In the beginning was the book. And the book was good. And smart, fully qualified and respected guardians of the book collected them in copious amounts, even the crummiest ghost written autobiographies by celebrities no one has ever heard of, and the guardians called them libraries. And the libraries made people happy: informed, educated and entertained.
So, I couch libraries in those terms simply to illustrate the simple brilliance of libraries as a time when it feels like those empowered to fund, support and sustain libraries are electing not to do so – even when, to paraphrase The Kaiser Chiefs - ‘Everything in Libraries Is Brilliant’.
After working in public libraries for 28 years both as a frontline library officer and then a music librarian in Lancaster, I developed a Community Interest company called Loud In Libraries which has just completed its latest Youth Music grant, and enjoyed its first year as part of the Arts Council’s National Portfolio. Deploying a dash of punk spirit amongst the book shelves, we harbour a huge desire to utterly electrify library spaces bound up in a strategic intelligence that impacts positively on people’s lives – offering opportunities, music making platforms and digital learning on top of the bloody great gig.
Working with up to 15 public libraries across the UK, we are ably positioned to make a difference: delivering live music in geographic areas often ignored by touring artists; shaping quality experiences that are safe for all ages, including young women and girls; and offering mentoring experience and career opportunities in the music industry.
The fact all this activity is delivered in the library environment hopefully boosts the cultural blood flow of the community, the library itself and the staff that work within them.
What we have witnessed – from Barrow to Birkenhead- is fierce commitment and innovation of staff in the face of unparalleled challenges. Financial constraint and relentless staff whittling has served to increase civic pride in the library’s resources, staff know-how and the will to improve the lives of the citizens within community has never been stronger. Which is kind of where Loud In Libraries comes in. Rocking libraries as a catalyst for growth and experience, youth progression, opportunity and success, the Loud In Libraries programme aims to strategically increase the cultural capacity and pulling power of libraries.
In practice this means wildly acclaimed post punk band IDLES tearing the roof off Coventry Central Library, Brooklyn art punks Bodega entertaining Birkenhead Library in a Sunday afternoon matinee and Baxter Dury making an on-stage confession that he and his band preferred playing Lancaster Library to Wembley Arena which they had played the night before supporting Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – all this frantic live activity housed in books and an indie spirit of opportunity for young people digitally upskilling and shadowing music professionals in the shadows.
A brand new touring map of libraries in Barrow, Huddersfield, Hull, Liverpool, Birkenhead, Kendal, Lancaster, Oldham and Coventry supports the live music ecology and revitalises staff CPD opportunity and morale. An emerging artist like GIRLI ( set to make considerable waves in 2019) can develop and meet a new audience in Barrow-In –Furness whilst staff refine their events management skills and increase their confidence engaging the youth demographic that so often ceases library visits once the teenage years are well and truly hit. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the dynamic young Get It Loud In Libraries Academy team films and edits the event, driving forward their career pathways. Later the team meets GIRLI to enjoy an informal Q and A re songwriting, ideas for lyrics and general life as a burgeoning pop star.
Our latest Youth Music grant has increased our reach scale and scope to develop new audiences in libraries, especially young people and families and fuel arts-hungry communities with quality live music where previously such output was minimal or confined to pubs and clubs where young people’s attendance was restricted.
Library staff and leaders have certainly bought into our ethos for maximising live music in libraries as a vehicle for social growth and youth career progression. As have artists like This Is The Kit, Jorja Smith and The Big Moon who understand library spaces hold the potential to make a difference to young people’s life chances and world view depending on what you choose to do with them.
Over the duration of our NPO adventure 2018-2022 we aim to ensure every visitor leaves the library an improved version of themselves, whether it be as a young digital participant, a child learning an instrument tutored by professional, a willing volunteer or a die-hard or casual gig go-er.
In the beginning was the book and the book remains. And, heaven knows, the book is at the root of everything. But for two and a half hours, after dark, it will also create an amphitheatre for some of the best new live music in areas you least expected to find it.
In many ways, libraries are the original venue – maybe we shouldn’t be so surprized it is now one of the first places we should visit to inform our 21st century tastemaker palates and where young people, thanks to Youth Music grants, can fully express their talent?