Archives have always held a fascination for history students but there is plenty to explore for students of other disciplines. Students of art and design, photography, music, poetry, drama and other creative subjects can use archives as a source of inspiration for creative projects or they can research original materials as an alternative way to access the ideas, opinions and practices of people from the past. But where do you start? How do you find out what exists in the archives? How can you get access to it? And how can it be used to inspire?

Exploring Archives in the Search Room
Photography students viewing archives in the search room.

The Greater Manchester Archives are stored in a secure and environmentally controlled location in the basement of Central Library. The archives contain original documents created by people connected to Manchester’s past, this includes: photographs, letters, diaries, art, accounts, minutes, building plans, maps, moving images, scrap books, sound recordings, published material, newspapers, tickets, posters, institution records (such as asylum and prison) and more. Anyone can request to see archived records and materials but if you are not sure what to look for then a good place to start is by exploring the collections that have already been made available online and in the Archives+ area of Central Library.

Archives+ Exhibition
Archives+ Interactive Digital Exhibition

Collections of images and documents that have been digitised can be viewed on the Archives+ FLICKR site. Further information can be found in our BLOG posts which feature stories we have uncovered from the documents stored in the archives. There is also the Manchester Local Image Collection online which contains over 80,000 images of Greater Manchester.

That is just a fraction of the contents available and there is plenty more to see at Manchester Central Library. The Archives+ area is located on the ground floor and contains our Interactive Exhibition of digitised material (including images, documents and sound archives) which tell a range of stories from Manchester’s history. Additionally over five hundred moving image films from the area can be viewed here in our North West Film Archive (NWFA) viewing pods.

Haveley Hey Take Over
Use moving image films from the North West and archived movies & TV programmes for inspiration and research in the NWFA & BFI pods.

When using archives to help with inspiration, start by looking at the material (or watching or listening, depending upon what it is) and making brief observational notes about it. Then think about the task or brief you are working on and write down responses to your brief that are inspired by what you have observed. Hold back on making any judgements about the ideas that come into your head – something which starts off as a crazy idea can be developed into a brilliant, original idea. This process takes you away from traditional methods of thinking which take you down the well-worn route of the most obvious responses; usually the first things that come into our heads and often everyone else’s too! If you want to create something different, unexpected or inspiring then you need to engage your brain with a process that will help it to think differently.

We have digitised and made available lots of content that we think will be inspiring and interesting to people wanting to learn more from the Manchester Archives. Additionally there is much more to explore amongst the original materials so if you have a certain subject matter in mind that you either haven’t found in our digitised content, or want to know more about, then you could make a search of our catalogues. The main catalogue for Manchester Archives is GM Lives. Try different search entries to see if you can find what you are interested in and note down the “identifier” if you find anything you would like to view. Next book an appointment to view the original archives in our search room (which is located at the back of the Archives+ area), you will need to complete the request form, including the details of each item you are interested in, and give at least one working days notice. You can also search our other catalogues  for content collected by the Archives+ partner organisations, they are held separately accessed from their own websites along with information about arranging to view their collections.

Archives Request Form
Use this form online to book your visit to see archive material and special collections – link above.


Exploring Archives in the Search Room
Using original archive material for research in the Search Room.