Manchester’s Portico Library is a glorious hidden gem, packed to the rafters with historic books on art, history, natural history, travel, biography and literature. Yesterday, the very friendly staff invited Marzuqa and I on a tour, to understand more about their work and collections. We entered via a discrete entrance off the busy thoroughfare of Mosley Street and ascended the narrow staircase. At the top, a wonderfully atmospheric and welcoming space awaited, shelves groaning with intriguing publications under the headings ‘Polite’ and ‘Impolite’ Literature, light streaming through a domed glass ceiling.
Assistant Librarian, Thom Keep explained the organisation’s development – from it’s origins as a private members’ library and newsroom to it’s current work as a research facility, café, exhibition space and events venue. Project work is also a major focus. Current BME-focused projects include one looking at historic attitudes to slavery with Natalie Zacek from The University of Manchester and another exploring the ‘living heritage narratives’ of refugees with artist Alice Kettle and the Digital Women’s Archive North.
There is so much material here to inspire further projects. Volumes in the ‘Voyages and Travel’ section include numerous accounts of colonial settlers and explorers, inviting contemporary analysis and comparison. The card index is predictably idiosyncratic and also presents interesting possibilities for polemical debate. Do visit if you can.
Marzuqa: “I had the opportunity to visit The Portico Library on Wednesday 31st May along with Jennie. The visit was very exciting indeed as I have never been before. My initial thought when I walked in was how aesthetically pleasing and artistic the setting is. We were given our very own little tour of the library by a librarian named Thom. I learnt that the library has a lot of interesting history to it, where it was a newsroom as well as a library in 1806. Their collection stores books dating back to the 19th century. Personally, what particularly caught my interest was the ‘Voyages and Travels’ section. I would love to visit the library again and maybe, have the chance to read a book or two!”