Manchester Central Library will reopen its doors to the public on Thursday 20 August – with limited capacity to enable social distancing and safety measures in place, to guard against the coronavirus.
Central Library was the most visited public library in the country in 2019/20, with 2,022,641 visits recorded. Its reopening is set for the same day that Manchester Art Gallery admits visitors again for the first time since March – providing a double boost to the city centre’s cultural recovery.
Opening hours will initially be 10am – 4pm from Monday – Thursday and on Saturdays. The library will remain closed on Fridays and in the evenings until further notice, to allow regular deep cleans to take place, on top of an enhanced daily cleansing regime.
A maximum of 250 visitors will be allowed into Central Library at any time. Hand sanitiser stations will be available on each of the library’s four floors and, in line with government guidance, face coverings should be worn at all times wherever possible. Children under the age of 12 must be accompanied by a responsible adult, while all visitors will be expected to complete a contact details form, to help the NHS Test and Trace programme.
As well as browsing, borrowing and returning books, visitors will be able to access computers, WiFi, printing, scanning and photocopying services, with safeguards and distancing conditions in place.
The Business & Intellectual Property Centre, Henry Watson Music Library, Visitor Information Centre and café will all be open to the public, with access to the library’s archives department also available by appointment.
The Wolfson Reading Room will be open for those wishing to study, but to ensure social distancing is maintained, capacity within the room will be restricted to a maximum of 60 people.
All loans which were in place during the period when libraries were closed have been automatically renewed until Tuesday 22 September, meaning that no fines have accrued for borrowers who were unable to return their items.
In line with advice from Public Health England, hard copies of newspapers, magazines and leaflets will not be made available, but newspapers and magazines can be accessed electronically, as part of Manchester City Council’s popular digital library offer.
The library’s Performance Space will be available to book for events, with a maximum of 21 attendees. Organisers will need to provide a plan and risk assessment before an event booking can be confirmed.
The council’s Books to Go service, which provides a free home delivery service for Manchester residents with limited mobility, a visual impairment or who have difficulty leaving home, has also recommenced. Users are able to borrow up to 15 items every four weeks.
2019/20 was a bumper year for the use of Manchester’s citywide network of libraries, with more than 3.3 million visits made overall – an increase of four per cent on the previous year, with 900,000 uses of the internet recorded during this time. More than 1.6 million items were borrowed from Manchester’s libraries in this period, an increase of 18 per cent on the previous year. These strong increases came despite libraries being forced to temporarily close their doors in March 2020.
Nine of Manchester’s libraries reopened in July, including City Library, which is located on the basement level of the Central Library / Town Hall Extension complex. The Avenue, Chorlton, Didsbury, Gorton, Newton Heath, Longsight, Withington and Wythenshawe Forum libraries also reopened, providing communities across the city with free access to books and computers. Since reopening, these libraries have recorded around 16,100 visits, with 20,400 items issued to borrowers, answered 5,700 public enquiries and logged more than 3,500 computer sessions.
Plans are being made to reopen 13 more libraries – those run by Manchester City Council which are located in shared buildings with other amenities, plus the city’s six community partnership libraries – further to ongoing discussions with partner organisations.
Executive Member for Skills, Culture and Leisure, Councillor Luthfur Rahman, said: “It will be a huge pleasure to begin the careful process of welcoming Mancunians back to Central Library, which is one of the UK’s most important and best-loved cultural venues.
“Our libraries provide vital services to the community, not just through offering access to reliable information and our fantastic collections of books and materials, but also by giving residents free access to the internet and digital technology when they need it.
“Just as in supermarkets and other public places, visitors can expect to see some temporary changes to the way the library is run and we will need to limit the amount of people allowed inside at any time for the foreseeable future.
“We will respond to the government’s guidance as it is updated, to ensure that a safe environment for visitors to Central Library is maintained.”