This week is National Libraries Week. Over the past three years our NPO project Spot On has been working in Lancashire libraries to programme professional theatre, music, storytelling, children’s work and more in these fantastic community hubs. Here Director Rob tells explains why we love libraries…
Illustration of Rob Gee’s performance ‘Forget Me Not’ at Poulton Library by Cath Ford
I must admit, when we started our big library project in 2015, I was a bit nervous. I know from previous experience that there is a very different culture in libraries to what we are used to working in the arts. In some ways it’s a very different profession that you would think might attract a different type of person in the first place.
On top of all this, as we started our project, austerity cuts hit Lancashire County Council hard. Some very difficult decisions had to be made and we were starting our project at a point when libraries were closing and experienced staff were being made redundant. As time progressed, libraries endured more change as closed libraries were reopened and new staff engaged.
What I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer positivity of the librarians that we have worked with. Admittedly, our approach was to push at the open doors, respond to those who were keen to get involved and wait for the more cautious to be inspired by the adventurous. We also engaged our secret weapon. Lyndsey Wilson, who can charm and cajole anyone when armed with cake (or as we like to call it, Calorie Aided Knowledge Enhancer). We had to work through some issues. A perception that library users wouldn’t pay for tickets was one that we’ve proved wrong. This season some of our libraries are charging and getting £10 a seat.
One issue that we still face is that our dedicated library promoters sometimes feel a bit guilty that they are having so much fun putting on Spot On shows in their spaces. It doesn’t quite feel enough like work. It is work, It takes a lot of coordination, selling tickets, dealing with performers, juggling space and staffing. It brings new people in and adds greatly to the experience of existing users.
Libraries are the most democratic and safest places that I can think of. Unlike a lot of ‘arts’ spaces, no one feels uncomfortable or unwelcome crossing a library threshold. Our great new library friends continue to take amazing professional arts to communities across Lancashire. We love libraries and we love librarians.