Engaging with heritage at the John Rylands Library

With the diggers on site for the construction of our First Light Pavilion, our future as a major new heritage attraction is starting to feel very real and the Discovery Centre teams are embracing this exciting new development. The combination of ground-breaking science and world-class heritage on one visitor site is unusual; there aren’t many examples out there that we can emulate. So this is an exciting time for us as we reshape our identity and pilot new ways of working.

As part of this process, our Heritage Officer Hannah Niblett took members of the Engagement Team to spend a day with staff at the John Rylands Library, another of the University of Manchester’s Cultural Institutions. The aim for the day was to immerse themselves in a heritage site, see heritage engagement in practice and connect with colleagues doing similar work.

Within the stunning gothic architecture of the Library, so different from our own environment (compare their towering fluted ceilings with our contemporary exposed pipework and ceiling girders) the John Rylands team explained and demonstrated their education, public and exhibition programmes. Our group then had a tour, explored the exhibitions and took part in a fascinating archive-based education session.

To experienced science communicators, heritage approaches such as object-based learning can seem like a different world, but seeing it in practice was extremely valuable and reassuring. The team came away with lots of ideas about how to incorporate heritage engagement into events and exhibitions at Jodrell Bank.

They finished the day with a deep dive into the Jodrell Bank archive that is held at the Library, including Bernard Lovell’s school reports (‘could do better’!), staff notices from the early days of Jodrell Bank (‘No gum boots in the library’), observation log books and fascinating letters revealing Jodrell Bank’s role in the cold war.

We’re extremely grateful to Yvette Jeal, John Hodgson and the team at the John Rylands Library for such a useful and inspiring day. Hopefully we can welcome them at Jodrell Bank for a reciprocal visit very soon!