More than one million books will be kept in underground storage at a salt mine until a city centre library is fully restored, it was announced today.
Works from Manchester Central Library's reference section will be kept at Winsford salt mine in Cheshire for three years while the building undergoes an extensive refurbishment.
Around 44,000 volumes published before 1850 and more than 30 works dating back to the 15th Century will be among the books to be temporarily relocated 150 metres underground.
The mines will provide suitable conditions to help preserve the much-valued items, the city council said.
The storage facility, DeepStore, has consistent temperature and humidity levels and is naturally free from the dangers of ultraviolet light, vermin or flooding. It is currently the size of 700 football pitches but continues to grow as a million tonnes of salt is mined every year The temporary closure of the library in St Peter's Square will take place in stages between late February and June this year.
A new temporary city library will open at Elliot House in Deansgate in June to ensure delivery of key library services.
The revamped library will reopen in 2013 with a range of new services including an archive centre and an improved electronic catalogue.
Councillor Mike Amesbury, executive member for culture and leisure, said: "We recognise that Manchester's Central Library is one of the finest buildings in the city, and one of the finest libraries in the country.
"This refurbishment and restoration is absolutely necessary to ensure
that the library can continue to be a jewel in Manchester's crown.
"It's also worth remembering that anyone who is a member of Central Library is also a member of all other public libraries in the city and can borrow and return items to any of them.
Central Library is one of our most cherished assets and this exciting and vital work will ensure it will continue to be so for generations to come."
As part of the transformation, The Theatre Royal on Peter Street has been identified as the preferred new home for the Library Theatre Company.