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April 22, 2011


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Tom Roper

Oh dear, it seems to have lived up to expectations: http://www.roper.org.uk/tr/2011/04/no-furniture-so-charming.html
There are other library-related events as part of the London Word festival, but they seem to share the same lack of imagination about what libraries could be (and indeed already are). Next year, perhaps a librarian of vision could be invited onto the organising committee?

Simon Chamberlain

I'd been considering attending; glad I didn't.

Philip Jones

Hi Phil. As a panelist, I thought it was a difficult one, because the presentations were very nostalgic and backwards looking, and yet also spoke to me about why people love libraries. I know libraries are about more than books, but we neglect the emotional attachment we have with books at our peril, particularly when we need to fight hard just to keep library doors open. But, of course, that's just one small part of a wider debate, that never really happened. I thought more input from librarians would have helped, but you at least helped to redress that!

Chris Meade

I must say I was very impressed by your method of 'mildly remonstrating': seizing attention by demanding the organisers put the lights up for your question from the audience. As a panel member (who worked in public libraries for 14 years before moving to the Poetry Society, Booktrust and now if:book futureofthebook.org.uk, I agree that much of the tone of the evening was unfortunately nostalgic, but then don't you think library professionals have something to learn from what users and most importantly non-users think about them? And whose fault is it that people think of libraries as things of the past not the future?

I think the emphasis on the quirky atmosphere of libraries is due to the perception that much of the traditional role of the library as information service has been overtaken by Google and wi-fi as a means to gain swift, free access to a mass of knowledge. I'd argue that what matters most today is not the collection of books, not the computers either, but the local, public networked space for thinking and working. We also need access to librarians who can help us find our way to what exactly we want - but do public libraries really provide this service?

In Haringey we've founded the Unlibrary as an experimental space for collaboration and co-working, an attempt to turn the notion of library inside out. Read our vision - Dreaming Libraries at www.unlibrary.posterous.com.


Hi Phil. I was co-presenting one of the last three presentations, and I have to admit, I felt by that point that there seemed to be many different ideas of what the event was supposed to be about. I thought the idea was to semi-seriously posit what a future library would look like (ie. how the current model could adapt/remain/evolve, given current trends) but as you point out, many of the early presentations seemed to spend a lot of time grappling with what a library is and has been, to the point where I started to worry that I'd misread the brief.

Then the panellists and some members of the audience, including yourself embarked on a debate about what aspect of libraries' functions should be regarded as representing their real worth, which left me feeling that the answer was: no single aspect. As soon as you single out individual ideals of what a library 'is', envisioning a replacement seemed only a step away. The library, it seems to me, is a confluence of all those aspects different people in the room valued, including those presenters who had a romantic/nostalgic fascination with shushing, stamping and cataloguing. At least in terms of prompting me, and possible others, to arrive at that realisation by hearing the varied points of view, I felt the evening was a success.


I saw this advertised and boy! am i glad i didn't go it sounds like the kind of non-discussion that would really wind me up. What was the purpose of it, what did it set out to achieve? My colleagues are being downgraded and losing their jobs and hundreds of libraries are under threat and this, and the recent bloody awful observer article, is what we get, pseudo-intellectual titilation and whimsy!

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