Head of Library and Information Services
Neil MacInnes is Head of Library and Information Services at Manchester City Council. He is leading the library team through the closure, relocation and re-opening of Central Library.
Tell us about your background...
I've worked in public libraries for over twenty-five years now; twenty of those in Glasgow and the last five in Manchester. Before moving to Manchester I supported the Head of Libraries with the Libraries Modernisation Programme in Glasgow. This led to six award-winning new libraries in the city and the remodeling of The Mitchell Library, Europe's largest public reference library. In the last five years, I have led on the Capital Programme here in Manchester, which includes the fantastic new Longsight Library and Learning Centre and the new City Library on Deansgate.
The scale of the task of closing down Central Library is hard to imagine...
When I took over the reins as Head of Libraries in January of this year, I had an initial "moment" when I realised everything that had to be done! Central Library received over 1.2m visits in the last year. Its closure involved 30 different North West locations for library collections and materials, with over 100 staff being dispersed to different places across the city. More than a million books and journals, the archive and all the special collections and a large amount of historic furniture had to be carefully packed and removed from the Library. Everyone in the library team has worked really well together, supported by the overall Town Hall and Central Library project team. There are far too many people to name individually but every one of them has had an important part to play in the closedown.
Why is the library being redeveloped to such a great extent? We know parts of it need fixing up and renovating, but why such a large-scale re-working and why such a long (three-year) closure?
'Central Ref' is one of Manchester's most iconic and best-loved buildings, but it is badly in need of some TLC. There are problems with the mechanical and engineering infrastructure, the ageing technology network and the roof. We need to safeguard the building's future and at the same time, rethink how we deliver a twenty-first century library service inside. Tasteful and sensitive restoration of this beautiful building needs careful planning and design, as well as dialogue with planners and English Heritage to ensure we get it right.
We are very sorry for the inconvenience caused by the closure, but we know that when the library reopens in 2013 it will be worth the wait. This is a new phase in the library collection's development - the fifth iteration of Central Library in its fourth location. The work is also just a part of the City's ambitious Library Renewal programme, to replace or refurbish every library in the city over the next few years.
So there are more new libraries planned for Manchester? Where and when?
The next in line are brand new libraries for Beswick (opening in September 2010), Brooklands (October 2010) and Higher Blackley/Charlestown (Spring 2011).
We've already done large-scale refurbishments in Wythenshawe, Longsight, and Moss Side Powerhouse; smaller-scale refurbishments in Levenshulme, Burnage, Fallowfield, Didsbury, Chorlton and Withington.
We've opened brand new libraries in Clayton, Openshaw (East City), Harpurhey/Moston (North City) and the city centre (City Library, Deansgate), which opened in June.
What's City Library like?
The new City Library is completely different from Central and will build on the strengths of other new library projects in Longsight and Moss Side. It's bright, airy and very colourful: a place to reflect and linger. We want the library to feel like the city's living room: a small oasis of tranquility in a bustling and exciting city centre. It has a universal audience and is already attracting people who never came into Central Library. We have moved a long way from what people think a traditional library should look like: City Library's a place to relax, be inspired, learn, co-create and have a conversation. I love it. I'm a city centre resident, and it's a place I would happily spend my free time in. I have been delighted with this new library and it can only go from strength to strength.
Which libraries particularly inspire you?
There are some amazing libraries being developed across the world and it's clear that a city like Manchester deserves a world-class library. Scandinavia in particular has some fantastic libraries - Malmo, The National Library of Denmark and some amazing district libraries in the north of Denmark. These helped shape the thinking for the new City Library on Deansgate. There are amazing examples of new libraries in Amsterdam, the wonderful New York Public Library and the relatively new Central Library in Seattle. A little closer to home, I really love the new Newcastle City Library - oh and of course the wonderful libraries in Glasgow! I could go on and on and on and bore you for hours about wonderful libraries across the world.
When can we see what's being planned for Central Library? Will we get a chance to comment on the proposals?
A pre-planning public consultation event was held in early July and the plans were well received by those who attended. It is planned to have them available on the library website very soon and a public exhibition is planned for City Library.
For you, what will be the single best thing in Central Library when it re-opens in 2013?
Better access all round! The new lifts (we previously had the smallest and slowest lift in Manchester), the new circulation core which opens up lots of space, the lower ground link between the Central Library building and the new City Library in the neighbouring Town Hall Extension. Also the electronic cataloguing of all the card-indexed stock means it will be easier than ever for everyone to find what they want. There's also going to be the new Archive Plus Centre of Excellence, boasting The Manchester Room - the written and film history of the City and the wider region. The overall completion of the St Peter's Square regeneration project will really enhance this important civic quarter of the city at the heart of the city's cultural offer.