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Seven must-visit libraries in Manchester

Seven must-visit libraries in Manchester

It's cold, dark and rainy so what better way to spend these wintery nights than inside and curled up with a book? The John Rylands Library on Deansgate was recently named as one of the world's most beautiful libraries - but it's not the only stunning library tucked away in the city, so here's a look at seven places book lovers need to visit in Manchester.

Portico Library

Easy to miss if you've never seen it, the door for the Portico Library is tucked away on the corner of Mosley Street on the side of the Greek revival-style building. Once you have walked up the winding staircase, the library is waiting for you at the top. It may be a fraction of the size it used to be - most of the building is now The Bank pub - but it still holds accents of its past with beautiful dark leather seats in the private reading rooms. It's one of those places where you can imagine gentry puffing on their pipes, reading about the memoirs and findings of 19th century travellers.

The library, which was founded over 200 years ago, was set up as a newsroom and made accessible to both men and women to read the shipped-in news as, back in the 1800s, this was the only place in Manchester where you could read London papers. Now it is subscription only but you can sit inside for lunch between 12-2pm Monday to Friday, or stroll around their temporary exhibition space which sits under a beautiful dome ceiling. 

Manchester Metropolitan University's Special Collection 

MMU Special Collections

Hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the university's main library crowds, this special collection is wonderfully separate from frantic overnight exam revision and 15 minute power naps. Particular highlights of the collection include their delicate artist scrapbooks going as far back at the late 1800s, the first ever Christmas card and the 10,000 strong children's book collection. It has the aim of preserving fine examples of illustration, design and book binding and their library is available to browse in by appointment if you're not already a university member, or you can look at their excellent online catalogue to have a sneak peek. 

Manchester Law Library 


Often overlooked for other well known libraries in this area, and the Law Library was originally located between two unassuming buildings on Kennedy Street. Unfortunately the collection has recently located to Deansgate but the original building, built in the late 1880s is well worth a visit for its intricate Venetian Gothic facade. The collection holds precious law related books dating back to the 17th century and is still used by members of the legal profession to this day. 

Chetham's Library 


By far the oldest library in Manchester, Chetham's Library has the richest history - it dates back to the 16th century which crowns it the oldest library in the English-speaking world. Karl Marx and Freidrich Engels are said to have studied together at the table in the alcove of the Reading Room which is still open today. Sit down by the window seat and soak in the sights they would have seen whilst writing The Communist Manifesto. Open to the public and located just behind Manchester Cathedral, anyone can wander round the majestic space and experience its dark, gothic beauty. And for all those feline inclined, look out of the original medieval doors to the cloister, complete with medieval cat flap.  

The Working Class Movement Library

Robert Cutts


A little further out in Salford, it is well worth the short walk from the city centre to look at the collection. The building was built in the early 1900s but started its life as a library in the 1950s and allowed the voices of the struggling working class movement to be heard, documented and presented in a unusual environment. The collection boasts 200 years of organising and campaigning by the ordinary man and woman, and regularly hosts talks on local and international history. The library's website holds extensive information about the collection and is well worth a visit to read about the history of the ordinary man.

John Rylands Library


It is the last week end of Wonder Woman with a little twist in our Historic Reading Room...#johnrylands #wonderwomen #woman #manchester #gothic

A photo posted by The John Rylands Library (@thejohnrylands) on


It's one of the most well-known of Manchester's attractions although most are surprised to hear that it was actually built in 1890, designed to replicate a neo-gothic church and founded in memory of Enriqueta Augustina Rylands' late husband. Stuffed within this building is the biggest collection of medieval illuminated manuscripts in the United Kingdom, available to look at online or in person if you give the library enough notice. Ask about the illustrations drawn in the margins by bored monk scribes and illuminators of vulgar hybrid monsters amoungst other bizarre motifs. To this day John Rylands is used as a place of study, and is open for the public to stroll around its beautiful interior. Look out for regular tours that lead you through the winding corridors and cellars which aren't always open to the public.  

Central Library 


One of the city's most iconic buildings, Central Library is the oldest public lending library in the UK and when it was first opened in the 1930s, it had a toilet built and reserved for only the King and Queen to use. After a four year renovation, the library finally re-opened its doors to the public in March 2014 and has heavily increased its footfall due to modernisation of the building and its fresh new take on library etiquette. Central Library promotes a non 'shh'ing environment to create a more relaxed way to learn and engage. The most impressive part of the building - its main reading room - has remained true to its original interior, and even included the original desks (with the well received addition of plug points) for those who wish to study under the incredible dome ceiling. 

See more things to do in Manchester from Time Out.