Tuesday evening saw the Lit & Phil celebrate its 220th birthday – again. Our party on the 7th February was oversubscribed and many people were left disappointed. Therefore we decided to hold another celebration.
On the night we had Michael Chaplin, who has a long association with the Society, as our special guest. He gave a brilliantly personal account of what the Lit & Phil means to him.
There was music, a book display and plenty of refreshments to keep everyone happy. And of course a birthday party is not a birthday party without a cake. Our cake was cut by Astrid, who retired as Deputy Librarian at the end of 2011.
Some of you may have tuned in to BBC4 yesterday to watch a documentary about the pioneering Egyptologist, W. M. Flinders Petrie, entitled The Man who Discovered Egypt. And very interesting it was too. If you have read Charles Parish’s History of the Lit & Phil Volume 2, you will know that Flinders Petrie lectured at the Lit & Phil no less than six times. His lecture on 31st October 1904, for example, on The Earliest Kings of Egypt (with lantern slides) attracted an audience of 735. In October 1907 his lecture on Sinai attracted a mere 665 attendees! This was followed a week later by archaeologist and explorer Gertrude Bell, lecturing on Buddhist Shrines (644 people came to that lecture). If only we still had our magnificent lecture theatre!
We have a number of Flinders Petrie’s works in the library. Consult the catalogue – you’ll be amazed. Above is an example of just one title on our shelves.
The Journal has just announced the nominations for its 2012 Culture Awards. And there is a Lit & Phil connection in several categories!
The Tin Ring, performed here in September, has been nominated for Performance of the Year. Well done Jane Arnfield! Ann Cleeves, a Lit & Phil member (and a regular in our events programe) is one of three nominated for Writer of the Year. November Club has done it again, and has been nominated in the Best Event Northumberland category, for Teacups, Zebras and Dancing Kaisers at Wallington. The Lit & Phil held a series of lectures which complemented this production. So congratulations to everyone and we look forward to finding out the results on 22nd April.
Sheree Mack is, our course, our Writer in Residence, and you will all know she has her own blog. Her most recent post is so positive and inspiring we felt it should have an airing on our main blog too….
Here is what she has been doing and thinking recently….
It’s been a busy few weeks in residence at the Lit and Phil. If you happened to talk to me, I might have even mentioned about moving my sleeping bag in for the amount of time I’ve been spending within the building. I’m not complaining, far from it. I’ve enjoyed every long day I’ve spent in the library. And I haven’t been alone. After the first writing workshop in the series, I’ve gone on to host the Young Writers of Walker Technology College performing in the library with the wonderful Nev Clay along to give us some tunes and advice on writing. I was standing there at the back of the audience watching the evening unfold and I had that feeling in my gut and heart that I was witnessing one of those wonderful, unique moments which makes you feel so glad to alive. The confidence and amazing words from these young writers made me speechless, speechless.
These writers set the bar high as I went into the first few workshops I’ll be doing in connection with the library’s Young Writers’ Award initiative. This is something that we are developing as a means of fostering and supporting the writers of the future through workshops, mentoring, publications and awards for different categories of writing. This week I introduced a few schools to the library for the first time and these writers were awe inspiring. The workshops were loosely based around the past, present and future. We took inspiration from a tour of the place to create our present experience of being in the library. We drew upon the Society’s history to imagine what the Newcastle Museum might have been like. We each had an object that was gifted to the Society and wrote about it, either as an observer or as the object itself, bringing it alive. The final part of the workshop was a real leap of faith as we had to imagine what lay in the future for the Lit and Phil. There is a portal to the future within the library. Be it the window behind the catalogues, the bolted door in the corner or the space between the columns in the basement. The writers had to choose where and how they got through this portal and what the world would be like on the other side. What would the future hold for books and reading?
I tell you now the future is bright as long as these young writers keep writing. They need to be given the time, space and encouragement to practice and stretch their voices and imaginations. Hopefully, the Lit and Phil are helping in this process.
We have now launched our pilot Young Writers’ Awards, inspired by the success of a similar scheme devised by Manchester’s Portico Library. Working in collaboration with Northumbria University and under the guidance of our Writer in Residence, Sheree Mack, we hope that we can stimulate the creativity of young people.
Sheree says: “Young people are the emerging writers of tomorrow. Their voices should be heard and encouraged. Our plan is to make sure that the Lit & Phil provides a positive and stimulating space for young writers to develop their writing skills, creative thinking and contribute to their growing confidence and personal development. We will also work with teachers to help them contribute to and deliver this pilot project.” The schools involved are Whitley Bay High School, Walker Technology College, King Edward VI School, Morpeth, St Bede’s Roman Catholic School, Lanchester, and Biddick School Sports College, Washington.
More on the Awards in a blog to follow.
I have been a member of the Lit & Phil for about 10 years now. I became aware of the library after hearing a poem read by Sean O’Brien during an exhibition I was taking part in with Birtley Aris in a gallery in Alnwick. I remember feeling totally intrigued by the poem, with a need to find out more about this place, the Lit & Phil. The opportunity soon arrived when the Lit & Phil gave their Phantoms at the Phil night; on that night, Sean O’Brien was once again performing and this time I had a chance to have a personal guided tour of the building by his partner Gerry. I was now hooked and, with the agreement of Librarian Kay Easson, I took up the role of artist-in-residence, creating a body of work using printed glass to reflect aspects of the Society’s heritage and the oral history provided by members and library staff.
At a time when libraries are under threat of closure, not only in Newcastle but further afield, the impact on the public is not just the loss of books and access to reading, but also the loss of public community spaces. To be a member of the Lit & Phil is a privilege and not one I take lightly, conscious of the Society’s historical achievements (and those persons associated with the Library) and the organisation’s forward thinking agenda. The environment of the Lit & Phil and public space is unique: a space where debate and discussion continue to take place amongst its book shelves and reference books. Below, in the bowels of the library’s building, historical archives and collections reflect the library’s development and growth, referencing the heritage of the region and history of the Empire. Access to books should not be a privilege but a guaranteed right for everybody. The public space the library (any library) inhabits is essential to nurturing a community of learning and awareness.
The Lit and Phil, like so many other libraries, uses the environment as performance space, exhibition venue, lecture theatre, workshop space and much more I am sure. It is a difficult balancing act maintaining the integrity of the library space as an engaging venue while widening participation. A few words of warning then from Dr Tiffany Jenkins, recent visitor to the Lit & Phil as part of the Radio 4 series hosted by Melvyn Bragg in early January, ‘The Value of Culture’. In her blog Dr Tiffany Jenkins raises concerns about Midlothian Council organising pole dancing classes on 2nd February as part of ‘Love Your Libraries Day’. She quite rightly points out the effect this kind of stunt can have in devaluing libraries. Asking volunteers to run libraries is another way of devaluing libraries, a suggestion current in the economic climate.