Library lends itself to a fresh breed of browsers

Chief archivist Kevin Bolton checks out some 90-year-old records from Manchester Central Synagogue

Chief archivist Kevin Bolton checks out some 90-year-old records from Manchester Central Synagogue

Two hundred years of Jewish archives are being housed in new vaults following the £50 million refurbishment of Manchester Central Library, the UK's second largest. There are 300 metres of shelving for the Jewish archives and the museum has installed a permanent digital portal on Manchester Jewry, allowing people to trace their roots.

Directly above the vaults is the £1.6 million Archives+ space, where digitised records of Jewish refugees to Manchester from Nazi Germany can be accessed on eight-foot-high touchscreen computers.

Other touchscreens can bring up the oldest written record of a Jew in Manchester, Jacob Nathan, whose licence to live in the city in 1798 can be examined in razor-sharp detail. Users can also look up 19th century admission registers of the Manchester Jews' School, where M&S founder Michael Marks sent his children, and a wartime bomb map, showing that all but one Manchester synagogue escaped the German blitzkrieg.

There is also a tribute to Manchester human rights lawyer Steve Cohen, who dedicated his life to fighting antisemitism and defending asylum seekers from other faiths.

The Jewish WWII period refugee records for the central digital display were chosen by chief archivist Kevin Bolton, whose Jewish grandmother escaped Nazi Germany. "The records are rare because they contain pictures and handwritten details," he explained. "They are very powerful. This is the only archive in the UK using the technology we have which gives public access to Jewish records."

    Last updated: 4:20pm, March 31 2014