Response from Neil MacInnes, Head of Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council
I fully understand the concerns being expressed in some quarters about the management of the bookstock at Central Library. However, I would like to reassure people alarmed by the rhetoric being used, that these concerns are misplaced.
Manchester City Council is creating a world-class modern library, improving access to this gem of a building and the treasures it houses and any attempt to characterise otherwise is misguided. All rare, valuable and historic items will be kept and indeed we have invested in special storage units to ensure the preservation of our important historic collections.
Our vision for the refurbished Central Library was never about replacing like with like. Central Library, while being a tremendously iconic building, was, internally, no longer fit for purpose for the 21st century, with poor circulation and many areas inaccessible. The exciting redesign creates new public spaces, a new circulation core and an opportunity to transform the library and its services to ensure they are relevant to all Manchester residents and visitors to the city.
It is correct that some stock will not be returning to the library. We do not envisage Central Library being a “storehouse of non-fiction reference volumes.” We want it to be a living, active, dynamic place that inspires Manchester’s people to be creative and to explore their potential, not a mausoleum. At the core of the old Central Library were historic stacks accessible only to library staff, with the vast majority of stock rarely accessed. In the past, there was a tendency for libraries' collection policies to focus on quantity rather than quality, amassing material almost indiscriminately. The transformation of Central Library is allowing us to carry out a much-needed housekeeping exercise, ensuring the collections are relevant to a 21st Century city. This is part of the natural cycle of stock management for libraries.
Central Library has recorded use of material since opening in 1934 and a large number of items which had been added through time have never been used. Examples of the types of books we will not bring back to the library include outdated scientific or medical reference books, duplicates such as paperbacks that we have in hardback, or books in such poor condition that it wouldn’t be cost effective to repair them. One example would be economic textbooks where there are currently 23 editions. Our strategy is to keep the first edition and the most recent, but not every edition in between.
Recent changes in technology have also enabled an entirely different approach to how we provide reference information with access to digital information opening up a wider range of reference sources for more customers. We are also working with other institutions in the city, considering partnership opportunities to widen access.
The assertion that the library will lose valuable or rare stock is plain wrong. A dedicated team of library staff, many of whom have worked in Central Library for most of their careers, are currently involved in this aspect of the project to transform the library. Criteria for decision making has been developed by experienced library managers and all the staff carrying out the rationalising of the stock are either qualified and trained librarians or very experienced library staff – the least experienced has worked in Central Library for 16 years.
Indeed, the process of working through the stock has enabled us to uncover hidden treasures that had lain unused and unnoticed on the bookstacks for many years. So the process of housekeeping is enabling us to bring more of these previously hidden literary gems back into use for the enjoyment and benefit of Manchester residents.
I was also disappointed to read the comments of staff “feeling uneasy…but fear for their jobs”. I know that in any change process there are always some who are uneasy and struggle to accept change as we respond to the challenges and opportunities of the digital age, and changes in lifestyles, however it is important that the transformation of Central Library is embraced to ensure that we provide a modern day library for the city.
Manchester City Council is proud of its library service and over the past 7 years has rebuilt and refurbished over two thirds of its libraries, indeed we opened a brand new library, The Avenue only this month. We have heavily invested in our libraries, clearly showing our commitment to the services that our communities want.
In addition, the refurbished Central Library will house a new archive centre of excellence which will bring in 10km of new archive material. This will provide access to a wide range of North West historical documents along with viewing booths where people can watch rare film footage, which alongside the printed history of the city will enable customers to discover their stories in relation to the history of this great city.
The library will be a major cultural destination in the city, a place for people to meet, learn, share and co-create new content and of course, to read.
There will be a significant investment in new lending material, to support our city wide collection and recently introduced e-book service, with a new tailored information & business service to meet customer information needs. Further information about the transformation project is available at www.manchester.gov.uk/libraries
I am extremely excited and proud of our libraries’ transformation programme and look forward to the next chapter – the fifth iteration of Manchester Central Library.