Enriqueta Rylands' original idea for The John Rylands' Library was to build a memorial to her husband that would also enrich the City's architecture. Impressed by his work on Mansfield Collage in Oxford, Mrs Rylands commissioned architect Basil Champneys to design the building, and work began constructing it in 1890.
Mrs Rylands purchased books and manuscripts for the library, always intending the collections to be used by the public. However, it was when she bought the Spencer collection of rare books and the Crawford Collection of manuscripts that the Library gained international renown. The books were catalogued by the respected bibliographer Edward Gordon Duff, who was librarian of The John Rylands Library until 1900.
After Duff's retirement, the library continued to collect and provide access to its collections, led by the librarian Henry Guppy. In the 1920s Guppy laid the foundations for the third major element in the library's resources when he invited local families to deposit their archives for safe-keeping, making The John Rylands Library one of the first public libraries to collect archives and papers of historic families.