Posted 20th Apr 11 by in


Visitors to our site & browsers of our programme may have noticed a theme in the festival this year – . This Thursday, plays welcome host to , an evening dedicated to thinking about what the library of the future might look like.


Bethnal Green Library

I, for one, am a big fan and regular user of the library. I like them all. The big, posh, exclusive copyright libraries, and their bustling, ‘never a dull moment’ (despite the occasional napping user) -type local brethren. I felt pride when I was deemed worthy enough to grace the tables of the iconic , and gladly surrendered my pens at door. I felt shame when I received notice from of a £50 fine for books 3 months overdue, and dutifully returned them knowing the books themselves had a greater market value (before briefly relocating to a new borough where my reputation remained unknown).

I’m not much of a writer, just an occasional purveyor of terrible puns (such as this very title). But here’s a little something I wrote for , trying to articulate in my own awkward way the thinking behind this year’s library orientated programming. Do come along tomorrow night if you can, but if you can’t, Emmy The Great’s comes to The Nave next Wednesday, and the wonderful continues its run at Hackney Library this week. Enjoy.


“When the DCMS released figures ‘affirming’ the steady decline in library use last year, we decided early on to make public libraries a central theme for London Word Festival 2011 .

The debate about the future of the library has been fought publicly and with some heat. Over the last six months, familiar names and faces have rallied to defend municipal libraries against closure, ‘reading-in’ with Joe Public as well as speaking out. Industrious and dedicated ‘Joe’s’ have formed independent groups in protest, gathering numbers through social media. There are those who feel the move is overdue – with cheap secondhand book sales on Amazon, who uses the libraries anyway? Its been suggested more than once that supporters have romanticised the buildings themselves rather than the service they provide. But statistics justifying public spending cuts seem to have ignored how usage has changed – e-lending & online reservations reducing but not eradicating the need for us to visit the library itself.


Stony Stratford library protest

With the event, , we wanted to present something that explores the importance of the library as a physical space, as a place we go to. How inherent is this physicality to its definition? Could the future library be an entirely remote experience? Or is it just as integral as a place where people come together? Perhaps there is ‘No Furniture So Charming’ as books as Sidney Smith once said, but even books are being re-upholstered by the digital age (and the man himself is best remembered for immortalising a recipe for salad dressing in rhyme form). We’ve pulled together a cross-section of thinkers to find out what the future library might look like for them, providing a forum for audiences to respond in the process.

It’s important to us to explore the public library in a way that celebrates its significance and looked to the future. Our focus as a festival has always been an artistic one – commissioning and supporting artists to create and present new and challenging work. We aimed to curate a strand of artistic work that gives both artist and audience space to consider and create, but in very different ways.

We approached singer to collaborate with poet on a personal celebration of the space, culminating in with guests and Submarine writer And running every day of the festival in reading rooms across London, is a whispered, self-generated performance for two, exploring the tension of concentration and silence in reading. It is currently resident in , and has certainly drawn in some audiences who hadn’t thought to set foot inside their local library for quite some time.

London Word Festival at Hackney Central Library

Visiting nearly 30 library spaces in preparation for The Quiet Volume, I can tell you people are using the spaces, but perhaps differently from how they once did. People are still borrowing books, studying, teaching percentages to their siblings and stumbling across hidden gems (as I did myself with Wayne Winner’s beautiful, comical graphic novel, Art House Cinema). But they are also reading newspapers. They are using computers because they don’t own one, or need assistance sending an email. Many need help with the language to apply for jobs or grapple with the internet. Hackney is a hubbub of (often unpredictable) activity, but it is anything but dormant.

Wayne Winner reworks The Wickerman

This Thursday, with the help of co-curator , we invite you to consider the space itself, how it is used, how it could be used and how creative thinking can challenge and find new possibilities within it. To think beyond the bricks and the mortar and the furniture, and consider how we define what a library is and could be for the modern user”.


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