Audio guide for Lancaster Library, March 2010 //// A RADAR residency commissioned by folly





A Walk from A-Z is a 20 minute audio walk that takes people on a tour of the history of the library movement via the collection at Lancaster Library. From roots in the Chartist rebellion through to the library’s relationship to digital culture viewers were invited to walk a map which draws this line back onto a locality. (See map below).

What I found most interesting during my research for this project was the symetry between the development of the library movement in relation to more radical social movements of the 1800's and similarly its demise, or at least its confused identity when confronted with a neo liberal agenda. That this trajectory, from its inception, speaks as much about our individual and societal relationship to learning, self improvement and culture as it does about the library itself. That libraries serve as a book mark or a remider of just how far we have walked down this path of 'liberalism'. That we have, as a culture, internalised market and corporate values to such an extent that they apear to us as contemporary ethics. Seen in relation to the library movement I began to realise just how hopeless it all seems. Not even just to be able to 'get back' something, equally in terms of wondering where this trajectory is leading us. These are concerns which frequently appear in my projects but I think in the case of libraries perhaps they stand as spaces of resistance. Viable and working systems which are equally part of another time a different value system. What seemed overtly apparent is that the whole system is currently being rationalised. That libraries are becomming 'community hubs'.

The idea of the community hub, at first glance, seems to be a brilliant solution to lots of wider issues around loss of community, withdrawal of public funding from adult education and general lack of social glue born out of a rise of privatisation and change in work/ life situations. And is also a perfect solution to perceived under usage as libraries as places to read and borrow books. For many this newly branded library does open up the possibility for changing the usage of the space – e.g. Using as a music venue in the evening, but it is also not without its difficulties. During my first visit the community police were in and out of the library dealing with teenagers and drunk homeless people. There seemed to be an almost tangible fizz of anarchy and tension in the air and incredibly high levels of stress for staff trying to keep an eye on things.

So ‘community hub’ may need a bit of back up or outreach to integrate these extremes into a space, which privileges the ‘many’, rather than the ‘few’. Furthermore this raises ethical questions about, who is the community and can or should certain groups be barred in an age of privatization when, perhaps, this is the last place they can go and still feel part of the community, a member of the public, on some level. How do you meter this with the rites of other individuals to go about their businesses in an environment that does not have an underlying feeling of violence?
These issues can be addressed in a wider context of neo – liberal ideology that combines a curious mix of corporate branding and flimsy ideals of openness and community but fails to deal with the fundamental issues of inequality or exclusion within a society at large. Using art or, in this case libraries, as a sticking plaster to cover its failure to actually deal with issues of poverty, breakdown of family and poor levels of education. So by choosing a route of plurality spaces actually just become drained of meaning rather than becoming multifaceted.
So how do create a space for a community, which is both plural but, has clear rules of engagement?

The Library movement is perhaps an ideal that could be drawn on to answer some of the questions. Whether they are based in digital or analogue technology. Perhaps it is a love of learning, an interest in the world and the idea of the library as a window on the world, which could inspire many people to re-, engage with it as a community space of self-development. The community hub being around perhaps engagement through certain groups and ideas. Other than the problem groups the library seems really busy and a genuine centre of the community in many ways. This is obviously also a cause for some celebration and I think most users would warm to the opportunity to see it as a knowledge resource centre etc.

In a sense this question of the multiplicity and the plurality of spaces is really key and the audio guide seeks to explore this gradual emptying of meaning.

During the residency I researched and developed the script in relation to its collection. I then worked with the librarians to record voice overs and helped record the sound track.