Wednesday, 25 April 2012

libraries unchained

Here's if:book's guest post forthe ENVISIONING THE LIBRARY OF THE FUTURE blog run by Arts Council England.

At the weekend I met a man who is restoring a Wurlitzer juke box, recreating a beautiful device, fascinating to old music lovers like me, but clearly redundant as a means to deliver tunes to the populace.

if:book UK has been at the forefront of debate over the past few extraordinary years in which ebook sales have soared and many analogue bookshops fallen by the wayside. Those who swore never to read on screens now clutch their Kindles lovingly, and authors of all sorts are pondering self publishing, with perhaps some multimedia enhancements.  
We don't need publishers and we don’t need libraries like we used to. With a laptop and wifi anyone can write and broadcast their words to a potentially global audience, and trawl through oceans of freely available information and content. It’s shocking that so many of those whose work is about broadening access to culture still find it hard to acknowledge the amazing advances taking place in what we’re all supposed to care about most: free access to information and culture.Too much of the discussion  around libraries feels like a get together of Wurlitzer fans, nostalgic for a lost cause, not champions of the best means of access to knowledge in the 21st Century.  

We’re all Nearlywriters now, able to publish our words whenever we wish, and therefore fully responsible for deciding when what we’ve written is fully cooked and ready to be shared. And we’re Unlibrarians, with a massive collection of information online that we try to navigate our way through, aided by search engines, colleagues and friends, learning on our own terms, mapping our own development.

In that light, what shines out is the need for state provision of what used to be seen as the trappings around the core of public library services.

Now more than ever our communities vitally need a local breathing space, free to enter and ours by right, an actual place in which we can think freely, in public, amongst others, and find collaborators and coaches to help us further our intellectual and imaginative interests. If the State refuses to fund these spaces, then the motivated will create their own. But what then of all those with issues and frailties which define them as problems to the State but find in their library a space where they are treated as citizens first?

The library needs to take inspiration from the qualities of the social network. It should be a place to put your profile, to define your interests and goals, for yourself and to a wider community; a safe place to local and meet like minds and potential collaborators; a flexible space for thinking writing and reading, alone and in groups, quiet enough for those who come here to escape a noisy home; active enough for those who are fed up with staring in silence at their four walls. Here we can ‘click’ on fellow users as we would on their icons online, to read more about them and send a message if we want to connect with them.

Connected on line, members can easily pool resources and expertise, arranging meet ups wherever there’s room. Sites promoting this kind of collaborative consumption go back to the birth of libraries when academics shared lists of the books in their homes for students to visit and borrow.

Nobody used to come to libraries for the reassuring smell of books - they wanted knowledge and grew fond of the whiff of inspiration and empowerment which they imparted. 

...and a tiny film

Monday, 23 April 2012

some pictures

Model at London Fashion Week wearing dress of typewriter
                   David Maybury at Bologna Children's Bookfair holding piece of paper
My laptop
A seat in the magic garden near Golders Hill Park
We came across it on David Bowie's birthday

Thursday, 19 April 2012


My mum bought an iPad recently. I'm so hoping she'll enjoy it.
What should be a liberating tool allowing the housebound and incapacitated
to travel the world and explore all kinds of new places, is so far
causing her stress as she gets to grips with the touch screen and
conventions of navigation that I take for granted but she finds confusing.
This hasn't happened yet though.  

Friday, 6 April 2012

grandfather of albion

Poet and poetry activist Michael Horovitz had a birthday last week and that prompted me to upload this interview and wish him many happy returns.

My Dad and I went to the launch of the Grandchildren of Albion at the ICA in 1969. I was thirteen.
This was the Penguin anthology edited by Michael Horovitz and featuring wonderful poets including Pete Brown, Miroslav Holub, Adrian Mitchell and many more. When I was Director of the Poetry Society in the 1990s, Michael was a regular visitor, always dissident, challenging but also supportive, pushing a basket on wheels which contained the flyers and anthologies which fuelled his alternative society of Superjams and Poetry Olympics. We had a very public spat on the Today programme re the supposed million quid deal given to Murray Lachlan Young which Michael objected to as commercial exploitation and I saw as optimistic news for the potential earning power of poets. We didn't really disagree much, but it was a joy to watch Michael seize the time to have his say on national radio. Later I took my son to see Michael's Albert Hall POW! event where Damon Albarn and Ray Davies sang Parklife and Waterloo Sunset and later signed autographs for Joe and I.
The poets were good too.

And I interviewed Michael last summer for the Young Poets Network project - or rather I tried to hold the flipcam steady while he spoke to me - about childhood, William Blake, Beat poetry, the Wholly Communion event on 1965, why he is NOT a Sixties Poet.. and much more. The final short clip says everything I'd hoped and more about the potential for digital poetry happenings of the future.

I'm delighted to see that the Poetry Olympics are happening again this summer at the South Bank, apparently at the same time as some sporting event. Here are the details:

Thursday 14 June from 7pm
POEM! 2012
The Poetry Olympics Enlightenment Marathon

As we run up to Poetry Parnassus, our global celebration of contemporary poetry, we welcome Michael Horovitz to Southbank Centre to present P O E M! 2012, handing on the baton of more than 50 years of his New Departures publications and Poetry Olympics festivals. The multifarious gathering features Ayanna Witter-Johnson; Stan Tracey; Valerie Bloom; John Hegley; Francesca Beard; Annie Whitehead’s World Music Workshop Band, as well as Peter Lemer, Annie and Michael’s William Blake Klezmatrix Band; Eleanor Bron; Elvis McGonagall; Brian Patten; Gwyneth Herbert; Patience Agbabi; Molly Parkin; E J Thribb – and Special Guests including Damon Albarn.

As the Olympics come to London, join us for an unrepeatable evening of poetry, performance, music and song. Tickets £12/£10 are now on sale via the Southbank Centre (including a limited number of Concessionaries @ half-price) Queen Elizabeth Hall, Southbank Centre, London SE1