Canal Street Online Manchester

Festival of Libraries 2021

Festival of Libraries 2021




Artists, writers and performers taking part include: Michael Rosen, Gary Younge, Shirley May, Mike Garry, Andrew McMillan, Rosie Garland, James Holt, Anjum Malik, Hafsah Aneela Bashir and Stephen Holland, UK Comics Laureate

Wednesday 9th June - Sunday 13th June, 2021

Manchester UNESCO City of Literature’s inaugural Festival of Libraries will honour Greater Manchester’s internationally renowned network of 133 libraries with a completely free county-wide programme of ­more than 80 creative and engaging events, taking in music, dance, poetry, outdoor trails and activism, as well as stories, reading and writing.

The brand-new hybrid festival, which is supported by Arts Council England, via the National Lottery funded Project Grants programme, will celebrate the library network’s contributions to wellbeing, culture and creativity, digital and information and, of course, reading, via a huge range of live and in person events.

From workshops to tours, performances and even picnics, the Festival of Libraries will welcome one and all, from regular library-goers, to those visiting for the first time, opening hearts and minds to the infinite possibilities Manchester’s library network can offer, in every Greater Manchester borough.

The festival’s Inspired By Libraries strand, invites visitors to celebrate with people who love libraries including national treasure Michael Rosen, famous Guardian Journalist Gary Younge, and local heroes Mike Garry and Shirley May as they discuss the special effect libraries have had on their lives in intimate talks on the stages of Manchester’s world-class libraries.

Mike Garry “The true symbol of a great democracy is a free public library service. It’s a hushed way of saying “we believe in you and we will invest in you so you can fully reach your potential”

If it wasn’t for the discovery of my local library in Fallowfield, Manchester, I’d be either dead or in prison.”

Shirley May “I was that Library kid who used to go to Withington library to story time. I started attending when I was about eight and I never really left. I ended up working for Libraries and the homework centre. Young Identity Poets started there. I could recognise good writers with real imagination. The Libraries have always meant a lot to me. I believe it to be the heartbeat of communities.”

Art and Creativity

There are 50 artists taking part in the Festival of Libraries, delivering fifteen new commissions and a wide range of creative workshops, performances and interventions that truly bring libraries to life. A performance highlight is ‘Getting from A to B’ by Hawk Dance Theatre, an immersive and entertaining adventure around library spaces taking place in five libraries across Manchester. Award-winning poet Andrew McMillan will share what books inspire him in a special online event as part of the opening day of the Festival.

Artists with residencies at the festival include writer Michelle Collier, scriptwriter, poet and performer Anjum Malik and Ella Otomewo, a poet who found her voice in the spoken word community but now writes for both the page and the stage. They are joined by Bolton singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, James Holt and illustrator Meha Hindocha.

Ella Otomewo "I believe that libraries play a vital role in whatever community they are based in. Free public buildings to learn, escape, attend a workshop, write, watch a performance, meet, play music, and, of course, read; what could be better?"


Whilst the Festival of Libraries will celebrate wellbeing in all of its events, it will also have a dedicated strand. This includes a poetry course exploring health and social care from Manchester Poetry Library and Kirsten Jack, Professor of Nursing Education at Manchester Metropolitan University, a writing for wellbeing workshop, facilitated by professional writers from the Centre for New Writing at The University of Manchester, and a writing course for adults on the art of empathy from Rochdale Library.

In addition the Poetry Health Service with Hafsah Aneela Bashir will have a residency at Manchester Poetry Library throughout the festival.


The Festival of Libraries will also hear from activists and experts on some of the issues the UK is facing today, and show how libraries are a cornerstone for connecting communities through libraries.

This strand includes a creative writing workshop introducing decolonised contemporary library collections from the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah Race Centre, and readings and performances from poets featured in the poetry anthology Black Lives Matter: Poems for a New World (CivicLeicester, 2020), alongside creative responses from four Manchester poets, offering a powerful and dynamic, poetic dialogue.

Meanwhile, John Rylands Library and Research Institute will offer an insight into its archive of the Guardian newspaper, which includes documents relating to the founding of the paper and the aftermath of the Peterloo Massacre.

Family Friendly

The Festival of Libraries has many events for all the family, plus a dedicated family strand with events both online and in person. Self-guided family walking tours and quizzes will be available plus Greater Manchester wide itineraries and suggested trails, so you can get a breath of fresh air and discover the next adventure outside the library as well as inside. In addition the Manchester Central Library Family Funday offers a mixture of theatre performance, family friendly craft activities and so much more.

Award-winning novelist Rosie Garland will take visitors of all ages on a video tour of Manchester’s historic libraries.

Rosie Garland “I was raised by libraries. I learned how they are exciting, magical, transformative and dangerous. I explored new worlds, learned new things. And here’s the dangerous part: I thought new thoughts. I read my way out of loneliness and into the world. It was the beginning of a love affair that’s still going strong.”

The Festival of Libraries programme will take place in internationally renowned institutions from Manchester’s rich tapestry of heritage libraries, including Central Library, with its impressive status as the busiest public library in the country, in addition to Chetham’s, The Portico, and John Ryland’s. Also featured will be Greater Manchester’s equally important vital local libraries that deliver much needed support and services to their communities.

Sue Williamson, Director Libraries, Arts Council England said: “Arts Council England is delighted to support this five-day festival in Manchester through our National Lottery Project Grant programme. The festival celebrates the brilliant range of libraries in the city, from beautiful historic libraries such as Chetham’s, the wonderful new poetry library, the vibrant, thriving public library network that covers Greater Manchester, all the way through to libraries in health and education.

“Public Libraries are places of discovery and experimentation in the community, where people become readers, find information and are emboldened to try new cultural experiences. They reach audiences from all backgrounds and ages, provide a vital resource for the development of creativity and the promotion of culture and are a key part of our new 10 year strategy, Let’s Create.”

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

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