Get It Loud In Libraries: An Interview with Stewart Parsons

Photo by Frances Ross

Get It Loud In Libraries focuses on playing noisy, energetic, contemporary music in libraries; places that are relaxed, traditional and very, very quiet. Does not sound very promising does it? If we were to list the public places where we would host a gig, the library would be down near the bottom alongside the local police station. Yet this project has been a runaway success in the UK, hosting gigs across the country and boasting an impressive catalogue of acts including Adele and Chipmunk. To find out why it has been so successful we interviewed its creator, Stewart Parsons.

But first, here are a few of the numbers: the project has hosted 70+ gigs across the country, has 3000+ avid young fans of the concept, has won pretty much every relevant award for a library project, and has seen Lancaster Library repeatedly attain the highest issue numbers for CDs in the entire country.

So, to find out more about GILIL, its future and why it has been so successful, we interviewed Stewart, who has led the project from its conception to the success that it is today.

The Phonograph: What led you to create Get It Loud In Libraries back in 2005?

Stewart: The frustration that thousands of music lovers weren’t accessing libraries for music and the urge to do something original and fresh with the delivery of the service.

Why do you think it has been so successful in Lancaster?

The quality of acts has been key – Adele, Florence, Jessie J, Noah and the Whale, The Dum Dum Girls; the all ages vibe; the wow-factor of great acts playing on people’s doorstep; the warm, friendly and intimate buzz.

How have you had to adapt to cuts to arts funding?

The ethos for GILIL has been to simply keep doing what we are doing and make times better for everyone through great live music and to show the community that libraries are very relevant and necessary in 2011.

What do you have in mind for the future? What is your goal for this project?

GILIL has already expanded successfully over the UK with shows from Edinburgh to Rugby to Bodmin to Weymouth. Plan B playing Rugby Library was a particular highlight. I am discussing a development with the Arts Council that would take GILIL across the greater North West, Yorkshire, and the North East. Exciting times! When you see something working and young people responding so brilliantly to the library environment, all you want to do is keep improving, keep nailing the best acts, and keep offering cultural opportunities for young people to lead and get involved e.g. creating art for posters, front of house duties, shadowing sound engineers etc. I am fully focussed and dedicated to successful future development – expanding access to music AND public libraries.

It could be argued that GILIL diverts resources away from the fundamental problem facing libraries: their demise as centres of literature. What do you make of these reservations? What do you think the future role of libraries will be?

In all truth I have made my own luck working hard on the project from the beginning when we had NO money at all to the position we are in now where we are booking the best breakthrough acts around. You must remember GILIL creates audiences for libraries that hitherto didn’t exist. Fans visit the library from all over the country and from abroad to experience a gig in a library with their favourite acts. So we’re supporting local cultural tourism as well as everything else. This simply exposes more people to public libraries generally through a fab live experience. Lancashire County Council Library Service has been amazing in its support of a cultural project that does far more than the visible gig experience on the surface. Kids browse books waiting for acts to come on, bands read from books mid-performance; what’s not to like..? I would like to see libraries be fearless, drop old ideologies,  become venues of creativity and production, expand opening hours whilst still being the crucial go-to default places for books, poetry, browsing and dreaming.

What would you say are the three key things the government could do to help out GILIL and other community music projects?

Understand what a fundamental Big Society concern GILIL is. Support live music. Support public libraries. Understand not all libraries are the same and that the ones working with a more fearless methodology are worthy of support. To be fair Ed Vaizey is a huge fan of the programme – we don’t have any complaints and LCC are supporting libraries 100%.

Now, you’ve got a knack for featuring acts just before they breakthrough into the mainstream, including artists such as Adele and Bat For Lashes. Who should we be looking out for?

Hobbie Stuart, Keaton Henson, Beaty Heart, Lana Del Rey, Lucy Rose and Jess Mills!

Last but not least, what has been your favourite moment of GILIL so far?

The screams that went up when The Long Blondes went on stage in the jam-packed old music library with the NME photographing the whole thing – sheer bliss!

Our Thoughts… It is not hard to see why GILIL has been such a success. On the face of it, GILIL seems to be the exact opposite of what libraries stand for, but on a deeper level it is providing a much needed boost for a public institution that has been in decline for decades. By bringing young people back into libraries and using the facilities for something so vibrant and fresh, libraries have gained a new way of attracting a generation they lost touch with.

It is no wonder then that Stewart has just been selected as one of the eighteen people – from sixteen countries and five continents – that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have tasked with re-defining what the library should be in the 21st Century. I am sure you will join us in wishing Stewart and his colleagues the best of luck in their endeavour!

3 thoughts on “Get It Loud In Libraries: An Interview with Stewart Parsons

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