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Manchester Festival of Libraries 2024 – full events programme now live

Greater Manchester’s 133 libraries are joining forces to put on a colourful, fun and creative festival that celebrates the magic of libraries and reminds us that they are places to cherish. Taking place from Wednesday 12 to Sunday 16 June, the programme for Festival of Libraries expresses the joy, escapism and sense of community represented by libraries and why they play a central role in Greater Manchester’s cultural life. The festival is organised by Manchester City of Literature and connects the city and its communities to other UNESCO Cities of Literature around the world.

Landing with an epic endorsement of the brilliance of libraries, the festival will open on Wednesday 12 June with the first live performance of a new song written by band LYR (Simon Armitage, Richard Walters and Patrick Pearson) (released Friday 7 June). Commissioned by Festival of Libraries, The Enlightenment is a beautiful tribute to the transformational powers that lie within the walls of libraries; inviting adventure, helping to make discoveries and introducing exciting new experiences. It is also a very personal piece that draws on Simon’s own reflections of time spent in Manchester Central Library as a student. LYR are joined in this project by Manchester singer-songwriter Josephine Oniyama. Tickets are £12/£4 unwaged and bookable here.

Inspiration, in all sorts of forms, features throughout the festival and is the hot topic in the Inspired by Libraries series of events. These ‘in conversation’ events highlight the important role that libraries have played in the lives of those who contribute their creative talents to our popular culture. Sharing their stories are Children’s Laureate Joseph Coehlo at Urmston Library (Thursday 13 June), actor Christopher Eccleston at Stockport Central Library (Thursday 13 June) actor Maxine Peake (Wednesday 12 June) at the newly renovated Bolton Central Library and musician and spoken word artist Antony Szmierek at Manchester Poetry Library (Thursday 13 June). All these events are free with donations welcomed and can be booked here.

It’s ten years since Manchester Central Library went through a major regeneration and this milestone will be marked with a series of events during the Festival of Libraries. The Embassy of Utopia is the most ambitious of these, with 120 performances taking place over two days (Friday 14 and Saturday 15 June). It sees a collaboration between artists from Manchester and Tartu UNESCO Cities of Literature; David Hartley and Henri Hütt. Visiting the ‘embassy’ that is being created in the library are individuals and community groups who will share their thoughts for the future through short stories, music, fashion shows, ecopoetry and books used in unusual ways! This is a drop in event running from 10am to 4pm each day, with tickets bookable in advance here.

The incredible variety of Family Friendly events will fuel the imagination, not least the Edible Readathon, which is taking place at Manchester Central Library (Sunday 16 June). Food has long played a central role in children’s literature; think of all those tales, from the apple that Snow White should not have bitten to the potion that sent Alice on her trip to Wonderland. These ideas will be inventively delved into through storytelling and drawing. This is a free session with tickets bookable here.

Taking place at Stockport Central Library on Thursday 13 June, Rochdale Library and Langley Library on Friday 15 June the story of Queenie and the Pooka is a theatre show full of live music and dance for families to enjoy. In it they will meet Queenie and her mischievous faerie friend Pooka through music and dance. Queenie is a Traveller girl with a wild imagination and dreams that reach for the stars and the event is programmed as part of Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month. Each event is ticketed separately and free to attend with more details here.

There are some noteworthy celebrations within the festival, including in Oldham, where the 175th anniversary of the borough is being marked in 2024. Its own story will be told through an exhibition of 175 items selected by the community. The list promises to both thrill and bemuse, including references to Olympic glory, a pet wasp and some of the more unusual objects from Oldham’s art and natural history collection. One Seven Five: An incomplete history of Oldham in 175 objects takes place at Oldham Gallery opening on Friday 15 June and running until January 2025.

Every dynamic of libraries is under the spotlight. There are writing workshops taking place across Greater Manchester including Old Trafford Library (Wednesday 12 June), Ashton Library (Thursday 13 June), Height Library (Thursday 13 June), Rochdale Library (Thursday 13 June), Heywood Library (Friday 14 June) and Ramsbottom Library (Saturday 15 June). There are also lots of creative opportunities to get involved with. At Sale Library on Saturday 15 June artist Wing Yu Yeong will capture your ten minute portrait (for you to take away) in either a naturalistic or Japanese manga style or you can have a go yourself in a design workshop being held by artist Oliver East at Manchester Central Library on Wednesday 13 June. And at The Portico Library, words and art are being combined in Blackout the Jargon on Thursday 14 June in a session that applies the technique of redacting to academic journals to create a literary and visual work of art. All of these activities are free and more details can be found here.

Just when you thought your imagination could stretch no further, taking you to the final frontier is Playscape: How to Build A Galaxy. A truly out of this world experience awaits in this immersive performance that combines dance, motion capture technology and visuals as an exploration of the connection between people unfolds. It will take place at Droylsden Library on Friday 14 June and Urmston Library on Saturday 15 June. Following the performance there is the chance to try on one of the motion capture suits! Both aspects are free and bookable in advance. More details are here.

And finally, at Stockport Central Library when the doors would normally close, on Friday 14 June an After Hours Silent Disco (8pm to 10pm) is planned. Who wouldn’t be up for a rhumba in the romance section, a salsa down the sci-fi isles or a spot of fandango amongst the fiction shelves? All ages are welcome for this free event, with more details here.

Supported by Arts Council England, Festival of Libraries is full of performances, talks, workshops, exhibitions and art installations that reflect Greater Manchester’s huge pride in its libraries and how valued they are to their communities. 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, Instituto Cervantes Library, The Proud Place and Greater Manchester libraries (Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan).