Two GPL Librarians in England, Post #1: Fantastic Manchester Libraries: John Rylands, Deansgate, and Chetham’s Library

Chained books, Chetham’s Library, Manchester, UK

Frank Barefoot and I are now on holiday in the UK visiting former Greensboro Public Library colleague Heidi Schachtschneider-Williams and her husband Gareth, and yesterday we were lucky enough to see two very fine libraries in Manchester:  the John Rylands Library, Deansgate, which houses one of the UK’s finest manuscript and rare books collections, and Chetham’s Library, which has the distinction of being the oldest public library in the English-speaking world.

The Chetham’s Library is particularly ancient-looking.  Dark and even a little foreboding, its shelves are filled with thousands of old leather and vellum tomes.  A reading room display even included a bookcase in which books were chained down so as to discourage theft, a practice which was apparently common from the Middle Ages until the 1700s.  Crude but effective, I would say!     

The John Rylands special collections are housed in a magnificent example of gothic Victorian architecture built about 1900.  The collections include important incunables (or examples from the first century of printing, 1455-1500) such as the Gutenberg Bible and the work of William Caxton, England’s first printer. 

In the Rylands exhibit area, I was lucky enough to see the second edition of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, printed by Caxton in 1483.  There we also saw a tiny piece of Greek papyri from the 2nd century which is believed to be the earliest surviving fragment from the New Testament.

Also, believe it or not, there was a book on exhibit in the John Rylands reading room which had been bound by a designer bookbinder from Greensboro!  This was a copy of Andrew Marvell’s The Garden and Other Poems; the exhibit included work by bookbinders from around the world.    

Frank and I are having a great time.  More posts from our journey will follow, including some pictures from Manchester’s Guy Fawkes or Bonfire Night,  a huge event at the city’s Heaton Park which was held on Friday, November 5th, and attended by thousands.    

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