Did a Library Change Your Life?

Did a Library Change Your Life?

Last week Tony White asked if you had a fond memory of a library. We have been bowled over by the responses. Here Bill Thompson tells how a library changed his life:

I grew up in a town called Corby in Northants in the 1960’s, in a council house on a ‘rough’ estate.  The Library was my gateway to a world that I could not have imagined otherwise, a space where I was both safe and nurtured, where the librarians encouraged my exploration and imagination, and pointed out a path that I would never have discovered otherwise.  I read the books. All the books. Any of the books. And when I discovered the science fiction section, I discovered a multitude of universes to explore. I remember being allowed to borrow The Godfather by Mario Puzo, before I was old enough to see the film, and realising that the whole world lay before me.

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And there was more: at the back of the reference section was a secret portal – a door to the library of the Technical College, located next door. I remember passing through it for the first time, the engineering and science books it contained, the world it hinted at.  I look back now and I realise that one of the reasons why I believed enough in myself to apply for and successfully get to university – the only person in the sixth form of my comprehensive school to manage it – was because the library was my runway, and I’d built up enough momentum in my time there to become airborne.

The library burned down in the late 70’s. I’d left.  I didn’t go back.

Did a library change your life? If so we’d love to hear about it (whether this was last week or fifty years ago) why not take a few minutes to write about a positive memory you have of being in a library. It might be about your discovery of favourite books, or about possibilities opening up, but it could be anything. The only thing we ask is that it is something that happened to you.

Tweet us using #FreeofJudgement or email your story to abby@blasttheory.co.uk and it might be posted here or read out during the live event on 29 October, from 3:00pm – midnight.
Thank you!

Open Doors and Rare Freedoms

Open Doors and Rare Freedoms

– By Tony White

It has been a great privilege working with Blast Theory and running workshops with groups of young people in libraries across the West Midlands for A Place Free of Judgement. And to think about the open door to books and ideas that libraries offer to everyone.
Whenever I’m invited to give a story workshop of some kind – as writers often are – I always try to remember two important things.
First to try and ensure that the workshops are free. Too often these days people are asked to pay, and sometimes quite a considerable sum, which means that only people with money can attend. I know that when I was younger and might have wanted to take part in a workshop, anything more than a token cost would have been like a locked door to me.
Secondly, that people of all ages have busy lives. People have told me that the biggest benefit of attending a writing workshop can often be the brief respite from day to day responsibilities that it offers. Space and time to think and to write without worrying about school, work or family is a rare freedom.

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One of the most productive sessions we’ve had making A Place Free of Judgement has been asking young people to take a few minutes to think and remember and then to write about a positive experience they have had in a library. I’d love to share some of those library stories with you now:

My first visit to the old town centre library was when I was around 8 years old. I remember roaming around the kids’ reading area, but not being able to decide on a book to read. So I spotted some activity sheets and started colouring them in. I was with my grandad, so he had gone into the adult’s reading section and began reading newspapers. It was a lovely positive atmosphere in terms of the library being so friendly towards everyone, no matter what age they were. The librarian was so friendly, she gave me my own library card, which I still have to this day.
One day after school I went into the library downstairs. I went by myself because I wanted to be alone for a while. I sat down somewhere no one else was sat. A few minutes later I got up and looked for a book to read. I looked in the teen section and found a Jacqueline Wilson book. She is my favourite artist because I find her books really easy to read, and very interesting and sometimes funny. I began reading after I sat down again. I enjoyed the book and found some parts funny. After about 30 minutes I asked the librarian if I could take out the book, and then I went home.
I remember the first time I picked a book from the adult section from my library. Finally I wasn’t a little kid any more. I was strong and I didn’t need bright pictures to help me understand stories. There was so much more of a selection there. I was stuck to choose. They all had really deep and adventurous names, a lot different to ‘The Little Princess’ and ‘Where is my Boot?’ This was a different side to reading, a side that I was more than ready for. I couldn’t wait to jump in and go to all these different places.
A personal experience I enjoyed in our college library was picking out a new book to read: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins. It was an important point in my life because it changed my perception of the world, and sitting on the floor, reading, while the sun glimmered in through the window was a tranquil and unique experience.


I had never been to a library before, however when I got up one morning I wanted to experience something new; something I had never done before. So I rushed to put my clothes on and pulled my shoes onto my feet.
‘Mum, I’m off to the library.’
She looked in shock as I left. After what felt like a never ending walk, I had arrived. I was amazed. I opened the big heavy doors as if I were opening a parcel with interest and anxiety as to what it would be like.
After opening the door I could see books all round. I instantly knew I would come back again. The library had a warm and homely feel to it. I chose a book then walked up and down until I found a quiet corner, and sat for a long time. Before I knew it the book was finished. I found myself looking once again. The colours of the books stood out against the not-so-colourful surroundings. I sat again in my corner. After reading for one hour I was approached and told how to sign out books. I love the library. It was time to leave, but I now knew I would come back again. I headed home to find mum where I had left her. I was in a great mood with the knowledge that I had a place to escape to.

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Now over to you.
If reading these stories has made you remember an experience of your own (whether this was last week or fifty years ago) why not take a few minutes to write about a positive memory you have of being in a library. It might be about your discovery of favourite books, or about possibilities opening up, but it could be anything. The only thing we ask is that it is something that happened to you.
Email your story to abby@blasttheory.co.uk and it might be posted here or read out during our live interactive broadcast from the libraries in Cannock, Telford or Worcester on 29 October, from 3:00pm – midnight.
Thank you!

In the middle – now we see what we’ve got to elevate

In the middle – now we see what we’ve got to elevate

This last set of workshops have been an interesting journey across the West Midlands, across the different libraries, with the young people, Tony White and the librarians.

We are now at the stage where we really put or pull it all together and we have tried out three twenty minute sections out of the nine hours with the young people and tested two forty minute sections with the live streaming in the studio, so things are moving in the right direction.

But we have a long way to go.

We have watched each other reading, interviewed librarians, played the ukulele, discussed what it means to be judged and saved, inhabited the libraries and more.

We’ve been talking about filters through which to see the whole work and trusting processes. Throughout the last 10 days, we have witnessed a lot of hearts worn on sleeves and a lot of real bravery by the young people. For many this is the first chance to work on a big artwork and this is a strange and unnerving thing to do.

But, this is the really exciting time for us and we haven’t done anything quite like this before either.

So let’s see what happens – keep watching and don’t forget the work is live for one night only on 29th October 3pm – Midnight at aplacefreeofjudgement.co.uk.

The Humument

The Humument

In 1966 Tom Phillips picked up a copy of the Victorian novel A Human Document from a thrift store, took it home then re-wrote the story completely by collaging, painting and drawing into the text. The finished book is a beautiful piece of work with brightly coloured pages and just a few words of text showing through on each page, forming short poems that give the book an entirely new meaning. He even created a new protagonist called Bill Toge whose name only appears when either ‘together’ or ‘altogether’ are printed in the original text.

Over the summer we set workshop participants the task of making their own Humuments, and you can see some of their lovely books below:

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What Exactly Did We Get Up To?

What Exactly Did We Get Up To?

Isis, one of the young people we’re working with in the West Midlands, made this fantastic video documenting what we got up to during the first workshops in Telford.


All I Have Is A Glimpse and a Set Of Hunches

All I Have Is A Glimpse and a Set Of Hunches

When we start making a work I never know exactly where it will end up, what the form will really end up being. With A Place Free Of Judgement this is no different, in fact this feels very real at the moment and all I have is a glimpse and a set of hunches, like a whiff or a hint which went past me last week for a moment and now I can see it off in the distance again.

Some significant steps in Phase 1 of the project have just happened – three workshops, a total of 6 days at Cannock Library, Telford Southwater Library and Worcester St John’s Library and a structuring day with Tony White.

There are about 30 young people in the project split across the three sites, who range from nearly 14 to 19 years of age. We spent two days with each group and have covered a lot already – how to make walking stories for another person with no script about buildings we’ve never been inside, learning how to film in different ways and how to understand how we read film, how to have more control and ability even on a camera phone.

Stories have shifted from positive into a negative ones and vice versa – finding character, the opening and ending of a story at the same time.

Now we know which library follows which and why, what role history will play in the work.

This is a take over of libraries – this is a re-imagening of spaces we know as libraries. This is a work, a story of history and archive and law and documentary information, this is a story, a work, of fiction, of the impossible, of the haunted, of the individual and the collaboration.

We are going to writing a story and making the event of that story, which will be performed and streamed for 12 hours or rather 13 hours on the night of 29th-30th October when the clocks go back an hour.

Blast Theory, Tony White and up to 45 young people aged 14-19 will present A Place Free Of Judgement, a teenage takeover of libraries.

You can be an audience in the libraries or you can take part in the audience online.

The young people will take over

And the story will be published as a book.