Manchester Central Library was officially the busiest public library in the UK in 2019/20, recording more than two million visits.
Central Library retained its title for a second successive year, with visitor numbers rising to 2,022,641, from around 1.9 million in 2018/9, according to statistics compiled by industry body CIPFA.
In normal times, Central Library, which was transformed in a major project completed in 2014, provides a hugely varied offer for visitors, including its cafes, event and exhibition spaces, Archives+ centre for local history, plus specialist business and music libraries and a high-tech media lounge.
Due to the impact of the coronavirus, which led to temporary library closures and restrictions on opening conditions from March 2020 onwards, visitor numbers for all libraries will be significantly reduced in the current financial year. Nevertheless, vital access to library services has been maintained as much as possible throughout, benefitting thousands of Manchester residents.
During the second period of national lockdown, from 5 November – 2 December, 13 libraries in Manchester remained open in a limited, Covid-safe way, providing essential access to the internet and a collection service for books and other materials. 6,662 library visits were recorded in this time, including 499 from members aged over 60. 4,538 items were issued to borrowers and 2,365 PC sessions logged, with more than a third of visitors coming to the library specifically to use a computer.
Additionally, use of electronic resources such as e-books and e-magazines increased during lockdown and 4,000 reservations for books were made via the Manchester libraries online catalogue.
19 Manchester libraries have now reopened, with safety measures in place for customers and staff. Members can enter to browse for books, or can go online to select and reserve up to six books for collection from their chosen library. To help ensure social distancing, the numbers of users allowed inside each library at one time will be limited, so it may be necessary to queue outside the library at busy times. Children aged 12 and under wishing to visit must be accompanied by a parent, carer or older sibling.
Computers are also available for public use at each library. Due to limited availability, residents wishing to use a computer are asked to call their chosen library in advance, to book a slot.
All books which are currently out on loan have been renewed until January, to prevent any members how are unable to visit the library from being fined for later returns.
Manchester City Council’s Executive Member for Skills, Culture and Leisure, Councillor Luthfur Rahman OBE, said: “Our libraries are vital hubs which improve the quality of individual lives and the communities they serve. That’s why they are so well used and why we’re pleased and proud that Central Library was Britain’s busiest public library in 2019/20, for the second year running.
“Despite the pandemic, our libraries have continued to offer free access to reading materials and the internet, playing a vital role in ensuring that more Manchester residents stayed connected to public services, friends and family, while also continuing to borrow items from our extensive catalogue.
“Providing this essential service during the recent lockdown was so important, as it ensured that many people who do not have internet access at home were not cut off from essential services.”