crammed into the cosy first floor room are over 1,000 handselected books, some of which are not available to borrow anywhere else in the city.

The new library’s mission is not only to provide a warm welcome to families, but also to reflect the diversity of Manchester‘s local communities.

Across the region over 150 languages are spoken and almost half of young people have a home language other than English (University of Manchester Multilingual Manchester).

Alongside children’s staples such as Chronicles of Narnia, Hairy McClary and Paddington the library’s handmade builtin shelves also feature a large number of titles by black and minority ethnic writers including Yasmin the Recycler, by Pakistani American author Saadia Faruqi, Amari and the Night Brothers by African American author BB Alston and Look Up by dual heritage actor Nathan Byron, which was inspired by Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space.

Amari Duhaney enjoying a nice read

Colourfully illustrated non-fiction texts offer to help young people from diverse backgrounds to make sense of history and discover present day role models including Lands of Belonging: A History of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Britain by Donna and Vikesh Amey Bhat and Black Girls Unbossed by Khristi Lauren Adams, which celebrates the lives of powerful girls of colour who are changing the world right now.

Books are also available in bilingual editions, which help children to learn English alongside their home language, as well as a number of Braille and large print versions.

The team at Z-arts has pledged to work alongside schools and community groups to ensure every child in Hulme has a library card.

Local children were invited to put forward their ideas for how the library should look and then theatre set designer Louise Ryder made their sketches a reality.

With the air of a child’s fantasy bedroom, the library features a bright green floor, slouchy beanbags, floor cushions and a cosy mustard-coloured armchair.

Rainbows and ‘disco cloud lights’ cover the walls and the word FUN is cut out of a section of bookshelves. Ryder was able to honour the majority of the children’s suggestions, but space did not allow the construction of an integrated slide, as suggested by one enthusiastic young interior designer.

Leaving aside the traditional Dewey Decimal system, which organises books by numbers, the new Z-arts library has taken a more child-friendly approach.

Kids at the launch of the library

Categories, chosen by the children, across the primary-coloured bookshelves include dinosaurs, mythical creatures, pirates, history, saving our planet, bugs, space and being an artist. Graphic novels and comics get their own dedicated section, as do LGBTQ+ empowering books.

A programme of free activities for pre-schoolers (which must be booked) run every Tuesday and Wednesday morning during term time, including Baby Book Club and Wriggle and Rhyme.

The library was launched by Waterstones Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho, who gave a reading from his book Luna Loves Library Day to an invited audience of school children and educators.

He said: “Growing up I found a lot of joy at my local library. I met friends there and studied for my GCSEs and A Levels. I even got my first job there. It really was a hub for the local community. My mum took me and my sister there because it was walking distance from
our home, and it was free.

“Libraries are unique because you can go there and sit and read and learn and discover and no one even asks you to buy a cup of coffee. They act as umbrellas for so many services and experiences beyond books.”

Tom Fletcher, bestselling author and former member of the pop group McFly, who recently did some filming in the library, said: “I love telling stories and feel that today, more than ever, it’s important that children have the opportunity to read a variety of books for free. The Children’s Library at Z-arts is so inspiring, a perfect space to read incredible stories.”

Liz O’Neill, CEO/ artistic director, Z-arts, which is on Stretford Road in Hulme, said: “Manchester is a UNESCO city of literature but has never before had a dedicated library for children – so here we are!

“Over 800 libraries have closed since the beginning of austerity in 2010, so a new one opening is a great cause for celebration.

“And this is no ordinary library. Bright and colourful, with a cheery, informal atmosphere, it has been designed by children and filled with brand new books that represent the diversity of our local communities.

“We know it will be a well-loved and well used resource for our most local families in Hulme, but also that the library has a reach beyond the surrounding streets.”

Harry Potter and Hetty Feathers fan Amari Duhaney, aged 10, was part of the group of young people from Hulme who contributed their ideas for the library. Thinking he may want to be an author or an illustrator when he grows up, he said: “Children should always be involved with designing things that involve them because they have a different perspective.

“I think children could design better buildings, rollercoasters and parks than adults; definitely better theme parks.

 “Libraries are very important for people to educate themselves and to improve their vocabularies.

“If I had to describe Z-arts’ children’s library in one word I would say it was unique.”

Cllr John Hacking, executive member skills, employment and leisure, Manchester City Council, said: “This new space is a wonderful and joyous addition to our library family in the city.

“It brings the joy of books to children, young people, and activities for families and pre-school children, and it not only reflects the diversity of the communities using it  but the interior is a reflection of how the children wanted it to look. I am certain that this is going to be very popular with the local community.”

The new library at Z-arts has been created with the support of Manchester City Council, Arts Council England, and Foyle Foundation, with additional support from Torevell & Partners and Johnsons Paint.

The Z-arts children’s library is open Tuesday to Friday 10am-6pm and Saturday 10am- 4.30pm. A programme of free activities for pre-schoolers (which must be booked) runs every Tuesday and Wednesday morning (term time only), including Mini Move and Groove and Rhyme Time.

The library is free to join and can be used by anyone who lives in the UK and has a Manchester library card.

To get a free library card – which can be used at any library across the city please click here. 

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