What is a local library for? What would your dream library look like? These were questions artists Ania Bas, David Littler and Rosalie Schweiker chose to explore as part of the Library as Laboratory commission for Central Bedfordshire Libraries.
Locating their project in the communities of Flitwick and Biggleswade they wanted to understand how libraries could become a place of possibility for everyone, a place beyond books. Working with local residents they developed the concept of a festival in the library, exploring the idea of ‘business NOT as usual.’
Using a DIY and self-directed approach they invited residents to imagine what their dream library might be like. Blackboards were placed inside and outside the library to gather ideas. Then, exploring the idea of creating local community archives, the artists took a stall at the Flitwick Classic Car Festival and paid 10p for joke contributions. Over 100 jokes were collected for the first ever Flitwick Joke Book.
As the artists dialogue with the community continued, they developed ideas for a programme that disrupted the everyday activities of the local libraries and offered new, surprising things to do. “We wanted to look at how to build a creative, social space – a learning and making space rather than a collection of books and DVDs” says artist David Littler.
In the autumn of 2015, one year on from the beginning of the project, the artists presented two Future Library Festivals to the local communities, the first, a 3-day festival in Flitwick and the second, a 1 day festival in Biggleswade.
Future Library Festival Flitwick
This first festival, which ran over a weekend in October 2015, introduced a wide range of surprising and unexpected activities to Flitwick residents. The artists wanted to test different ideas to understand what might prove popular and what might have longevity after the festival itself ended.
The Festival programme developed into a lively 3 day event. The library stayed open on the Friday evening to host a comedy night featuring Bedfordshire comedians Simon Munnery, hot from his success at the Edinburgh Fringe, and Eamonn Fleming. The library was packed as local residents enjoyed literary-themed cocktails from the cocktail caravan, the comedy and the launch of the first Flitwick Joke Book.
On Saturday morning, the artists transformed the library again to host a range of new activities throughout the day. Many had said their dream library would serve great coffee so the artists joined with The Lounge café opposite the library to offer cappuccinos in special festival takeaway cups. There was a language café for people to chat with native speakers of languages such as Polish and German. There was a self-publishing workshop with celebrated author Adam Croft of nearby Ampthill. The Flitwick Scouts and Men’s Clubs came together for the community challenge of fire starting and dominoes, Bedford-based artists Faye Spencer and Pete Hindle ran a sketching workshop, Ruby Skube ran a rock dancing class. Throughout the day there were children’s festival activities too and the cocktail caravan from the Friday night became a place to escape to for silent reading.
In the evening the library hosted a skaters film night for the local teenagers. Knowing that the library would be an unlikely venue for teenagers on a Saturday night, David approached the local skaters club to find out what would interest them. Their answer was to curate a film night of cult skater films. With beanbags, wide screen and pizza courtesy of Domino’s, the club presented the first film night for the young people of Flitwick.
Sunday followed a more leisurely theme with a special session on the Alexander technique, a lively debate on the future of the library hosted by Ruth Beale, and all rounded off with what proved to be the hugely popular musical bingo.
The festival was a huge success. It explored how the library space itself could be used in different ways – for dancing, for exercise, for talking, for entertainment, for developing new ideas but fundamentally, for bringing people together in new ways.
Ania, David and Rosalie described their festival as a place to explore with everyone the possibilities for libraries beyond books, and how libraries could be an inclusive space for all.
B festival Future Library Festival Biggleswade
For the second festival the artists chose to explore the idea of the local library as an important repository of local history. They created a day of events inspired by the place and its people, such as the town’s most famous son Dan Albone, whose Ivel safety bike revolutionised cycling in the late 1800s. The day, called the ‘B’ festival, celebrated all things ‘B,’ from bikes to the locally grown delicacy, the brussel sprout.
The cocktail caravan morphed into a ‘brew’ caravan to serve tea and coffee on the library lawn. Visitors were invited to customise their own free book bag. A pedal powered bike smoothie provided healthy drinks. There was free Bikeability training and a popular yoga lesson using the chairs in the library.
Looking to develop the bike theme the artists designed a mobile book library that could be attached to a bike. This was launched on the Saturday with an inaugural bike parade around the town carrying the books visitors had made earlier in the day at the book-making workshop.
In the evening the artists cooked a community supper for all, which celebrated the brussel sprout. The library was transformed into a candle lit intimate space with people sharing food and conversation and enjoying a wine tasting with the Biggleswade Fair Trade Association.
The festival closed with musical bingo, this time jointly hosted by artist David Little and Biggleswade librarian Simon Gutteridge.
The two festivals were hugely successful in generating and testing out new ideas for the libraries and many of the activities are continuing in some form. Almost 500 people took part in the project and the festivals saw large audiences.
“This is the best thing to have happened in Flitwick for 30 years!” Flitwick resident
“Great work Future Libraries Festival! Please can we make the Friday Cocktail Caravan a permanent feature?” Charlie, Flitwick
“I took my daughters to B Festival and we were there for most of the afternoon. There was a great atmosphere and loads to do. Me and my other half went back in the evening for the music quiz which was great fun. Thank you to everyone for a fantastic event.” Maggie, Biggleswade
Future Library Festival Flitwick 16-18 October 2015
Future Library Festival Biggleswade B Festival 14 November 2016
Part of the Library as Laboratory Commission 2014-16
Produced by Bedford Creative Arts.
Commissioned by Central Bedfordshire Council.
Funded by Arts Council England and Central Bedfordshire Council.