Manchester Library Trail: the woman tackling budget cuts and closures with new library scheme
- Manchester bookworm sets up new library scheme in response to covid closures and reduced hours
- The Manchester Library trail now has 25 libraries to supplement public libraries
- City council promises to nurture newfound public library popularity with £6m strategy
Many people picture their local library as an old and musty building filled with books that are gathering dust - but this couldn’t be further from the truth in Manchester.
Whether you want to learn new skills, meet friends, or dive into a good book, the city’s public libraries are the go-to place for Mancunians.
Helen Beesley is one of the city’s avid library lovers who has adored reading from a young age.
“Libraries have changed so much since I was a child and now have lots to offer the communities they serve,” she says.
People have loved the little libraries
However, this beloved relationship was ripped away as the covid pandemic hit and libraries were forced to close, leaving people without access to books or their local community.
While most Mancunians mourned the loss of their libraries, Helen took matters into her own hands and established the Manchester Library Trail of stalls containing free books for people to swap, donate, and discover new books.
“The Manchester Library Trail was set up in September 2020 after I had set up my own little library at my house in Burnage," she explains.
"I was contacted by other local residents who were also interested in setting up their own libraries. We now have 25 libraries in south Manchester.”
The miniature library-style fixtures come in all shapes and sizes – from huts to mailboxes and everything in between – with the aim of providing the public with books when Manchester’s libraries were unable to.
Helen said: “People have loved the little libraries and they were a great asset to the communities as public libraries were not able to open.”
Not only were they extremely accessible for people to visit during their hour of daily exercise, but the boredom and lack of social interaction that lockdown brought prompted many people to develop a newfound love for reading thanks to the Manchester Library Trail.
Voluntary services like Helen’s have been a much-needed addition to Manchester’s library scene.
Even before covid closures impacted them, the service took a beating under David Cameron’s leadership as 773 libraries closed and over 8,000 salaried staff lost their jobs in favour of unpaid volunteers.
This financial suffering came as libraries are considered a ‘non-essential service’ in England, subsequently receiving less funding than areas such as education and social services.
Helen, who recognised the struggling position of public libraries, hoped that the Manchester Library Trail would somewhat alleviate this.
“Lots of public libraries have had their hours cut and so the little libraries are able to plug the reduced access to books by being available with little restriction,” she explains.
While national cuts have made libraries increasingly harder to operate and maintain, Manchester’s libraries have recently soared in popularity with nearly 300,000 visits over the last year.
Manchester city council says it is doing its best to nurture this newfound popularity with recent proposals to renovate Chorlton and Longsight’s libraries as part of a £6m libraries 2023 strategy to improve services.
In conversation with The Northern Quota, Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar reaffirmed the importance of libraries despite national cuts.
“Manchester’s libraries provide people with a space to engage in a wide variety of social activities," he said.
"Over the pandemic, it became even more apparent how much Mancunians use libraries, not just as information hubs but also as social spaces.
“They really are the beating hearts of our communities.”
The Manchester Library Trail continues to operate by complementing the services provided by public libraries, supplementing the short opening hours with their wider access to books.
“Now that public libraries are open, I’m hoping that people who have used our little libraries but hadn’t been in their local public library before will feel confident in doing so,” says Helen, hopeful that her project has created an increased love for Manchester’s library service and helped to keep the service alive.