The Mancunion

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Literary daytrip: John Rylands Library

Elizabeth Linsley heads to Deansgate to explore one of Manchester’s most treasured buildings


Not to be confused with Main Library on Oxford Road, that omen of essay deadlines, poverty inducing fines for late high demand books and passive aggressive queuing for computers which are being used exclusively for Facebook, John Rylands Library on Deansgate is a different affair entirely.

Located next to the sleek and modern Spinningfields, the imposing red brick Gothic building immediately transports you back to a more simple time, far from Snapchat and twerking, where the written word was highly respected. The cathedral-like interior of the library is all huge slabs of carved stone and stained glass windows, perfect for those never got over not receiving their Hogwarts letter.

John Rylands is a working library, although I’m not sure what the average student would do with the gorgeous leather bound volumes. However, there are rooms which can be used for study, and if a room could help you get a first, surely it would be this one, with its vaulted ceilings and hushed, reverent atmosphere.

The library also houses temporary exhibitions. These are small but of a mind-boggling range. The current main exhibition explores the work of 14th century Italian author Giovanni Boccaccio through different times, places and interpretations over the last 700 years. His book The Decameron was once banned for its ‘sexual depravity’, but during the 1930s was feted for its celebration of the erotic.

There is also a collection of British and French Romantic drawings and paintings from the 1700s and 1800s, many of which are reproductions from paintings currently hanging in the Louvre. The illustrations are divideed into themes such as ‘Sinister Figures Peeping In’ (decidedly creepy) and ‘Damsels in Distress’ and represent ‘a collaboration of painting and poetry’.

These exhibitions are joined by some wonderfully creepy curiosities known as ‘Morbid Miscellany’, which includes an actual pair of human eyes and a display about Polari, a gay slang language.

All in all the John Rylands Library is wonderful literary place to visit in the heart of the city, if not for the often changing and varied collections then for the fabulous building itself.

John Rylands Library, 150 Deansgate