A new library designed by local children may be one of Greater Manchester’s tiniest, but it is also its most diverse. Located in Hulme, Z-arts is the region’s first dedicated children’s library. At 362 sq ft it is a pocket-sized affair, but crammed into the cosy first floor room are over 1,000 hand-selected books, some of which are not available to borrow anywhere else in the city.
The mission of the library, which opened in January 2023, is not only to provide a warm welcome to families, but also to reflect the diversity of Manchester’s local communities. Across the region over 150 languages are spoken and almost half of young people have a home language other than English, according to University of Manchester Multilingual Manchester.
Alongside children’s staples such as Chronicles of Narnia, Hairy McClary and Paddington the library’s handmade built-in shelves also feature a large number of titles by Black and minority ethnic 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.
Colourfully illustrated non-fiction texts offer to help young people from diverse backgrounds to make sense of history and discover present day role models including Lands of Belonging: A History of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Britain by Donna and Vikesh Amey Bhat and Black Girls Unbossed by Khristi Lauren Adams, which celebrates the lives of powerful girls of colour who are changing the world right now.
Books are also available in bilingual editions, which help children to learn English alongside their home language, as well as a number of Braille and large print versions. The team at Z-arts has pledged to work alongside schools and community groups to ensure every child in Hulme has a library card.
Leaving aside the traditional Dewey Decimal system, which organises books by numbers, the new Z-arts children’s library has taken a more child-friendly approach. Categories, chosen by the children, across the primary-coloured bookshelves include dinosaurs, mythical creatures, pirates, history, saving our planet, bugs, space and being an artist. Graphic novels and comics get their own dedicated section, as do LGBTQ+ empowering books.
Local children were invited to put forward their ideas for how the library should look and then theatre set designer Louise Ryder made their sketches a reality. With the air of a child’s fantasy bedroom, the library features a bright green floor, slouchy beanbags, floor cushions and a cosy mustard-coloured armchair. Rainbows and ‘disco cloud lights‘ cover the walls and the word FUN is cut out of a section of bookshelves.
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), including Mini Move and Groove and Rhyme Time.
Liz O’Neill, CEO/ artistic director of Z-arts, which is on Stretford Road in Hulme, said: “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.”
The library is free to join and can be used by anyone who lives in the UK and has a Manchester library card. To get a free library card, which can be used at all libraries in the city, head here or chat to the Box Office team on reception at Z-arts or any other city library.