The John Rylands University Library was established in 2004 upon the formation of the new University of Manchester. The JRUL's outstanding Special Collections of rare books, manuscripts and archives, derive principally from the formerly independent John Rylands Library and the Manchester University Library. The vast majority of these research resources are normally held in the Deansgate building of the former John Rylands Library, located in Manchester's city-centre. In 2012 the Library was renamed the University of Manchester Library and the John Rylands Library, Deansgate - holds the Special Collections which contain some of the most significant books and manuscripts ever produced. The library first acquired archive collections in the 1920s when local landed families were invited to donate or deposit their papers. In addition to collections of family documents and private papers, the library now holds the archives of numerous companies, business associations, trade unions, charities, social organizations and religious institutions and is continually adding to its wealth of archives relating to recent and contemporary literature. The decline in the Lancashire cotton industry dramatically reduced the value of the investments left by Mrs Rylands. A long period of financial struggle led to the merger in 1972 of the John Rylands Library with The Manchester University Library. The Special Collections of the former University Library were transferred to Deansgate, among them the extensive Christie Library. The University Library also contained an important collection of early medical books and the archive of the Manchester Guardian. The Library first acquired archive collections in the 1920s when local landed families were invited to donate or deposit their papers. In addition to family muniment collections, the Library now holds the archives of numerous companies, business associations, trade unions, charities, social organizations and religious institutions. The Methodist Church and other Nonconformist denominations are particularly well represented. The archives of Manchester University and the papers of individual scientists and academics are another important element in the Library's holdings, while the large archive of the Manchester Guardian newspaper is a key resource for a wide range of research interests. In another area, the Library is continually adding to its wealth of 20th-century literary and dramatic archives. Currently 135 collections are available on the Hub. Eventually it is hoped to mount over 200 collections.
The University of Manchester Library continues to collect books, manuscripts and archives. The most significant additions since 1972 have been the deposit of the Methodist Archives and the creation of the Modern Literary Archives. The establishment of The University of Manchester in 2004 has brought Special Collections from the Joule Library, formerly part of UMIST, into the library.
The John Rylands Library also pioneered the wider provision of access to rare books and manuscripts through exhibitions, lectures and visits. The Bulletin of the John Rylands Library was established in 1903 and continues to publish scholarly articles concerning the collections and related subjects. Efforts to make the Library more accessible have culminated in the recent Unlocking the Rylands project. Holdings of individual manuscript items now cover more than fifty languages, including all major European and Middle Eastern languages and numerous Far Eastern ones. They span more than five millennia and are written on virtually every medium ever employed, including clay, papyrus, parchment, vellum, linen, palm leaves, copper, ivory, felt, bark and bamboo.
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