Manchester celebrates cultural diversity with the opening of its first dedicated children's library

Located at Z-Arts, the team pledge to put a library card into the hands of every child in Hulme.

By Manchester's Finest | 31 January 2023

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Image: Z-Arts

The city’s first library dedicated solely to children’s literature has opened inside Z-Arts, the arts and theatre centre on Stretford Road in Hulme. 

The 362 sq ft space may be one of Manchester’s smallest venues dedicated to reading, but it’s arguably the most diverse as the collection features over 1,000 hand-picked publications, many of which are not available to borrow anywhere else in the city. 

The library’s mission is not only to provide a warm and welcoming space for families to enjoy a quiet moment, but also to reflect the diverse nature of Manchester’s local communities in which over 150 languages are spoken. It’s expected to be a valuable resource for children and families in the area, providing access to books and educational material that may not be accessible elsewhere.

The new library houses a collection of over 1,000 hand-picked publications. Image: Z-Arts

Joining children’s literature classics, that include Chronicles of Narnia and Paddington, are titles by black and ethnic minority writers including 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.

The books explore important themes from across history, offering young people from different backgrounds the chance to discover their own present day role models. Books are also available as bilingual editions, with the aim of supporting children to learn English alongside their native tongue. 

Working alongside theatre set designer Louise Ryder, local children helped design the library through their own personal doodles. Louise worked to incorporate their drawings into the library’s final design and colour scheme. A cut out of the word FUN is incorporated into a section of bookshelves, rainbows and ‘disco cloud lights’ adorn the walls, there’s a bright green floor, slouchy beanbags, floor cushions, and a mustard-coloured armchair. 

Image: Z-Arts

Z-Arts has taken a child-friendly approach to the organisation of its books too – instead of the dewey decimal system they’re classified through themes such as dinosaurs, mythical creatures, pirates, history, saving our planet, bugs and space. Graphic novels and comics get their own dedicated section, as do LGBTQ+ empowering books.

Tom Fletcher, bestselling author and star of McFly, who recently filmed in the new library 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.”

Image: Z-Arts

Liz O’Neill, CEO and artistic director of Z-arts added: “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.”

Image: Z-Arts

The Z-arts children’s library is open Tuesday to Friday 10am – 6pm and Saturday 10am – 4.30pm. A programme of free activities for pre-schoolers (which must be booked) runs every Tuesday and Wednesday morning, term-time only.

The library is free to join and can be used by anyone who lives in the UK and has a Manchester library card.