Manchester Festival Of Libraries

133 Libraries across GM stage what might be June's best festival
April 26, 2023

Greater Manchester’s 133 libraries – big and small, historic and modern – are about to showcase their creativity, bring people together and celebrate what makes them such special places. Festival of Libraries (Wednesday 7 to Sunday 11 June), supported by Arts Council England, is a festival full of exhibitions, performances, talks, workshops and art installations that all reflect Greater Manchester’s huge pride in its libraries and how valued they are to their communities. The events are scheduled to take place in the whole of Greater Manchester and every one of them is free.

The sharing of stories, experiences and ideas begins with a series of Inspired By Libraries talks featuring incredible writers, poets, artists and observers who all have in common a passion for libraries. Dave Scott and Andy Spinoza will be sharing their love of Manchester and how as a city it has boldly changed and challenged. On Sunday 11 June at Bolton Central Library (6pm to 7pm) Dave Scott will be taking you to Manchester as it stood on the brink of the millennium, a period that he has illuminated in his new book Mancunians (published this week by Manchester University Press) by speaking to well-known Mancunians such as Guy Garvey, Sylvia Tella, Badly Drawn Boy and Stan ChowAndy Spinoza’s talk will be at Altrincham Library on Sunday 11 June (6pm to 7pm) in which he will recall how, as City Life founder and editor, he had a front seat from which to observe Manchester as it transformed from a place facing catastrophic industrial decline in the 1970s to be becoming the ‘original modern city’ and those that he saw contributing to this cultural shift. 

Andy Spinoza

There are more stories of Manchester and music on the main festival programme to transport you back in time or discover anew when you join author, historian and tour guide Ed Glinert for his talk, Manchester: Tales of Rock & Roll excess at Altrincham Library on Thursday 8 June (7pm to 8pm). Mark E. Smith, Bernard Sumner, the Happy Mondays and Gallagher brothers are just some of those that you’ll meet through his talk.

Taking us to Manchester in the 1970s on Saturday 10 June Linda Brogan will be at Manchester Central Library (6pm to 7pm) sharing her experiences of a project that began as the pursuit of a memory and ended up with the excavation of the city’s famous Reno Club, an exhibition at The Whitworth and a recently published book, 12 Words. Then on Wednesday 7 June (6pm to 7pm) Cheddar Gorgeous of Ru Paul’s Drag Race fame, will be asking us to take a step forward and imagine our future. In a conversation with author Paul Burston at Chetham’s Library they will be using the sci-fi, classics, fantasy and poetry that libraries hold to inspire us all to dream a little bigger.

Cheddar Gorgeous (Image: Irene Lea)

Poet laureate Simon Armitage’s appearance at Eccles Library on Friday 9 June, where he will give a talk from 7pm to 8pm, takes on additional significance because it is also part of his ten year tour of libraries, which began in 2021 and uses the alphabet as its guide. This is a tour dedicated to a love and respect for libraries, which have always been a part of his life, and in recognition of how precious they are. Simon will also be leading a masterclass on Friday 9 June (4pm to 5pm) at Manchester Central Library enabling people to spend time exploring creative writing with Simon and time for discussion and questions.

With so many wordsmiths contributing to the festival it’s appropriate that words themselves come under the spotlight, and this is done in a number of different and creative ways. They become part of the art in a mass observation project called Underscore, which will see words gathered digitally and from live audiences merged with text written from observations of Manchester’s St Peter’s Square. The text will be curated in such a way as to present every day activities alongside global news breaking events and will come to life for audiences on Friday 9 June at Manchester Central Library. Underscore is brought to the festival by creators of theatre and performance Quarantine and the lead artists are Lowri Evans and Lisa Mattocks. The project will also be part of a round-table discussion on poetry and text in a live performance at Manchester Poetry Library on Wednesday 7 June (1pm to 3pm).

At Chetham’s Library you are invited to have fun with words: what they mean, the ways we describe everyday words, how they translate into different languages and why we use seemingly nonsensical phrases like spill the beans or see the lightWhat’s in a Word takes place on Friday 9 June (11am to 12noon) and is aimed at all ages.

And at Stockport Library the Human Library will be opening on Saturday 10 June from 12noon to 3pm. This is the chance to be curious, to fearlessly ask the difficult questions and to see beyond stereotypes, labels and boxes. Have a conversation and look up words with a Human Book and see where the conversation takes you!

A series of exhibitions featured in the festival will invite you in to explore stories in different forms, artwork and the process of creating new literature. Make Mine Manga celebrates the popular manga comic artform and is the work of Lakes International Comic Art Festival (LICAF) in partnership with leading UK manga expert Paul Gravett. It will take you into the world of manga: its history, how it works, how to read it, current trends and bestsellers and will be appearing at Bolton Central Library throughout the festival (6 June to 30 June).

The writing and artwork that will begin the process of creating a Rainbow Library, a project to address the near visibility of – and demand for – LGBTQ+ inclusive children’s stories, will be exhibited. Rainbow Library is taking place in communities across the UK and Ireland. In Manchester a group of young adults organised by Manchester City of Literature has begun to write their own stories following creative workshops, and the results will be shared during Festival of Libraries.

Two important anniversaries are reflected in NHS Untold Stories, an exhibition that will share some of the recollections collected from a project called Windrush Stories and those collected as part of a writing residency in Trafford Hospital to gather NHS stories. The exhibition at Manchester Poetry Library will mark the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the passengers of the HMT Empire Windrush to the UK (22 June 1948) and 75 years since the founding of the National Health Service (5 July 1948). 

There is a whole strand of Family Friendly activities to dive into. Oliver Sykes new book, Fishing for Rainbows, has been adapted into theatre performances that follow the story of a 12 year old Romani-girl called Kezia, who after the loss of her mum is desperate to show her family that she can do anything a boy can. Performances will take place at Rochdale Central Library on Wednesday 7 June, Stockport Central Library on Thursday 8 June, Droylsden Library on Thursday 8 June, Pendleton Library on Friday 9 June and Wigan Library on Friday 9 June.

The Story Stem will be branching out to libraries across Greater Manchester: Oldham Library on Thursday 8 June, Rochdale Library on Friday 9 June, Trafford Library on Sunday 11 June and a library in Bolton, which will be confirmed shortly. This fun and interactive storytelling session takes your imagination on a journey into the natural world with performers Nichola Williamson and Sarah Raine and is for under 5s to enjoy with their families.  

Across the festival there are lots of workshops to enjoy, from poetry to Polaroids and lots in between! At the Working Class Movement Library in Salford poet Oliver James Lomax will host a poetry workshop for young people between the ages of 12 and 16 on Sunday 11 June (12 noon to 4pm). The starting point will be the library’s archive, which holds the legacies of the ordinary men and women who worked to make the world a better place. The pieces that young people will create will look to the current political landscape and explore how language can be used to influence change. Manchester UNESCO City of Literature Multilingual City Poet Anjum Malik will be shining a light on the vibrancy of South Asian communities in her workshop at Manchester Central Library on Wednesday 7 June (5pm to 7pm), which is for participants of all ages and backgrounds. And for something completely different Lydia Hounat will be leading an Emulsion Lift workshop at The Portico Library on Friday 9 June (2pm to 5pm) in which people will be making miniature ‘self-collages’ using the Polaroid emulsion lift process, which will be a beautiful and considered way to explore identity.

Lydia Hounat's Emulsion Lift

Writing for Wellbeing will see a series of workshops facilitated by professional writers from the Centre for New Writing at The University of Manchester for interested readers and writers, and those who are curious about creative writing as part of their own personal wellbeing. Also supporting writers, The Portico Library will be holding a Pathways into Publishing session with the chance to meet northern industry professionals and gain an insight into the variety of avenues into various book industries. This will be a day of discussion, workshops and performances and takes place from 11am to 4pm on Saturday10 June

Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir will be given a warm welcome as International Writer in Residence for Festival of Libraries. The Icelandic writer be based at John Rylands Research Institute and Library from where she will be immersing herself into the city’s rich literary community from which she will create a piece of writing that will be shared at Manchester Literature Festival in October. Internationally acclaimed, her novel Hotel Silence won the Nordic Council Literature Prize, the Icelandic Literary Prize, and was chosen Best Icelandic Novel in 2016 by booksellers in Iceland.

Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir (Image: Art Bietnik)

There is no better way to get to know a library you already love or one that you have never visited before than taking part in a library tour. Get to know the stories behind the keepers of stories and the history of these wonderful buildings. Manchester’s Poetry Library will be opening its doors for a series of tours, the first commencing on Wednesday 7 June and running each day of the festival.

Manchester Festival of Libraries even has some events designed with dog lovers in mind. Author Anthony Johnston will introduce you to The Dog Sitter Detective at Standish Library on Tuesday 6 June (10:30am to 11:30am) by reading extracts and discussing the nation’s love of cosy crime. Hot on its tail, at Leigh Library on Saturday 10 June (10am to 12noon) Read2Dogs will be taking place. This is a scheme to support young people in their confidence in reading out loud, by doing so to a PAT (pets as therapy) dog – a great non-judgemental listener that will help young people to enjoy the reading experience whilst also developing trust.

Festival of Libraries’ partners include: Archives+, Central Library, Chetham’s Library, John Rylands Research Institute and Library, Manchester Poetry Library, NHS Libraries, The Portico Library, Working Class Movement Library, University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, Institute Cervantes Library and Greater Manchester libraries (Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan).

Festival of Libraries takes place from Wednesday 7 June to Sunday 11 June. More information can be found at and the coming weeks there will be further festival announcements including who will headline this year’s Look for a Book. A small number of the events are ticketed, which you can book here. Sign up to receive the e-newsletter, or follow Manchester City of Literature on social media on Twitter @MCRCityofLit, Facebook @MCRCityofLit and Instagram @mcrcityoflit