I'm starting by observing what happens in the library- the patterns of the day and the reasons why people come in. After school was the busiest time today, between 3.15 and 4.30, when at one point there was a queue of around 8 people at the desk. The homework club was taking place in the second room and all the computers were in use. Otherwise, the quieter area with tables was filled with people reading books and newspapers. The beeping sound of the scanner was constantly in the background, and the conversations at the desk would drift through the space.
"I returned the book…" "…this is the book that was waiting for you…" "…would you like to come over…" "I think someone said something about it, I can't remember what they said now…" "… have you a moment while I have a quick look for you…" I also spoke to all the staff. One of them told me, "I started working here because I love reading. I did think I would be discussing literature a bit more than I do."
Extract from 'News from Islington', January 1983
With thanks to Islington Local History Archives
ISLINGTON OPENS A REAL CHILDREN'S LIBRARY
Councillor Alan Clinton said, "we are delighted to open a real children's library in Islington. We hope the bright and attractive shopfront will encourage people who do not normally use libraries to come in for more than just books. This is a family library, built at low cost - a people's library, and Islington believes in the people."
From 'The Old Original Archway' by Marie Doughty, in ISLIB Newsletter, 1981
With thanks to Islington Local History Archives
"After over thirty years, the old Archway branch has moved to new accommodation in Archway Mall. It is a glossy purpose-built library, resplendent with a brilliant green exterior. When I see it, I am inevitably reminded of the opening of the original branch at the end of 1946, at the beginning of one of the coldest winters in living memory, when the whole country was short of money, desperately short of fuel and weary after six years of war. The library was opened with the minimum of money and in great haste… We rented an empty shop, and adapted it. We had no water, no toilet accommodation, no central heating, no telephone and a counter which was hand-made from old tables from the Reference library. No-one thought this state of affairs very strange; we had all been through years of shortages of every sort, and Health and Safety precautions were a thing of the future. We just loved every minute of it… The public flocked in; it was as if a floodgate had been opened to people who had been starved of reading matter for years. Our stock was being issued faster than we could replace it, and some shelves were literally quite empty when we closed… With the addition of the basement and telephone, Archway started to become just like any other branch, except to those of us who were there in the early days, to whom it will always be something special."
Thanks to Cuneyt Yilmaz, manager of Archway Library, for forwarding me this quote from Harriet Lane
"My local library is located in the shadow of the Archway Tower, next to a pawnbroker, in an godawful windswept piazza forever gusting with scraps of litter. Inside it’s badly lit, more than a little shopworn, and not especially fragrant. But it’s usually busy: thronging with mothers and toddlers, people on their lunch breaks, after-school teens, the odd vagrant making the most of the central heating. You can come here to read newspapers or The Racing Post in its squashy chairs. You can hire a computer terminal for a half-hour slot while your kids loll around in the children’s section. You can rent Bridesmaids or series four of The Wire. And we haven’t even started on the books."
"This modest little building works. Over the years, it has given me endless treats, shocks and surprises. I’ll always be grateful to it for — and this is just off the top of my head — The Haunting of Hill House, The Grass is Singing, The Little Stranger, Legend of a Suicide, American Wife and Tony and Susan. As politicians look around for austerity cuts, libraries may seem an easy target; and yet a good local library, like mine, achieves something that the number-crunchers are barely able to fathom. It’s a portal to thousands of other worlds, some of which may usefully illuminate your own."
Fridays are busy in the library. Every table was taken and there was at least one person in each aisle. At 11am a class of school children came in, holding hands in pairs and being shushed by their teachers. They went to the children's section and were read stories. A man came looking for a copy of Jailhouse Rock by Elvis Presley, which had been sent back to another library, so instead he said "Can you give me some music? I don't mind what, I just want some music." There were a few comments about the cold wind outside. "This area here is very cold, by the tower." At one point 3 men all wearing similar flat caps came in one after the other. "Oh I'm glad you're back, there has just been wave after wave of people. Someone came in to look for some lost property. "It's ok, we're very honest here."
Today I installed a post box in the library, labelled with the title I've decided on for the project: A People's Library. This comes from the speech made at the opening of the new building in 1980. I've put slips of paper around the library with what I hope are open-ended, interesting questions for people to answer and put into the box. I was encouraged to see that two people posted their answers within the first hour, including a security guard who seemed to be putting a lot of thought into what he was writing.
It was good to meet the other Hostings artists last night and talk about our work at the 'Exchanges' evening. They are all working in very different places but there are lots of nice crossovers and it's useful to be able to discuss our projects with each other- something that artists don't always get the chance to do enough.
I arrived at the library to find a pile of responses to my questions in the post box. The most successful question seemed to be 'What is a Library?' to which I received the most answers. "A little socialist utopia!" was one of my favourites. I'm hoping for more responses this week.
More responses were in the box today, including a lovely drawing by Victor Ortega, of a person sitting reading with words floating around their head. What is a library? "Any place where you can forget your daily problems and feel the pleasure of letters flying around you." It was quite busy in the library today, probably due to half term and the cold weather outside. I looked in a book about the history of Islington and found that the foundation stone of a new Archway was laid nearby on 31st October 1812, meaning that the 200th anniversary was just the other day. This is not the first anniversary I have discovered recently; when I was looking in the archives I found out that the 30th anniversary of the Archway children's library will be in January 2013, when the project will be drawing to a close.
I started a new idea today in the library, of taking photographs over people's shoulders, just showing their hands and whatever they are reading. I asked Germander to pose for me first, so that I've got something to show people when I ask for their permission. I also got a list of the most borrowed books from Cuneyt, the library manager, and found out that James Patterson is the most borrowed author in the library. Of the most borrowed children's books, most were either about dinosaurs or astronomy, but there was one that stood out as different: 'A Walk in London' by Salvatore Rubbino.
The computers in the library were out of action today while the network was being upgraded, and so it was much quieter than usual. The only visitors were looking for books or reading newspapers, and so it probably cut down the number by about half. A man from the council was there doing some other odd jobs around the place and talking about putting some 2-way film over some of the windows so that people couldn't stare in from outside. I placed some slips of paper in some of the most borrowed books, asking people to note down the different locations where they have been taken. While I was sitting at one of the tables, I flicked through the copy of the Daily Mirror that was in front of me, and found a feature on the 'Guerilla' library just up the road in Friern Barnet, which is being run by volunteers after the council closed it down. The 43 bus goes there from right outside the library, so I may take a trip one day. I also worked out the location of the former library that opened in 1946 (see below)- it is now the gym next to the Methodist church across the way. I showed a picture to Germander in Second Chance, and we asked one of the volunteers there, who confirmed this was correct.
This week it was very busy in the library, maybe because I went later in the day this time. I took several photographs of what people were reading.
Thanks to Mick Gulginn from Islington TUC for the following which was posted in the dropbox this week:
" The opening line to the Manic Street Preachers song 'A Design for Life' is 'Libraries give us power'. They took this inspiration from the entrance of Newport Library, Wales: 'All Knowledge is Power'. Newport has a radical history and that sums up for me what a library is. It gives people a sense of knowledge, community and has empowered many people. It is important to protect all libraries from cuts in services and jobs."
Today I recorded some interviews with the library staff. I was told a story about someone who used to leave women's shoes in the library, usually 'strappy, sparkly' ones. The details of who it was, and how many times it happened, aren't quite clear. I also went across the road to the gym, which is in the building where the library used to be until 1980. I spoke to Anthony, who was on the front desk, and he showed the owner a photograph that Germander had borrowed from the vicar. There doesn't seem to be any sign that the library was once there, but the owner did say he was aware of it. Later on, I was struck by the brightness of the heater above the counter, which looked like a neon sign out of the corner of my eye.
I've been extending my research to contacting librarians at other Islington libraries, who used to work at Archway at one point or another. So as well as talking to more of the current Archway staff, I've been to meet Michelle and Shari at Central Library. Shari pointed out to me that one of the young girls in the 1980 photos was in fact Frances, who still works at Archway. It turned out that Frances had worked at all 3 of the buildings I'm looking at- the current one, the old one which is now the gym, as well as the Dick Whittington children's library on Giesbach Road. Shari was also included in the mural at Archway, which now doesn't exist any more. What is really nice is that so many of the people in the old photos carried on working for Islington Libraries ever since- some of them have retired now but nearly all of them spent their whole working lives there. It also turned out that Clara, who took the photos I've been using, was a librarian who is now retired.
I went to meet Julie at N4 library today, who was a Saturday worker in the 1980s. She had lots of old photos of Christmas parties at Archway library, which was strange as later on I found that the current library staff were all going out for their Christmas party tonight. I then went back to Archway to interview Frances, who I had discovered last week was in one of the photos I got from the archives, and who had some really interesting things to tell me. After this we had the Hostings exchange with the other artists, which Germander and I hosted in the library staff room.
My last day at the library before Christmas, and I interviewed Cuneyt, the manager, about his experience of working at Archway. Like many of the other staff, he has worked for Islington Libraries for years, and is very proud of that. Now I need to spend some time over Christmas transcribing all the interviews and designing the newspapers ready for the launch in January.
Today I went to Central Library to finally meet Clara St Paul, who was credited with taking the photographs I found in the Local History Centre. In fact, she isn't sure that she took them all herself, and thinks that there was a camera being used by several of the staff to document the move to the new building. I also went to take away the post box from Archway, as I need to finish the newspapers so can't take any more contributions.
An exciting day for the Hostings project, for more than one reason. This morning I went to meet Shari again at Central Library, and recorded her reading out the script I put together for the audio tour. She did really well and I'm very pleased with the recording. Then I went and finished the newspaper designs. I've spent quite a lot of the last month or so trying out different options, doing printed tests and getting various people to check them over, but I finally made the PDFs today and uploaded them to the Newspaper Club website. Fingers crossed!
The launch event for the audio guide and newspapers was last night, and it was a lovely evening. Lots of Archway librarians past and present came along and seemed to really enjoy the work. Shari's wonderful reading on the audio guide seemed to go down well and the newspapers are in demand! The work will be in the library until the newspapers run out, although the audio guides will be behind the desk after this too, and I will look into binding some of the newspapers for a more permanent addition to the library. If anyone is planning to go and see the work, please check the opening hours, as the library is closed on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Details here
Interviewees: Islay Beesly, Michelle Gannon, Shari Green, Kim Hoffland, Frances McElvenny, Clara St Paul, Julie Sparks, Cuneyt Yilmaz.
With thanks to: Ben Smith at Islington Local History Centre, Archway Library Manager Cuneyt Yilmaz and all the library staff.