Libraries across Manchester enjoyed a return to pre-Covid prosperity in 2021 as annual visitor numbers bounced back.
On 6 September, the city’s libraries re-opened fully for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since, they have hosted numerous events such as Manchester Literature Festival, Black History Month, and Online Week.
Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar, executive member for Neighbourhoods, said: “Libraries are at the heart of our communities and offer an essential and much-valued service to people across the city.
“It is wonderful to see the hustle and bustle back in all our library buildings.”
An FOI request to Manchester City Council showed that, despite a drop in the annual number of visitors when the pandemic hit in 2020, rates have started to rise again in 2021.
Before COVID, the city’s libraries were boasting a rise in visitors each year, reaching 3,366,070 in 2019.
Despite the pandemic and being forced to close completely from March until July, 2020 still saw 124,999 visitors enter the doors of libraries across the city.
Now that the libraries have been able to return to their full opening hours, 2021 has seen that figure increase to 660,000 visitors.
Central Library, which is the most-used public library in the country, is open from 9am to 8pm Monday to Thursday and until 5pm on Fridays and Saturdays.
Previously, during covid restrictions, the libraries were only open from 10am to 3pm.
In many ways, the pandemic highlighted the important role of libraries in the community.
Councillor Akbar added: “We know that libraries help to combat loneliness.
“They are not just information hubs, but real centres of activity providing people with opportunities to meet others and engage in a wide range of social activities as well as providing the wide-ranging usual library services.”
Philip Cooke, the citywide services manager for libraries, galleries, and culture at Manchester City Council said that, during lockdown, the libraries rang up regular customers so that they’d have someone to talk to.
He added that, when open, they act as social venues to prevent loneliness.
A recent survey at Central Library found that 87% of customers felt that their visit to the library made them happier.
Another by the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy showed eight out of ten people who experienced loneliness felt that libraries helped to combat those feelings.
Cooke said that the closure of Manchester’s libraries during the first lockdown, beginning in March 2020, also highlighted their importance in providing computers for the public.
This meant that the libraries were classed as an ‘essential service’ and could remain open for the second and third lockdowns, helping to boost visitor numbers once more.
When asked why they were using the computers at Central Library in an exit survey in 2020, visitors gave a range of answers:
The results showed that the services were helping people to stay connected and access the information they needed, especially for those otherwise unable to get online.
The libraries rounded off the year with a host of festive events, including mince pie drop-ins and Christmas crafts.
To keep up to date with upcoming events at Manchester’s libraries, you can check out their Facebook page.
Featured image credit: Flickr (Creative Commons Licence)