As the brand new Beswick Library opens its doors Len Grant asks Maxine Goulding how the role of east Manchester’s libraries has changed since books were loaned to local residents from a converted pub.
I remember, a few years ago, Beswick Library was here on Grey Mare Lane, not that far from where we are now.
Yes, that’s right. We used to be in what was formerly The Bobbin Pub right next to the precinct. I’m sure it would have been the local for many of our customers at one time. It wasn’t a very large building but it had a lovely feel to it and we had a very successful homework club.
We were very sad to come out of there in 2006 but, because it was a regeneration area, many of the houses were coming down, the shops were closing and we were losing customers.
From there you set up the East City Library in what is now The Manchester College campus at Openshaw. That must have been a big step.
Oh yes, we moved into this wonderful, large ground floor space that we shared with the college library. We thought it was gorgeous. It was a big change for us because it’s a college and a public library and although we still have many residents using the library, most of our customers are students.
Because we have plenty of space we are able to put on more activities and we enjoy lots of partnership projects like getting involved with the students’ end of year shows. The college has been great and we’ll still be at the East City Library as well as the new Beswick Library.
Working in a regeneration area surely brings its own challenges?
We’re very much a part of the regeneration story, fully committed to the social and cultural regeneration in east Manchester. It’s a new way of working because now we are collaborating with all kinds of partners. I attend ward meetings, youth meetings, health forums, Valuing Older People meetings: we’re using other people’s skills and resources to achieve a common goal. Communities are changing very rapidly and our libraries are changing with them.
We have to work particularly hard in east Manchester to encourage people to use the library. Many still have a traditional view of what libraries were like: all dusty books and ‘quiet please’. But things are very different now and as soon as people walk through those doors they understand that difference.
Our outreach work is essential. We get out there and tell people what we’ve got to offer and work with hard-to-reach groups to encourage them to use the library. For instance, we’ve run drama and sound recording sessions to promote the Manchester Book Awards and we’ve had artists working with youth clubs on art projects in the libraries.
And now you’re back in Beswick with this wonderful library alongside the new East Manchester Academy.
We were always going to come back. We’ve been involved with the design of the building from the very beginning and we’ve worked closely with the Academy promoting the school and the library together. We’ve got the same customers.
I just love it. The space is amazing and with the light pouring through those tall windows, well, it’s just a wonderful building.
We’ve got community meeting rooms and a community space for larger events as well as all the services we now offer throughout the city.
Of course we’ve got all the computers and – what some people don’t realise – we’ve got staff on hand who can help. So, even if you haven’t used a computer before, you can book one-to-one sessions and be taken through the very basics by our friendly staff.
It’s a lot less daunting than booking on a college course.
Then there’s the story sessions for the little ones and a chance for parents and carers to have a cuppa and a chat. We hold lots of advice sessions on a variety of topics so residents don’t always have to travel to get the help they need, and then there’s the health information point, the parenting advice books and now even ebooks…
What do you find most rewarding?
I love working in east Manchester because I feel we have been making a real difference. Being part of the regeneration effort is very exciting.
Many homes still don’t have internet access and we can offer all that – and more – here. We’ve made a huge impact with our homework clubs and now that we share the building with the Academy and we have extended opening times, we can build on that success even further.
Click here for opening times, facilities and lots more.