“I much prefer it when libraries are less about archiving the past, and more about presenting culture today”: Stewart Parsons on “Get It Loud in Libraries”

Marina and the Diamonds getting loud in libraries!
Marina and the Diamonds – image (c) Frances Ross

Libraries are utterly thrilling places. At least they ought to be. They should wow the pants off people. Shouldn’t they? All that free stuff. All that culture. All that Keatsian poetry to woo the ladies, and bomb-like knowledge to help pave your way in the world. What’s not to like?

I have long held the belief that a library user should leave a library a more enlightened, brighter, happier, braver, more empowered individual compared to the same person that first went in. In modern TV-land, the romance of people “going on a jouney” is increasingly paramount.

People go on journeys in libraries every day. Maybe we just don’t shout about it enough?

But for that to happen, for that surging flood of the imagination to take place, for the journey to take place at all, the original resources often need to be re-imagined. To be presented in a way that is fresh and appealing and meaningful. Especially to the young.

As a music librarian working in Lancaster, in the UK, I was aware that 10,000 CDs lining the library walls didn’t amount to such a great deal when the BPI loan agreement determines that a CD that comes out in the record shops and online today will be available for library loan in three months time.

Mmm, you got that kids? Come back in three months time, it’s only pop music, after all.


But I much prefer it when libraries are less about archiving the past, and more about presenting culture today. Indeed there is no reason why libraries cannot present the future today, here and now, right this minute. It just takes a shift in attitudes anda fresh look at how we imagine and re-shape our resources. Let’s do something spectacularly brilliant to give the kids a reason to visit.

My own vision for re-directing the music library in Lancaster was to present live music as a key resource. Library gigs. But awesome ones. Shows that you cannot believe quite happened when you waken the next day.

Six years on, Get It Loud In Libraries (GILIL) is accepted as a well established, purpose-built project created specifically for culturally aware and hard to reach young people which has been running successfully in Lancashire Libraries (and recently across the wider UK).

The elevator pitch? The simple aim of the project is to innovatively engage and develop the low-using but uber cool 14-25 age group (and other library non-users, of course) with public libraries through the best new live music.

In a nutshell, the live programme set out to:

Offer young people in the 14-25 age range community a pioneering, perception-altering library experience through a forward thinking live programme of gigs and events

Over the last 7 years the Get It Loud In Libraries programme has drawn an audience of over 28,000 people into libraries across the UK; created excitiAdele performing in a libraryng opportunities for young people to lead, participate, volunteer and excel through artistic and cultural activity; and introduced current household name pop acts as diverse as Adele, Florence + The Machine, The Vaccines, Noah And The Whale and Jessie J to young audiences in safe high quality venues, months ahead of their debut album releases.

It must be added here that quality control is a must. The programme has got to make heads swivel, or it’s not doing its job. The resulting success has truly exceeded expectations.

The ensuing positive impacts has allowed Lancashire County Council to build sound foundations for other cultural projects that actively engage young people through the coolest, pop culture methodology possible. Since the development of the shows has been founded on clearly defined principles, GILIL has happily expanded access, experience, opportunity and well-being for young people in public libraries elsewhere, too.

Amplification of what libraries stand for in every sense of the word.

Stewart Parsons is Project Manager of Get It Loud In Libraries for Lancashire Council in the UK. Find out more at the Get It Loud In Libraries website!

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