Art Speak is a new blog series where we chat with the artists involved in our programmes. Curator producer Annie Bacon will ask them about their artistic process, their motivations and inspirations.
As we draw close to the first of our Future Libraries Festivals taking place at Flitwick Library in mid October, Annie sat down with David Littler, one of the artists working on the project, to talk all things ‘library.’
First of all, I wanted to know whether David visits his own library, in the picturesque market town of Knaresborough in North Yorkshire.
David “That’s a good question. I don’t tend to use general purpose libraries, so I rarely go to Knaresborough public library for example, but I do use specialist libraries, like the British Library. The things I like or need aren’t usually available in general purpose libraries so I tend to use the internet a lot, or specialist libraries. Also, the environment is very important to me. I like to feel energy and creativity in a space, it helps inspire me, and even though the content in some libraries could be very inspiring, I don’t always find them inspiring places to be in.
Annie “Why do you think that is? What do you think would change your mind?”
David: “It’s interesting as I really believe in libraries as cultural resources and social spaces, which is why I am so interested in this project, and I don’t think they’ve shifted enough yet. Some libraries have, or are trying to, some in the bigger cities, but I would say that many are finding it very hard to move forward and find a new identity that meets what people are looking for now.
Annie “So are you saying that we’ve moved on – because of technology, the internet, kindles, social media – and possibly libraries are playing catch-up?
David “Yes we have the technology now to access information on the bus, in a cab, in our hotel, at home, in a car. We can get all the information we want, when we want it. We can read a book on a kindle at the airport. We can do so many things remotely if we need to . I think society has shifted and changed and moved on. We’ve made a massive cultural and social shift in the last fifteen years.
Annie “This project has asked you to immerse yourself in the question of what are libraries for, and how might they develop and change in the future. What have you found?”
David “I think the question I am asking myself daily is how can libraries be more creative and entrepreneurial? Not in a money making sense but as creative and social spaces. As part of local government it can be more difficult to be quick footed or forward thinking, and I think libraries and the ideas their staff have suffer as a result.
Annie What sorts of ideas have you been exploring about how libraries might adapt and change, as part of the project?
David “it’s been interesting to step away from what libraries are currently offering and open up to some of their intrinsic values and what that might mean. For example, if you wanted to focus a library around literature, if that’s what you really want it to be, you could rebrand as a literature centre. And have stuff around literacy, literature, performance poetry, writing, publishing, etc. It could be an animated live space that celebrates literature, reading and the word in all its forms, not just through books.
Or you could take the library out of its local authority and run it as an independent organisation, which is happening increasingly across the country. There are libraries that have moved to pubs and community centres and they are run by local residents. However, it seems most of them are still running as traditional libraries and personally, I don’t think they’ve shifted enough.
The other area I’m interested in is what makes our local library so unique and that is its local history archive. This could be truly celebrated in a focused and considered way. We’re looking at this particularly for the Future Libraries Festival at Biggleswade Library in November. A library’s local history resource is usually phenomenal and not available elsewhere. Biggleswade has a rich history of the bicycle, invention and engineering and we’re really excited by this.
Annie So my last question to you is, if you were to create your own dream library, what would it be?
David “It would be a creative, social space where you could go and investigate and learn about a subject. Where you had activities led by different people and then resources on hand to follow those up. I’d focus on it being a learning and making space rather than a collection of books, and DVDs etc.
It could be a central hub and then there could be inventive ways for people to participate in virtual ways, for example you could do a practical musical course and then also link to an expert in the another part of the country or even abroad to get some additional teaching.
I also really like the idea of literature centres that would truly celebrate literacy and literature – celebrate the written, spoken and read word. There could be links with early learning, adult literacy, self-publishing – a place that celebrates the ‘word’ and in different languages too. We’re testing some of these ideas at the festival in Flitwick – we have a language café where members of the community will be sharing their languages for a morning, and we have a self-publishing workshop too. It’s been great to be able to think aloud, talk to the residents of Flitwick and Biggleswade and actually put into practice some of these ideas.
For me, I think my dream library, at its heart, would be a community learning space for curious minds.
To find out more about the Flitwick Future Library Festival come to our Facebook event here or to find out how you can get involved check out our previous blog post here.