Ever since I moved to Manchester, the Central Library building has been one of my favourites – majestic in its perfect circular shape, the white stone suggesting it was built much earlier than the 1930’s. For months I would pass on the tram, dreaming about how glorious it must be from the inside. Imagine my disappointment when, one afternoon, I entered to find the inside was a drab, wood-panelled, 1960’s bore-fest. So when the building closed in 2010 for refurbishment, I was very excited to see what they would come up with.
What a difference four years makes. Then, I was in my last year of a part-time management degree, working in Piccadilly Gardens and a newlywed. Now – a mum of two on maternity leave. So my needs and wants from a library have changed slightly. Whereas before I needed an excellent reference section and plenty of places to plug in a power cord, now I am after exciting cubby holes to hide in with my toddler to read fun stories that challenge our imaginations. I am delighted to say the new Central Library does both!
On entering the building you realise straight away that the 40milion or so spent has been put to good use. The airy, imposing entrance hall guides you on to the ground floor café or the see-through lifts that let you explore the rest of the building. The guide handing you a map in a necessary service – without it, I would have struggled to find any of the bits I was looking for, though to be fair there are big signs everywhere pointing you in the right direction. My daughter was ever so impressed with the glass lifts – though the frequency with which people accidentally set off the alarm is something that should be looked at.
First we first visited the children’s library. Big foam sofas (easy to clean yet still reasonably comfortable) provided a great place for number two to have a little lie down and a kick whilst number one ran riot along the shelves full of books. The interactive video screens (Look mummy, I’m on the telly!) were a hit with children as young as 10 months, whilst for the older kids there was plenty to do in the form of large, foam shapes which could be arranged in different formations.
It goes without saying that the library’s collection is still second to none. You could spend days browsing in one of the comfy reading corners which are designed to allow you to do just that. There is plenty of desk space, too. The reading hall has plenty of natural light and the acoustics of old are a thing of the past – you can no longer hear someone munching crisps on the other side of the room.
One thing I was disappointed in was the baby feeding room. The fact that one is provided means that someone has put some thought into the fact that it is nice for nursing mums to have somewhere to go. What a shame then that the thought was not extended beyond that. The rectangular room is spacious enough, but with all white walls, a tile floor and a single chair without armrests in the corner as its only furniture, it’s somewhat reminiscent of an isolation ward than a comfortable room to feed an infant. Installing a changing table and maybe putting some posters up on the wall would make all the difference here.
An unexpected surprise was the massive music section. Reference books, CDs and the chance to try out some instruments is a great idea for slightly older children-something I will definitely come back for when my two are a bit bigger. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to explore all of the other floors, though I will certainly be back with (and maybe without) the little ones to make the most of this free community resource.
Verdict – great building, great staff, easy to get to and get around in. In short – perfect place to spend an hour or so on your next visit to St Peter’s Square. Loses points for the feeding facilities and lack of structured activities during the week – though I heard informally there will be some sessions starting soon.