April 19, 2021
Simon Armitage begins decade-long UK library tour
by Tom ClaytonBack in 2019, a hundred years ago, the UK’s Poet Laureate Simon Armitage announced he was to tour the nation’s libraries each Spring over the next decade, to “give readings in libraries across the UK, from the flagship libraries of the big cities to smaller or mobile libraries serving rural areas.” Having been “stalled by Covid” in 2020, Armitage, 57, begins his tour virtually this Spring. Using the alphabet as a framework, the 2021 leg takes in Ashby-de-la-Zouch*, Aberdeen, Abington, Bacup, Belper, Bootle, and finishing at The British Library. He has also put out a call for libraries beginning with C or D (or, in Welsh, Ch or Dd).
A statement on Armitage’s website reads:
My experience of reading and writing began in the village library where I grew up, then in the nearby town library, then in libraries at various places of study and teaching. For many people they are an invaluable aspect of everyday life, giving access not just to books but to services, learning, conversation and creative thinking. I want to pay my respects to these unique institutions. By planning readings up to a decade in advance I’m being optimistic about the future of our libraries, and challenging those authorities who would consider closing them down.
In a world changed by the pandemic, the threat to our public reading spaces is graver than ever before. Libraries in Lockdown, a wide-ranging report produced by the UK charity Libraries Connected in November 2020, laid out some bleak numbers, suggesting the services will need our support long after a return to “normal”:
Libraries that know their budget position for next year have reported an average reduction of 14%. Income this year is down by 75%, and COVID security has used up another 4% of budgets… [they] are high profile local services that make valuable impacts on people’s lives, yet cost an average of just 0.6% of council spending.
Importantly, Armitage will highlight the physical act of reading within a library’s walls during his tour. He plans to live-stream each leg with no replay available, saying: “It would have been easy to stream these events from my office or garden shed, but at a time when libraries are under threat and have been out of bounds during lockdown, reading from inside their physical structures feels like an act of solidarity—with books, with poetry, and with communities.”
As we emerge from the psychic wreckage of the last 12 months, solidarity within communities feels more vital than ever – and with libraries forming a core part of that experience, we can ill afford to ignore their plight. Let’s hope more authors follow in the Poet Laureate’s wake – highlighting just how much we’ll miss them if they go.
*which amazingly is not even close to being the most bonkers British place name. Seriously, have a look at Cornwall one day.
Tom Clayton is publishing executive at Melville House UK.