New research highlights the value that libraries have for local communities

  • Tuesday, May 22, 2018

A live-art event at the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham exhibits research into how reading shapes peoples’ lives and the importance of local libraries, led by Dr Shelley Trower.

Image - New research highlights the value that libraries have for local communities

On 9-13 May the Omnibus Theatre in Clapham was transformed into ‘The Living Library’ with interactive installations and performances bringing to life local readers' memories of reading. Attended by Lord Tope, Chair of the Libraries All-Party Parliamentary Group, this live art event comprised a series of dance, storytelling, sound art and participatory artworks spaced throughout the building's theatre and common areas. Audiences were encouraged to pick up books, listen to recorded memories through headphones and try their hand at date-stamping.

The Memories of Fiction project, led by Dr Shelley Trower, in collaboration with Professor Graham Smith, Dr Amy Tooth Murphy, and Sarah Pyke, looks at the important role that libraries play in society, for both reading groups and lone readers, and emphasises their value at a time when many are facing considerable challenges.

The research documents how people have benefitted not just from the books available but from using libraries as public spaces: spaces they’ve spent time in as children rather than always being on the streets; spaces to study in; spaces to escape and to reflect and to meet other people; and even as spaces necessary for survival. The research investigates the reading groups that are run by many libraries, which bring new people to the library, encourage the discovery of new books, and provide vital social connections.

This research involves a broad demographic of subjects; talking to people from different socioeconomic backgrounds, for example, finding how libraries are used differently within different communities.

Dr Trower explains “This production was invaluable for increasing awareness and knowledge of the value of libraries in a diverse range of ways. It is very exciting to see our research come to life in such original, creative ways that are accessible not only to specialists but also to other readers and even children.”

The performance was devised by Seadog Theatre, and it is hoped this work will reinvigorate audiences' appreciation for reading and for their local library, underlining libraries not merely as containers of books, but as live spaces where diverse people come together to imagine. The interactive installations - such as talking books - will remain at the Omnibus Theatre until the end of June.

Dr Trower is applying for follow on funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council to build upon this research, and work with prominent organisations to increase awareness of the findings.