Our first 50 Years · 1946 – 1996

The Manchester Library School: a brief history


The Manchester Library School · 1946 – 1996

Manchester College of Science and Technology · 1946 – 1952

Manchester Central Library · 1952 – 1955

 Manchester College of Science and Technology · 1955 – 1961

 Manchester College of Commerce · 1961 – 1970

 Manchester Polytechnic · 1970 – 1992

 Manchester Metropolitan University · 1992 – 

The Story

The impetus for modern full-time librarianship education came from the report “The public library system of Great Britain” of Lionel McColvin, published in 1942. The report recommended setting up library schools to provide short intensive full-time courses, to meet the needs of ex-servicemen initially, but to continue after this need was met.

The Library Association would remain as the examining body, but teaching would be given in universities. This scheme did not materialise, and the Library Association had to see schools set up in colleges of further education.

In the 40s library education was largely left to the students. Correspondence courses were offered by the Library Association. In Manchester, part-time courses were run during winter months at the College of Technology. These were on classification, cataloguing and library administration.

In 1944, Dr Herbert Schofield, Principal of Loughborough College, wrote to principals of other FE colleges about the possibility of setting up library schools. There was a conference at Chaucer House in October 1944. In Manchester, the City Librarian Charles Nowell became involved.

In 1945, a scheme for full-time library education in Manchester was approved by the City Council.

The school opened on 3rd October 1946, as part of the Department of Industrial Administration at the Manchester College of Science and Technology. J.Clement Harrison was appointed as senior lecturer-in-charge, with Mrs E.C.Gwyn as assistant lecturer.

Other schools opened at the same time in Glasgow, Loughborough, Leeds and the City of London College. Schools offered part-time as well as full-time tuition.

The Library Association introduced a new syllabus to coincide with the opening of the new schools:

The syllabus was revised in 1950, though not drastically.

In 1950 the LA formed a committee to review textbooks in librarianship and to make recommendations for publications. Library school staff were represented on this committee. 

Schools of Librarianship Committee

Schools taught with no control over or knowledge of what students would be faced with in the examinations. Clem Harrison had some years before proposed that schools should be represented on the LA Education Committee. In 1947 library school heads began an informal forum which led to the formation of the Schools of Librarianship Committee, first meeting under this name in 1952. It later became known as the Association of British Library Schools.

Schools taught with no control over or knowledge of what students would be faced with in the examinations.

This body was very influential in shaping the direction of full-time professional education for librarians.

Moderating committees of the LA reviewed individual parts of the examinations, seeking to promote an understanding of the problems of tutors and examiners.

Change had to wait until the introduction of the 1964 syllabus.

Meanwhile, the school moved premises. From 1952 – 55 it was accommodated in two rooms on the third floor of the Central Library, as the ‘Tech.’ building had become overcrowded. An extension to the Tech. was built. While it was being built, part-time classes were still held in the Tech., and lecturers had to compete with the din of building operations. In 1955 the school was able to move back into to College building, reunited with its parent department. This home lasted until 1961.

When the College became the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, non-degree courses had to leave. The library school became part of the Manchester College of Commerce in 1961 and was accommodated in an annex of the college at Withington. In 1963 it was moved to York House, formerly in Princess Street, another annex of the College of Commerce, where it stayed until 1966. 

The 1964 syllabus

The major changes, besides changes in the syllabus, were:

A two-year full-time course would be the normal route. Recruitment would chiefly be from sixth forms. Students still studying part-time under the existing syllabus were offered continuing tuition until they had finished their courses.

At Manchester the two-year course began in January each year, with examinations in December.

Post-graduate education

Until a post-graduate syllabus was prepared (it was ready for teaching from January 1966) graduates followed Part 2 of the 1964 syllabus.

‌At Manchester post-graduate students took a four-term course, of which the first term contained a shortened form of the Part 1 syllabus. The new syllabus was for three terms, though at Manchester the four-term format continued until 1969.

The post-graduate program introduced the idea of assessed course work, a significant innovation.

In 1966 the school moved again, to the College of Commerce’s main building at Aytoun Street. It stayed there until 1973, by which time the College had become part of the new Manchester Polytechnic.

Degree Librarianship

Manchester’s sights were set on bringing in a degree course in librarianship.

The Council for National Academic Awards was founded in 1964, and declared its intention to award degrees in subjects outside the normal fields. Library schools rose to the opportunity.

CNAA set up a Librarianship Board in 1966. CNAA insisted that courses in librarianship should include another academic subject beside the professional content. This board considered Manchester’s first degree course submission and visited the school in March 1967. The proposed scheme was considered too similar to the two-year course and while impressed by the school and the quality and enthusiasm of the staff the Board did not approve the submission.

The school’s approach in fact gave the Board reasons to reconsider its own attitudes to degree librarianship. From being a degree in an academic subject + librarianship a course could be principally in librarianship or information science. The course would include study in depth of one other academic discipline. A course should not be purely vocational, but an educational discipline in its own right, providing an education from which a student could enter a variety of careers.

A course should not be purely vocational, but an educational discipline in its own right, providing an education from which a student could enter a variety of careers.

This last point has always influenced the department’s approach, giving a general librarianship education while making students aware of specialisms and while responding to the developing nature of the profession and practice.

A second submission was made in 1968, and this one was successful. The first course ran from September 1969 to July 1972, with 25 students. All but two came directly from 6th form. The LA agreed that holders of the BA degree would be exempt from their Final Examination.

“Academic” subjects included Sociology, Economics, and “General Studies in Science and Technology”, taught by lecturers from other departments.

Fieldwork was part of the course. This has depended on the co-operation and goodwill of librarians, particularly from the Greater Manchester area, but this has been cheerfully given, and fieldwork has established a strong and useful relationship between the school and the profession.

Meanwhile, the LA courses continued, and for a while attracted a good number of students. The Library Association decided that from 1980 admission to the professional register would only be open to graduates, following a recommendation of the Paulin Report. The 2-year course was discontinued in Manchester in 1979.

Manchester Polytechnic

The Polytechnic was created in 1970, and incorporated the College of Commerce and its courses.

By 1972 the Department of Librarianship was confident enough to want to offer an Honours degree course. At the end of that year documents were submitted to CNAA’s Librarianship Board. Addition of Environmental Studies, Computer Studies and a third-year Dissertation were among the changes made. Information technology has since then been carefully followed and given due weight in the Department’s courses, due largely to the enthusiasm and knowledge of Tony Wood. Tony has also been a significant figure on the national scene.

The first year was – and has continued to be – a “diagnostic” year, with degree classification based on the work done in the integrated second and third years. Assessed course work began to be given a greater emphasis.

The first course began in September 1974. Students could still apply for the unclassified degree, until this route was closed in 1979. Another move in 1973 took the Department to Bracken House, an office building in Charles Street, where classes were frequently interrupted by passing trains. The departure from Aytoun is still remembered for an excellent revue, “Up Aytoun Street”, staged by students and staff.

The second floor rooms were reputed to be haunted, a suggestion strenuously denied by the three staff who had offices up there!

We stayed in Bracken House until 1978, then moved to the Ormond Building at All Saints. This is an interesting Victorian building built in 1881 for the Chorlton Guardians of the Poor. The Department took over the whole building, with its stained glass windows and panelled walls in the council chamber. The second floor rooms were reputed to be haunted, a suggestion strenuously denied by the three staff who had offices up there!

Occupation of the whole building encouraged a family atmosphere, and although when it rained and the roof leaked water ran down the ground floor walls, this was a very happy time for the Department. Staff-student relationships had long been good, but here it gained a special quality which has been maintained ever since.

1983 saw another move, this time to the All Saints Building of the Polytechnic. This brought us into the same building as the main library. We stayed until 1996, the longest residence at any site in the school’s history.

Postgraduate Diploma

Increasing numbers of students were studying librarianship at post-graduate level. Manchester sought to introduce its own syullabus under the auspices of the CNAA, and submitted a proposal in March 1974.

Students were expected to have previous library experience of 12 months, later reduced to 6 months. The course would begin in January, to phase the release of qualified librarians on to the job market. The course would be assessed by course work, not by examinations. The first 17 students began in January 1975.

Staff enhancements

In the seventies opportunities were offered to staff to improve their qualifications. A number were not graduates, though professionally qualified, and several staff took sabbaticals to gain Masters degrees at various universities.

1983. A new submission reflected the recognition of librarianship and information studies as a discipline in its own right. Environmental Studies was dropped, and Sociology replaced by Knowledge, Society and Libraries. Statistics was by now being taught with a librarianship bias by members of the Department’s own staff, not serviced by the Department of Sociology. This new programme began in September 1984.

Other revisions of 1989 and 1994, and a revision currently being undertaken even as we celebrate our anniversary, have kept the course up-to-date with new emphases in the library world, particularly in information technology, management, business information and non-conventional information services.

University status

The Polytechnic was elevated to university status in 1992, and this has led to changes in the Department’s priorities. Research has become a more urgent demand, and the Department has risen to the challenge, while striving to maintain good standards in teaching.

Staff changes

For many years the staff of the department had a permanent look. A few early retirements did little to remove the impression of a staff gradually moving together towards middle age, mostly male, all likely to retire in a block one year! Fortunately this changed. The late 1980s and early 1990s saw a series of retirements and the recruitment of a number of young, and mostly female, members of staff. These not only lowered the mean age of the staff dramatically, but brought with them a refreshing breath of enthusiasm and new ideas.

Course variety

The range of courses offered by the Department have shown awareness of the needs of the profession and the changing realities of the world of information.

A two-year part-time course (1981) leading to an MA in Strategic Library Management addressed the problems of managing change, and attracted high-quality students from middle and senior management levels.

An M.Sc. in Information Management was introduced in 1992 and the PG diploma course was changed to permit students to extend their studies by writing a dissertation, to gain an M.A. degree.

The current undergraduate course offers students the option to follow an information management pathway and be awarded a B.Sc. degree.

The staff remain confidently forward-looking, deeply committed to the profession and to delivering quality courses, and are already planning for the next 50 years.

A living school

The Department’s concern has been to make the student experience full and mind-broadening. In addition to fieldwork, visits to libraries and invitations to practising librarians to give lectures have been regular features. A highly successful London Study Tour ran for years, and though it has not run for the last few years there are currently moves to revive it. Social activities have been many and various, one of the most enduring being the annual quiz between teams from different courses and staff. Course committees have student representatives, and a Staff-Student Liaison Group has existed for informal direction of the social and academic life of the Department. Pastoral care of students, by personal tutors and course leaders, has been of a high standard, as students themselves testify. The staff have worked together as an amiable team, and any frictions or disgruntlements have been absorbed in the desire to get on with the job and maintain the standards of the school.

"We celebrate 50 years with justified pride, but the picture now is not only one of satisfaction with the past. The staff remain confidently forward-looking, deeply committed to the profession and to delivering quality courses, and are already planning for the next 50 years."

Peter Stephen

Parts of this account owe much to the work of Amanda Stevens (Stevens, Amanda J. A history of full-time education at Manchester Library School, 1946–1985. Dissertation, BA(Hons) Library and Information Studies, April 1985.) and this is gratefully acknowledged.
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