This guest post was written by Cllr Rabnawaz Akbar, Executive Member for Neighbourhoods

Cllr Rabnawaz Akbar, Executive Member for Neighbourhoods

This week (4th – 10th October) is national Libraries Week, where the value of libraries up and down the country are celebrated.  This year’s theme is ‘Taking action, changing lives’, which I’m very proud that Manchester’s libraries consistently do for its residents.

Manchester has always loved its public libraries. The country’s first rate-supported public lending and reference library was opened in Manchester in 1852, with Manchester taking advantage of powers granted by the Public Libraries and Museums Act of 1850.

Our libraries have been valued by residents more than ever during the last 18 months, with the pandemic.   The Council are determined to continue to invest in the city’s libraries.  This week the Libraries Twitter will b highlighting some of the things we’re proudest of with messages, photos and videos showing the wide range of quality services offered at the City’s libraries to the residents of Manchester.

Libraries have proved a lifeline to so many residents during the pandemic.  Govrnment regulations meant all physical library services closed in March 2020. We have all had to deal with different ways of working during the last 18 months and when our libraries closed, we know that it was a real blow to all our communities, and that they really missed being able to access our services.  However, libraries adapted very quickly to this changing landscape to ensure that our residents were supported through the digital arena first, and then a blended model when libraries were able to open their doors again and welcome people into their buildings in a covid-secure manner. The Books To Go service for housebound residents was the first to reopen in June 2020, and the residents many of whom are socially isolated really appreciated the service more than ever. 

Staff from the Books to Go Housebound Service.

7 of our libraries reopened on the first day they were allowed by the Government roadmap on 4th July 2020. There were queues outside a couple of the libraries, and a customer at Longsight Library said “I have really missed the company of strangers”

Libraries are at the heart of our communities and offer an essential and much valued service to people across the city.

“Now that our libraries are fully reopened and back to pre-pandemic levels, we are delighted to be able to reconnect with all our communities again.  We know that libraries help to combat loneliness, they are not just information hubs, but real centres of activity providing people with opportunities to meet others and engage in a wide range of social activities as well as providing the wide-ranging usual library services .

“It is wonderful to see the hustle and bustle back in all our library buildings”

Libraries 2023 strategy

We are investing further in our libraries with our Libraries 2023 strategy. We have 22 libraries in the city and they all offer an excellent service.  Over the last 10 years there has been significant investment in the library estate to ensure our venues are for a 21st century library offer as the bearing hearts of their communities. In the coming few years we’re improving the quality of the libraries yet further.  The Council will be investing a further £6million in library buildings over the next three years.  This will mean

  • Improvements to Central Library, the UKs most visited public library, to mark 7 years since its transformantoin – with a new children’s library opening this December, improvements to the Archives+ exhibition area, and the computers in the building
  • A new library in Gorton
  • A new Abraham Moss Library in Crumpsall
  • A complete transformation and restoration of Chorlton Library
  • A reconfiguration and improvement of Longsight Library

Helping people be online

Libraries are the main community venue for people to access the Internet, in a venue where they can be supported and helped by staff.  We will continue to offer free Internet, free Wi-Fi, and drop in IT sessions in our libraries.  Over the last 18 months we have also began to help people outside of libraries.  Many people have Internet access at home but don’t have the skills or confidence to use it effectively.  People can now contact us and we will ensure they receive telephone skills support to enable them to do things such as setting up an email, using zoom, doing online supermarket shoppinh, booking GP appointments and so on.  Hundreds of residents have contacted us by texting 07860064128, and received a telephone call from libraries staff, Citizens Advice Manchester, volunteers or one of the community groups across the city.  Calls can be made in 25 languages. 

Over the past year, libraries have also donated devices such as chromebooks or tablets to hundreds of digitally excluded residents in Manchester. This has proved a lifeline to these people, connecting them back up to the world.

Offering a diverse service.

Manchester’s libraries are at the heart of its communities, with services reflect the diversity of our communities. The book stock is now extremely diverse, including our children’s book stock that contains characters from diverse backgrounds.  Diverse book collections are promoted by the libraries catalogue. The events programme is diverse, with events and activities for all ages.  The library service are Libraries Of Sanctuary, meaning a warm welcome is offered to asylum sekers and refugees.  This month is Black History Month, and the programme of activities in libraries is bigger and better than ever in partnership with the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre and Trust.  The libraries are proud to be inclusive venues where all members of society are welcomed.

Manchester Libraries Against Racism.

Projects to encourage to read for pleasure

Our biggest reading initiative of the year is the summer reading challenge. This year we increased our links with schools, with 41 schools across the city joining all their pupils to the library and the challenge. We held summer reading challenge activities in our library this summer, in a covid secure manner. This and other reading initiatives have been delivered jointly with Read Manchester.

Child with his library card

Our libraries are community hubs that offer a diverse range of quality services, meeting the different needs of the residents and communities.  We’re working with our communities to ensure we are providing a vibrant and sustainable 21st century library service. We are very proud of the difference we make to our residents lives, and how highly Mancunians value their libraries.

Don’t forget – take a look at @MancLibraries on twitter this week to learn more about the wide range of library services and how we make a difference to our residents!