Archives+ Manchester Central Library: Six Years On

Client: Manchester City Council

Attraction: Manchester Central Library Archives+

2020 – six years on – at a glance.

·         Since relaunch in 2014, there have been 8.3 million visitors

·         It is the most visited public library in the country.

·         39,000 people have attended educational sessions

·         250,000 people have attended special events and activities

The vision (2014)

The Archives+ initiative, funded by the HLF, should deliver a state-of-the-art, digitally interactive archive of family records, historic registers, local history, the North West Film Archive, and specialist records from across the region, bringing together and integrating Manchester’s largest and most important archives under one roof.

It was designed for accessibility and learning and should attract not only traditional library users, but new audiences including young people and black and ethnic minority communities. The focus had to be on the visual rather than text-based resources, catering to different learning styles and link to the wider networks of partner collections to bring everything together in one digital environment – very much providing the ‘wow factor’. It also had to integrate with the working function of the Grade-1 listed library and be designed within the boundaries of the heritage architecture.

Mather & Co’s Challenge

There were many challenges, not least to increase visitors from 50,000 to 500,000 per year by attracting and appealing to new audiences and becoming a place where people can browse and see what’s on offer.

Mather & Co blended exhibition space with a social café in the heart of Manchester Central Library and provided areas for groups to informally socialise whilst viewing exhibition materials, watching film material in the video pods or relaxing with a coffee. Visitors can create, contribute and respond to events past and present in Manchester, making it a truly living archive.

Archives

The rich architecture of the Manchester Central Library building has been retained whilst introducing a modern twist; visitors can browse the collections in a dynamic new public space underneath the dramatic ‘oculus’, whilst having a coffee and relaxing in the adjoining café area.

The use of digital interactivity allows visitors to explore what is potentially complex material in a digestible, visual format. Information is layered to allow each individual to explore and discover at their own pace, and presented in ways that allow visitors with differing levels of knowledge and ability, and those whose first language is not English, to have an enjoyable and informative experience. A fully integrated content management system allows the Archives+ team to update the content on any touchscreen or digital interface overnight.

From a full-height virtual library stack, allowing visitors to select archive boxes to explore what lies within, to café table projections and the ghost of the first librarian offering his views on the history of libraries in Manchester, the offer is rich and varied for all. It works to dispel any myths about archives, making them interesting, accessible and, most importantly, fun.

Project Results

Archives+ has been an overwhelming success, attracting school-groups, families, young people and traditional library users as well as those visiting for a coffee and to take in the surroundings.

It is an innovative and engaging new offer in the centre of Manchester, offering a new way into archives through the promotion of user-generated content, genuine dialogue and enjoyment. Visitors can now actively contribute to the archive every day making it a true reflection of the community it serves.

Archives

User comments include: “Wow! Just discovered the future of archives in Manchester @archivesplus”

Visitor numbers and income figures have all increased and continue to do so year on year making Central Library the most visited public library in the country.

  • Since relaunch in 2014, there have been 8.3 million visitors
  • It is the most visited public library in the country.
  • 39,000 people have attended educational sessions
  • 250,000 people have attended special events and activities

The true reception is captured in the many tweets and comments received every day, which are posted on the giant LED curtain that anchors the space.

“We’re offering the best of what museums and galleries do, but in a library setting – I don’t know anywhere else that does this.” Neil Macinnes OBE, Head of Libraries, Galleries and Culture