Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Libraries are important because...

Up to 800 libraries are faxed with the axe in the coming days. The Government back-down over Booktrust over Christmas, and its watering down of tuition fees, shows that it is not immune to pressure.

But here's some good news, from The Bookseller:

A simple tweet from a Shropshire ICT lecturer musing on libraries while doing her laundry of a Sunday morning resulted in the hashtag #savelibraries trending worldwide yesterday.

"Libraries are important because ... [fill in your answer & RT] #savelibraries", Mar Dixon tweeted. More than 5,000 people responded spontaneously to her invitation, which was retweeted by, among others, Margaret Atwood and Neil Gaiman.

Top tweets under the hashtag include @genrelibrarian's, retweeted by Neil Gaiman and more than 100 others: "Google can bring back a hundred thousand answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one." Other most retweeted comments include @JoannaCannon's "Libraries are important because, as a child, some of my best friends lived within the pages of a book" and actor Samuel West as @exitthelemming's "Times says Govt. report wants children to be 'school ready'. Perhaps not closing libraries would be a good start?" Radio and TV presenter Lauren Laverne also got involved this morning, tweeting: "Knowledge is power and all that but our libraries need us to help defend them". So too did comedian Robin Ince, asking "do you remember the first book you took out of the library?"

Hundreds more offered personal perspectives. @flangelina_iow wrote: "Library books fed my passion for reading as a child. Please don't steal these moments from our children, they are our future!" while @bootbrush wrote: "I learned more by exploring knowledge in the library than I ever did at school."

Dixon, an American living in Bridgenorth in Shropshire, said the reaction to her tweet was totally unexpected. "It was not a planned campaign," she said. "My day was doing the laundry and going to the shops and writing my assignment and taking back the dog we'd been dog-sitting. But I read a news piece online about libraries closing which I thought was very London-based, so I tweeted to invite people to give their own take on libraries. One person retweeted it, then another, and @Ukpling [the Twitter address for campaign group Voices for the Library] also got involved. When Neil Gaiman picked it up it really took off in the US, where they also have this plight with libraries hit by cuts."

The hashtag was also picked up in Portugal and Italy, and was world trending in second or third place by Sunday mid-afternoon, Dixon said. "It's reached over 5,000 tweets and is still going today, but I've got to teach this morning so I'll check in with it tonight," she added.

The Bookseller has launched a campaign to oppose the "wantonly destructive cuts to the national library service".

Called Fight for Libraries, the campaign will be centred around a Facebook site where news about library cuts and opposition to them will be reported, and which will also function as a hub for all news, sites and information on the struggle against library cuts. The site will operate from http://bit.ly/fight4libraries and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fight4libraries

Monday, January 17, 2011

Save Theatr Powys from the cuts!

Theatr Powys and Mid Powys Youth Theatre have just had their funding cut by the Arts Council of Wales. Please sign this petition against this act of cultural vandalism!

This group has provided consistently high quality drama for young people for many many years. They are one of the last Theatre in Education touring companies in the UK. Their abolition is part of the Coalition Government's attack on culture, education and literature.

Children's education benefits immensely from this kind of work. I've seen them many times. Their last show ever, The man who walked through walls, is on tour in mid-Wales.
poster for The man who walked through walls by Theatr Powys
Do go and see them and sign the petition please.

Friday, January 14, 2011

The ghosts of stories

We were talking in my Future Visions Book Group last night about this, at one point talking about hunter-gathering peoples and their oral traditions. Adam Thorogood mentioned The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, and how the aborgines of Australia encode information necessary for the continued survival of their tribes and clans in ways that embed individuals in their landscape, their ancestry and the flora and fauna that surrounds them.

This type of racial memory is the trans-generational correlate of DNA - instinctive memory that promotes survival down the generations. I'm not trying to be reductionist, but it's marvellous to me how the origin of stories lies here - how the human imagination can construct a marvellous epic like an Oddysey or Gilgamesh unconsciously from this basic drive.

Songlines and other oral stories are no less great for not being written down, and it's sad to think that whenever an indigenous tribal culture is destroyed by 'development' or colonialism or commercial interests all their oral tradition is lost too.

Of course, this happened in Wales - when the Romans came and massacred the Druids in 61AD, who were the guardians of the oral tradition. Then the country was Christianised. Both of these cultures destroyed the original oral tradition which is why there are no gods in the Mabinogion, only kings, prices and bards, with quasi-magical powers.

If you squint, you can see that these characters are pale shadows perhaps of Gods and Goddesses in earlier stories, lost hundreds of years earlier in the sieve of tribal memory.

Some of the druidic stories made it to Ireland, but even there, after centuries of disapproval from Christian priests, the gods were demoted to the Tuatha de Danaan.

So the Celtic tradition has no Thor, Odin or Freya. Instead in the British Isles we take our gods from later conquerors, the Viking Norsemen. They gave us our day names - Thursday for Thor, Wednesday fore Odin, or Woden, Friday for Freya or Frigga. The Romans gave us Saturn-day. Our pagan roots are revealed in Moon-Day and Sun-Day. Tiu'sDay belongs to a Germanic God of War.

What would our day names be if the Druids and Boudicaa had never been conquered, or if they had discovered writing, I wonder?