Frances Bell

home at last – for all the mes


Libraries in my life

I have always loved libraries. The first one that I remember is Withington Library from when I lived in Withington in Manchester as a child. It’s great to see it is still there and operating as a community hub.

When we moved to Middlesbrough, I became very excited that I could join two different libraries and double the number of books I could borrow.  I longed to be 12 so that I could join the adult library.

Middlesbrough Central Reference Library by CC BY 2.0

Middlesbrough Central Reference Library by CC BY 2.0

The first floor reference library looks pretty much as I remember it though we didn’t have bands performing there back in the day.

Funnily enough, university libraries tend not to be among my favourites even though I know how important they are for resources and as study venues for students.

Manchester has two beautiful libraries in the city centre, each of which has had a facelift in recent years.   John Rylands Library was built by Enriqueta Rylands as a memorial to her late husband (Manchester’s first multi-millionaire) and opened on the first day of the 20th Century.

John Rylands Library

John Rylands Library

It feels like a cross between a museum and a church and, as well as offering archives and services for librarians and researchers, it has a reading room that offers a truly lovely workspace that I worked in last week .  The silence is almost loud.

Manchester’s Central Library reopened recently and I have visited it twice but feel that I have only just scraped the surface.
new entrance to Manchester Central Library
It has a spectacular new entrance that connects it to the Town hall, with a dimpled reflective ceiling that throws off dynamic and fractured images. The cafe is in the heart of the ground floor right next to  interactive multimedia resources that offer a way into physical archives at various Manchester libraries.The ground floor offers connected social spaces that open into each other. On my first visit, I could hear a performance for the Manchester Jazz festival across the other side of the building.

So let’s celebrate public libraries and defend them from funding cuts.  We still need public spaces where people can learn independently with guidance from librarians.

Screen shot from Google Books

Screen shot from Google Books

They are as important now as they were at the time that Roberts (1971) wrote about in his classic work about Salford slums in the early 20th Century.

Roberts, R. (1971). The classic slum: Salford life in the first quarter of the century. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

central libraryJohn RylandslibrarymanchesterMiddlesbroughRobertsSalford slumsWithington

francesbell • September 17, 2015

Previous Post

Next Post


  1. agogo22 September 17, 2015 - 9:23 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on msamba.

  2. lenandlar September 17, 2015 - 10:15 pm Reply

    University libraries tend to be too much about work and stress and stuff than leisure and pleasure. What you think

    • francesbell September 17, 2015 - 10:22 pm Reply

      I think that you have tapped into something here Len. When I look at what I have written about my pleasure in libraries it was outside my ‘official’ roles as student or academic. Part of it is leisure and part about voluntary ‘work’ that my retirement has enabled me to do.

      • lenandlar September 17, 2015 - 10:28 pm Reply

        Incidentally this separation became very clear to me while I was studying in England. On weekends I visited book stores for coffee and relaxation and fun while during the week it was all pressure of mass readings and assignments and those stuff at uni library

  3. catherinecronin September 18, 2015 - 12:14 am Reply

    What a wonderful post, Frances — I am a long-time library-lover also. My favourite space is the Rose Reading Room in the main branch of the NY Public Library (5th Ave & 42nd St). The room is sadly closed for restoration at the moment, but what an inspiring space to sit in, work in, simply be in. Here’s a link to the library page about the Rose Reading Room and here’s one of my photos taken there a couple of years ago

    I’m with you — let’s celebrate and defend our libraries! I think Maya Angelou captures it best: “I always knew from that moment, from the time I found myself at home in that little segregated library in the South, all the way up until I walked up the steps of the New York City library, I always felt, in any town, if I can get to a library, I’ll be OK. It really helped me as a child, and that never left me. So I have a special place for every library, in my heart of hearts.” –

  4. francesbell September 18, 2015 - 6:02 pm Reply

    I have been thinking about public good like education and parks and libraries – we lose them at our peril. Sadly there is a story about the Manchester Central Library about the exclusion of a home less person.
    If I return to New York, I will try to visit that library Catherine – thanks.

  5. jennymackness September 18, 2015 - 6:32 pm Reply

    Hi Frances – I love libraries too. Unlike Len, I even have happy memories of my undergraduate university library days – Sheffield University – where I used to hand write my essays referring to huge text books – no computers in those days. Also a University library was quiet in those days. I’m one of those people who needs silence to be able to work, so University libraries these days are a bit of a nightmare for me.

    One of the most impressive libraries I have even been in is Alexandria Library. There are some photos in this Flickr album – – very modern, so the opposite of some of the examples you have.

    And now that you have reminded me, the National library in Vienna is stunning –

    Nearer to home, Liverpool Central library has done an amazing job of combining old and new –
    I have been there fairly recently but these are not my photos.

    I am now trying to remember all the libraries I have visited – a lovely amble down memory lane 🙂

  6. Test post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published / Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.