Manchester has become one of my favourite cities in England. I visited Manchester first time in March this year. I have been to the city three times since then. This is also attributable to cricket mania which had engulfed our home for the last one month. The city has managed to capture my attention with its industrial heritage, which was once upon a time known as Cottonopolis and played a pivotal role in the industrial revolution. I would like to explore the city more. I have so far only been able to explore the Science and industry museum and The John Rylands Library.
Manchester has earned the title of UNESCOs city of literature. It is home to four world class libraries Central, Portico, John Rylands and Chetham’s and gave the world the works of Elizabeth Gaskell. I have a predilection for books and libraries, and invariably I have a tendency to gravitate to a library or a bookstore.On all three occasions I have visited Manchester, it happened to be a Sunday, and John Rylands library is the only library open on Sundays. So my choice of library was easily made. Having visited John Rylands Library once, I wanted to revisit on the next occasion. I found John Rylands library a subliminal experience. It tells a tale ; a story of books, a city and a library
I was very fascinated by the library’s founder and I was curious to find out about her motivation for building a library and leaving it to public. The library was founded by Enriqueta Rylands, as a memorial to her husband, John Rylands and a gift to city of Manchester. John Rylands was a successful cotton entrepreneur in Manchester, and Enriqueta wanted to create a befitting monument for her husband, which not only reflected her husband’s contribution to the city, but also a building of splendour, reflecting the time. The couple’s interest in literature, her views on education and self improvement, may have been instrumental in her decision to build a library. She spent considerable sum of money bequeathed by her husband on construction of library and acquiring the books, and she left more sum in her will to the library. Over the years, with inflation, and dependence on investments from a declining cotton trade, made the running and maintenance of the library difficult. In early 1970s, the John Rylands library became officially part of University of Manchester. It became an academic library from an independent library. This enables it to function in its true sense, be part of an academy, and keep its door open to public, to let them bask in it glorious splendour and seek the knowledge in its quiet purpose built alcoves.
John Rylands library is considered as one of the finest libraries in the world, with its Neo Gothic architecture, art nouveau lighting and decorations. The other fascinating detail about the building which renders the architecture a poetic quality is the beautiful fusion of four different elements, stone, wood, plaster and brass. The sandstone from Cumbria, with its vivid colours grey to rose pink shade, oak wood from Gdańsk, Poland, beautiful ornate mouldings of plaster and the lightings in brass, give the library a very romantic appeal to it. The building is a visual feast, with many architectural features added to create a spectacular experience for the visitor, like the ornate facade, carved ceilings, and the main staircase leading on to the historic reading room.
The library has an outstanding collection of books, manuscripts, maps, prints, photographs and visual materials. It’s known to house the First folio of Shakespeare, Gutenberg Bible and multi faith collections. Amongst the collection one which caught my eye was a Hindu scripture written on silk in Sanskrit called Bhagavata Purana, detailing about Hindu God, Lord Vishnu. The libraries archives also consist stories about life of ordinary people, giving us a view in to the day to day lives and their way of life. The archives range from Egyptian papyrus of ancient days to e mails from today detailing the lives of ordinary people. It also has details on the history of Manchester , it’s industrial past and it’s part in the Industrial revolution.
My favourite part of the library was the Historic reading room. It has a church like feel to it with its high vaulted ceiling, statues of prominent figures from various fields history, literature, religion, science and printing, on the edge of the gallery running around the reading room. The two statue facing each other are linked to each other by a common theme. There are purpose build alcoves in the reading hall, which were designed for private or quiet reading corners. These alcoves are dotted all around the reading room, running all the around reading hall. The tall glass windows are set in the room to let the light in, but set high enough to block the outside view and the glass used are bottle glasses in order to avoid visual stimulation from outside. The reading room is updated with modern lighting, lamps and sockets, and is in use even today. On my second visit I spent half a day reading here in this tranquil corner, reading and day dreaming. It was a perfect spot for to sit and bury your nose in to a book, be transported to another place/world/era.
Historic Reading Room
“When I open them, most of the books have the smell of an earlier time leaking out between the pages – a special odor of the knowledge and emotions that for ages have been calmly resting between the covers. Breathing it in, I glance through a few pages before returning each book to its shelf.”
― Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore
When I was growing up in India, we moved around a few times to different cities . Whenever we moved to a new city to live, one of the first things my parents would do was to subscribe to newspaper and children’s comic books from the local news paper agents and get us access to a lending library, wherever possible. I have always grown up in the comforting presence of books and libraries. When I open an old book, the smell from the yellowing pages are an reassurance to me that all will be well in the world. And libraries to me are not just books and ideas, but a haven of peace and quiet, a place to collect my thoughts, to dust away the cobwebs in my mind. Libraries and bookstores to me are like a beacon of hope and light, like a lighthouse shining its light, guiding the ships and boats back to the shore, away from choppy seas.