I did go though and I was happy to find some non-shopping places to go: Two fine libraries. In my head I see them as hidden treasures but of course they'e not. Manchester Central Library and John Rylands Library are massive Manchester landmarks visited by thousands of people every year, and they're not ticked away. Not secret or neglected but to me they're hidden behind Manchester's expensive, trendy image. As my friend Claire said, libraries are one of the few places you can visit where you're not necessarily defined by buying something.
I hadn't Manchester Central Library for years and had forgotten how grand it is. There are some lovely lending libraries out there but this one is really special. The Public Libraries Act was passed in 1850 and Manchester was one of the first Local Authorities to build public libraries in response. Manchester at the time was progressive and proud of it's reputation as place where a working man could learn and self-educate. It built several libraries with the Central Library opened in 1934 to extend the collections and facilities. Can you imagine that? A Council planning a fortune into building a pantheon of books and learning for anyone to use? It's incredible and I think it says a lot about Manchester at the time. They could have built a big, cheap rectangular box full of books but instead they chose a design that's inspiring, decorative and a pleasure to be in.
|Manchester Central Library (Wikipedia)|
30 odd years before Manchester Central Library opened it's doors the city saw the opening of a cathedral of books: The John Rylands Library. John Rylands was an immensely rich mill owner and philanthropist, building everything from orphanages to public baths during his lifetime. He died in 1888 and the Library was commissioned by his wife, Enriqueta. The library is built in the Victorian Gothic style from red sandstone and was inaugurated on John and Enriqueta's wedding anniversary; a love letter, a memorial.
The John Rylands Library and the Manchester Central Library were built in different era's for different reasons but both have the same interest at heart, that of free access to learning and the potential for anyone to learn to improve their lives or just for the pleasure of it. Visiting these buildings reminds we how fortunate we are to have access to so much learning for free, not just public libraries but free online courses, articles, archives, videos...it's endless. Next time I say I'm bored tell me where to go!
|John Rylands Library (Wikipedia)|
The libraries also reminded me that away from the worship of shopping Manchester is an impressive self-made city and buildings like these are a monument to the City's pride and aspiration. It has a wealthy city centre where former cloth warehouses are expensive apartments and run down areas a couple of minutes outside the centre where poverty is has been ingrained for generations. Manchester has designer shops where the price of a handbag is more than the average monthly wage and there's a man or woman sleeping rough in every other doorway. I'd like to see the city's pride as a driving force to deal with it's problems humanely like it appears to have been historically, but I suspect that Manchester's pride is just another line on it's tourism website, a bow on top of the city, not a real and tangible thing to build on. Maybe that's something we're all guilty of though, talking the talk and not walking the walk- citys and people can struggle to turn values into actions.