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Central Library

Manchester Central Library and Library Walk
Manchester Central Library and Library Walk

When I first went to the British Library in London, two of of the most impressive details were:

1: two power points at each desk for library users
2: Comfortable desk & seating, presumably based on an understanding of how humans are supposed to sit. 

When I revisited the revamped Manchester’s Central Library, the least impressive aspects were:
1: the paucity of power points in the main work area, which is the Wolfson Reading Room – this inspires a lesser game of thrones, or musical chairs, as folk who bought cheap batteries on eb*y watch enviously (and in hawk-eyed readiness to swoop) at those in seats of power.
2: They kept the old seats, which might look ‘authentic’, but they were excruciatingly bad for your posture before the revamp, so nothing has changed.

Manchester Central Library and the glass passageway over Library Walk.
Manchester Central Library and the glass passageway over Library Walk.

The importance of libraries is they foster and facilitate research, reading, studying and work. As such they emphasise substance over form; the timeless over the ephemeral.
Regular library users would know this, and you’d think that, considering the required qualifications, someone in the architects or council offices would’ve used a library for study at some point of their rise to prominence.
Sadly, the view from the ergonomically correct workstations they now inhabit must have an obscured view of the Wolfson Reading Room, because the interactive tables in the cafe seem to have been higher up the list of priorities than thousands of the City’s students in need of a place to work.
Which reaffirms (yet again) this age’s obsession with ephemeral, flickering form over substance.

Central Library, Manchester

Having said this, both Central Library and the Town Hall are spectacular buildings, and it is the very form of Central Library which now makes it more worthy of a visit for those flickering through the City - the nightly locked gates at Library Passage at least make it less likely to stink of piss, on your morning stroll…or your dawn dash to secure a power point.
For sure, Central Library is now cleaner, brighter, well-connected to the internet, is a great resource for digital artists and musicians, and the archives are digitally accessible. The newly opened area in front of the library and Town hall is much needed, especially in Summer, and has potential to be the best outside space in the city (who wants to sit in Piccadilly Gardens?).
And I’m sure Central Library also has the full set of correct, eco-friendly credentials.


Central Library, Manchester

But the cafe area is like sitting in a canteen art installation, made by over-zealous upholsterers with money to burn on awkward seating arrangements. The film archive cubicles, however, do provide a more private space for office workers to eat their butties, and for those who’ve been up all night to grab a few winks.

Sadly, improvements seem to have had the least effect on what for me is the most important part of Central Library, the Wolfson Reading Room: it still has limited sockets and the seats might have been designed by a sadist with an unhealthy fixation on the lower back.
As such I’m not sure if I prefer the old version of Central Library, in everything but the outside space, because, before the expensive bells and whistles, it was more in tune with what actually mattered.
A truck load of new media might make it a good place to do all those things you can do at home on the internet, and also for visitors to pass a lazy hour in an ipod dream. But it is still a back-breaking place to do serious work, and it’s far and away Manchester’s second best library.

Are you a bleeding heart upholsterer with money to burn?
Then please donate some cushions, lumbar supports, and triangular foam books rests and laptop risers, to the Wolfson reading room of Central Library.

Local Physiotherapists and Chiropractors won’t thank you for denying them future income, but the growing band of Wolfson Hunchbacks surely will.

Central Library, Manchester