A new children’s library has opened its doors in Manchester with a diverse selection of books and a room designed with the help of local young bookworms.
The children’s reading facility at culture hub Z-arts in Hulme may not be the city’s biggest library at just 362 square feet but there are over 1,000 titles crammed into the space. And it is hoped that the volumes on the shelves reflect the next generation of fans of the written word in the diverse neighbourhood, with plenty of titles by Black and ethnic minority authors and non-fiction works aimed at youngsters from diverse background.
The Z-arts team has pledged to put a card for the new library in the hands of every child in Hulme.
A new children’s library opens at Z-arts in Hulme
The new children’s library is located on the first floor of Z-arts in Hulme and the organisation says it is the first facility in Manchester aimed entirely at young book lovers.
The new library may be something of a pocket-sized affair but is still perfectly formed with a wide variety of books for children and an emphasis on reading for people from diverse backgrounds. Z-arts says some of the works on the new library’s shelves are not found anywhere else in Manchester.
Children’s classics such as The Chronicles of Narnia, Hairy McClary and Paddington sit side by side with works by Black and minority ethnic authors, such as Yasmin the Recycler by Pakistani-American author Saadia Faruqi, Amari and the Night Brothers by African American author BB Alston and Look Up by dual heritage actor Nathan Byron which was inspired by Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space.
There are also non-fiction books helping young readers from diverse backgrounds learn about history and providing them with role models to inspire them. These texts include Lands of Belonging: A History of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Britain by Donna and Vikesh Amey Bhat and Black Girls Unbossed by Khristi Lauren Adams, which celebrates the lives of powerful and influential girls of colour.
There are also bilingual books enabling children to learn and improve their English alongside their home language and Braille and large-print books.
The library aims to provide a warm welcome to families while reflecting the diversity of its community. According to The University of Manchester’s Multilingual Manchester project, more than 150 languages are spoken across Greater Manchester and almost half of young people have a language other than English spoken at home.
A library designed by and for children
Young readers have had a big say in how the library at the Stretford Road facility looks, with theatre set designer Louise Ryder taking their ideas and sketches and turning them into the finished reading room.
The finished library has something of the air of a child’s fantasy bedroom, with a bright green floor, slouchy beanbags, floor cushions, a cosy mustard-coloured armchair,the word ‘fun’ cut out of a section of bookshelves and rainbows and disco cloud lights covering the walls. Unfortunately, though, space constraints meant one young designer’s idea of having an integrated slide in the library did not make it past the draft stage.
The children also came up with the idea of abandoning the Dewey system libraries usually use to decide what goes where. Instead books are arranged by categories including dinosaurs, mythical creatures, pirates, history, saving the planet, bugs, space and being an artist. Graphic novels and comics get their own dedicated section, as do LGBTQ+ empowering books.
Harry Potter and Hetty Feathers fan Amari Duhaney, aged 10, was part of the group of young people from Hulme who contributed their ideas for the library. Amari, who told Z-arts he is considering becoming an author or illustrator one day, said: “Children should always be involved with designing things that involve them because they have a different perspective. I think children could design better buildings, rollercoasters and parks than adults; definitely better theme parks.
“Libraries are very important for people to educate themselves and to improve their vocabularies. If I had to describe Z-arts’ children’s library in one word I would say it was unique.”
The team at Z-arts has pledged to work with schools and community groups to ensure every child in Hulme gets a card for the library.
What has been said about the new children’s library at Z-arts in Hulme?
The children’s library has already had some high-profile visitors who have lavished praise on it. Tom Fletcher, an author and member of pop group McFly, visited Hulme to do some filming in the building. He said: “I love telling stories and feel that today, more than ever, it’s important that children have the opportunity to read a variety of books for free. The Children’s Library at Z-arts is so inspiring, a perfect space to read incredible stories.”
Waterstones Children’s Laureate Joseph Coelho opened the library with a launch event in which he read from his book Luna Loves Library Day to an invited audience of school children and teachers. He said: “Growing up I found a lot of joy at my local library. I met friends there and studied for my GCSEs and A Levels. I even got my first job there. It really was a hub for the local community.
“My mum took me and my sister there because it was walking distance from our home, and it was free. Libraries are unique because you can go there and sit and read and learn and discover and no one even asks you to buy a cup of coffee. They act as umbrellas for so many services and experiences beyond books.”
Liz O’Neill, CEO and artistic director at Z-arts, said: “Manchester is a UNESCO city of literature but has never before had a dedicated library for children - so here we are! Over 800 libraries have closed since the beginning of austerity in 2010, so a new one opening is a great cause for celebration.
“And this is no ordinary library. Bright and colourful, with a cheery, informal atmosphere, it has been designed by children and filled with brand new books that represent the diversity of our local communities.
“We know it will be a well-loved and well used resource for our most local families in Hulme, but also that the library has a reach beyond the surrounding streets.”
Coun John Hacking, Manchester City Council executive member for skills, employment and leisure, said: “This new space is a wonderful and joyous addition to our library family in the city. It brings the joy of books to children, young people, and activities for families and pre-school children, and it not only reflects the diversity of the communities using it but the interior is a reflection of how the children wanted it to look. I am certain that this is going to be very popular with the local community.”