Manchester Central Library; What’s Going On?

There is a good deal of unease – both within the library service and without – about the massive pulping of stock currently going on at Manchester Central Library. The Head of Libraries, Neil McInnes, has tried to address these concerns in his recent post but there are a number of points he needs to address before these concerns can be laid to rest.

1 – Why have they misled the public about the number of “books” being replaced?  (Please see the link at the end of this blog for more details.) Is it true that the the huge figure  – representing up to 70% of total stock, was decided upon on the heels of a massive miscalculation as to the amount of shelving necessary?

We understand very well that publishers, bookshops and libraries all need to keep track of their stock. For an organization the size of Manchester Central Library, 30k seems like a reasonable figure. 300k, on the the hand, is absolutely massive. We need to be reassured that this is part of a plan; we need to know what the plan is, how it was arrived at and why it is being carried out.

If it is the case that this is simply the result of someone trying to cover their tracks after making a mistake, that person needs to be taken to task.

2 – Why are there no subject specialists being involved?

Manchester Central Library is a treasure house of social and historical books, famous for the depth and range of its stock covering the period from the 19C to the present day – a period of enormous significance both for the North, for the country, and indeed for Europe and the world. It is of international significance. The only people qualified to assess the value of these books are subject specialists. Ordinary librarians, however experienced, simply do not have the skills to assess it properly.

What are the criteria for selection of books to be pulped? Why are such a huge number of books being pulped without proper assessment?

3 – Does this amount to a change of use for the Central library; in which case, why has there been no public consultation? And why are the destroyed books not being recorded?

In his piece on Twitter, Mr McInnes talks about how the stacks under the library that used to house the stock were rarely accessed and were generally available only to library staff. He speaks of how he wants to avoid the Library being “a Mausoleum.” and to make it a modern public space that everyone can enjoy. Of course we applaud the aim of making the library a modern resource for the general public. But does he really think of History as being simply a storehouse of dead books? History is not a mausoleum. It resounds and rings in us all; it has shaped our present and informs our future. Without documentation, we are all less than we could be.

Is it the case than an executive decision has been made, behind closed doors, to destroy these unique record of Mancunian history? At what point was this decision made? Who made it and why have we not been informed about it?

It is not believable that so many books are being pulped without an overall plan.

We have just finished celebrating the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and I’m certain that I am not alone in enjoying looking back to the past, seeing how much has changed, and in what ways. This, surely, is how the past should be honored. We have all seen a great deal of film footage on TV, illustrating the decades of the Queen’s reign. How dreadful it would be, and what a public outcry there would be, if this footage had been destroyed. According to Mr McInn’s criteria, it certainly would have been, since it is not generally available to the public and is very rarely accessed. Indeed, some of it may never have been accessed since it was first shot. And yet it has been preserved and presented and has given all of us a sense of who we are and where we come from. Surely it is important that the same kind of care is taken of the history of ordinary people as well as that of monarchs.

A modern library can have many roles; one of them must be as a treasure chest of the past – a place where we keep our history safe for future generation. If it fails in this duty of care, it will be failing as a library and making a dreadful mistake which cannot ever be righted. That is not modernism; it is ignorance. It is not creating resources, it is destroying them.

I urge the Central library to look into this matter. Let informed specialists go over these books and decide what needs to be kept, and what can be safely pulped. Let’s not dismiss the past so easily. Both ourselves and future generation may need it if we are to move into an informed future.

… If you’re interested in getting Manchester City Council to reveal more about what is going on at Central Library, you can read the letter circulated by concerned workers, adn find out how you can help here.

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3 Responses to Manchester Central Library; What’s Going On?

  1. Cary Watson says:

    I work for the Toronto library system and we’ve recently gone through a variety of budget cuts. 500k books represents a lot of real estate, so the goal here might be to close a branch(es) and sell off buildings and land. The usual excuse for this sort of thing is that everything’s available on the web, so why pay for staff and facilities? A lot of the smaller American library systems have been shut down entirely. Bean counters seem to have a hate on for libraries; they apparently think it represents an old technology that’s only of interest to kooks and retirees. On another topic, I just tweeted you a link to my review of Bloodtide. I’ll leave a link here as well.

  2. Sorry to hear that “the bean counters” are at work where you are too, Cary. Trouble is, once the damage is done it can;’t be undone. As you say, this volume of books represents a vast section of stock. What are they doing and why are they doing it? This is more than just duplication.

  3. Rob says:

    I’m worried about this – I’ve been waiting for the library to reopen so I can go looking for information on the old GPO Prestel service – I’m looking for directories, documentation, ephemera etc, relating to a public utility operated national online service that only existed 1979-1995. I fear that anything they do have will be discarded as it would appear to be too old and obsolete to be “worth keeping”, and too new to be obviously valuable. It appears that all the information published there electronically has already been lost to the digital dark age; my hope is to at least preserve the real-world side of things.

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