Libraries in Newcastle. And star-gazing in London
I make no apology for returning to the subject of library closure. It seemed that many people shared my anger and anxiety about Newcastle City Council's decision to close ten branch libraries. With playwright Lee Hall I was invited to speak at a protest meeting. Hundreds of people turned out to show their support. The following week a small group of artists came together to talk about where we might take the action. We decided that a celebration of libraries as centres of culture, adventure and entertainment would be a great way to highlight what the closures would mean to their communities. And as February 9th was National Libraries Day that seemed a good date to choose. The trouble was that we only had three weeks to plan and organise events in ten venues across the city. And for most of that time I'd be away from home.
We started by approaching the five writers asked by New Writing North to report back on threatened branches. David Almond was already committed to an event elsewhere but the others all agreed to host the morning. So I had to find another six hosts... The best move I made was to ask my friend Valerie Laws to help out. She agreed not only to host High Heaton, but to co-ordinate the list of all the artists in my absence. In effect she agreed to do all the work... The success of the day was very much down to her.
The morning of National Library Day was hugely moving. We had a total of 80 artists, performers and writers in the ten libraries. Val McDermid read her children's story in Cruddas Park, three of the cast of Emmerdale read a specially prepared piece in Fenham. There were musicians, a puppeteer and a magician, poets and storytellers and a community choir. And throughout the city people turned out to support us and enjoy the events.
That was Saturday. On Monday night I was in quite a different environment, the BBC drama showcase in London. Wherever I looked there were stars of television: actors and actresses, producers and directors. It seemed a long way from a council estate in the west end of Newcastle where I'd been hosting my NLD celebration. But I worry that without libraries we'll have a less vibrant arts scene. The creative industries depend on people of all backgrounds who are literate and excited by words and images. Libraries breed actors and playwrights and books provide inspiration for musicians.