Library Camp 2014 at Newcastle

Newcastle Library

Newcastle Library

We recently sponsored Library Camp 2014 at Newcastle Library because they are debating similar issues to us. Paul Fillingham, our tech and art editor, ventured north to represent us. Here’s how his day went.

Newcastle City Library is one of the shiny new hubs that have become something of a showcase for many UK cities. These architectural wonders are designed for easy access. Inside they boast clean open spaces, computer terminals, good lighting, fast WiFi and coffee-shop franchises to rival those found on the high street.

I am greeted by librarians that work from a standing position at high-tech ‘Enquiry – pods’. These friendly folk in black t-shirts and smart corporate attire direct readers and visitors to appropriate areas of the library. I was directed upstairs where Library Camp delegates were already going through their round-the-room introductions. The room was large with people arranged around the periphery, creating a vast open space in the middle. At one end a huge projection screen, at the other, tea and cakes. And in the middle a set of double doors that I had just stepped through spaghetti-western style. I resisted the temptation of affecting a ‘Howdy pardners’ drawl and introduced myself as being from Rebel County and representing Dawn of the Unread at which point my host and event organiser Sue Lawson came to the rescue.

Interior of Newcastle Library

Interior of Newcastle Library

Library Camp 2014 was billed as an ‘Unconference’ and a ‘PowerPoint-free-zone’ presenting a challenge to someone armed with a computer loaded with digital content. However, I do have an aversion to said Microsoft software and generally like to arrange supporting material (usually images) as a simple slide show. After introductory speeches the unconference was quickly transformed into a conference; Post-it notes being attached to a timetable that was being projected onto a giant screen. Delegates wrote stuff down and queued for tea and cake whilst I talked to individual folk about eBooks, Mobile Apps, digital platforms and the number of trees it takes to design and build such things (lots).

The Dawn of the Unread presentation was scheduled for late afternoon, but other sessions included: Coding and Code Clubs, income generation & libraries, the Carnegie Library Lab, LibraryBox, libraries &  online security, storytime top tips, the Public Library Festival, open source software in libraries. After attending a few of these sessions I decided to head for the river. Reaching the quayside involved traversing a ring-road by means of a pedestrian bridge and then braving cavernous arches underneath viaducts and bridges that were lined with enough bird feathers to fill a hundred pillows. Except you wouldn’t, because the feathers were bloodied, adding to the murderous scenarios being played out in my zombiefied imagination.

Newcastle has found its creative soul. Across the river, the Baltic Flour Mill – built by the Hovis Company in the 1930’s – now a centre for Contemporary Art. And downstream; The Sage, another iconic building, devoted to music: A marvel of modern architecture, this mirrored leviathan with its vast billowing profile, blending into the sky like a gigantic metallic cloud and looking vaguely reminiscent of the mechanised clouds I’d seen as a child in the 70’s on the children’s TV programme The Clangers.

Baltic Flour Mill - Nick Bell

Baltic Flour Mill – Nick Bell

I became conscious of the voices around me. My flat midland vowels seemed harsh, angular and nondescript in comparison with the soft glottal rhythm of the Geordie tongue. The voice of the young lad behind the counter of the Cafe in the Laing Gallery was mesmerising. I felt exposed as I said ‘thank you’ for my tea. I thought about saying ‘Ta mi Duck’ but that’s something I would never really say, something beaten out of me as a kid – not literary beaten you understand, but something deemed ‘common’ by my Mother who wanted something better for me than working down the pit like my Dad.

The North East of course has it’s own mining heritage. Coal was important to Newcastle’s economic growth during the Industrial Revolution. Mining is a connection I share with this city. As a boy I became acquainted with Geordie families who came to work in our village; their own pits having fallen prey to a stealthy closure programme presided over by Harold Wilson.

The Laing Gallery has one or two canvases devoted to mining themes, including work by Henry Perlee Parker (1795-1873) and Ralph Hedley (1848-1913). Both detailing the activities of miners. Both featuring the Clanny and Geordie lamp, important 19th Century inventions designed to prevent the ignition of underground gas that had blown thousands of men, women and children to pieces during the pre-mechanised era. Today coal production has shifted to places like Columbia, the United States, Eastern Europe and Australia; an activity in which we no longer compete.

Design, however, is one activity in which the UK still remains a world leader. In the gallery I strike up conversation with an Australian Architect who is looking to further his career ‘over here’. Over tea we discuss design methodology and get into the subject of Nottinghamshire legends like Robin Hood, our international fashion guru Paul Smith and good old D.H. Lawrence. A kind of warm-up for the Library Camp presentation.

Back in the library I pull together a few visuals on my Mac. Then set up in the main presentation room. There are a good number of delegates in attendance in spite of the fact that it’s about four-o’clock in the afternoon. I begin with a quick overview of The Sillitoe Trail, the first digital literacy collaboration between James and myself.


Conveying the rationale behind such a distinctly Notts-centric project is not too much of a challenge, as the five themes can be applied to any town or city. For every major conurbation has its spaces for Public gatherings (Old Market Square), Drinking (The White Horse), Work (Raleigh Factory), Leisure (Fishing on the Trent), and Festivals (Goose Fair).

The zombie genre is also familiar territory and Dawn of the Unread answers many of the questions raised by delegates about how to engage reluctant readers. As I project pages from each chapter of our graphic-novel on the gigantic screen, it becomes apparent how rebellious our featured characters are. Although miles from Nottingham, figures like Byron Clough, D.H. Lawrence and William Booth strike a chord in this northern outpost and I delight in delivering the irreverence of it all, pointing out that it is this very quality that young readers find appealing.

Our latest flyer designed by Paul Fillingham

Our latest flyer designed by Paul Fillingham

The Q&A session was lively, focussing on analytics, whether Dawn of the Unread content was free to access and distribute, and future development of our digital platform: Whether it could be adapted to other regions and other themes, which of course is very much our intention.

Being encircled by massed ranks of Librarians is an odd experience and I couldn’t help but recall the morning session when some members made an impassioned plea for their right to stamp books; accompanied by clenched fists simulating the downward thump of the ink pad on the inside cover of the Book. At this point my imagination is getting the better of me and the circle is closing in, zombie librarians with clenched fists clamouring to date-stamp my brain and send me back to Nottingham where I belong.

Of course it didn’t really end in a zombie bloodbath. Merely a winding-up speech by our hosts and a thank you for our sponsorship and for our belief in the power of the written word.


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