As some of you may know, alongside my stop-motion ambitions, I work a ‘proper’ job as an assistant at my local libraries. Since starting there, I’ve come to appreciate how much more libraries are than the books they house- which is why when I saw the Arts Emergency (an incredible organisation who’ve supported me with creative opportunities in the past!) advertised the chance to shadow at the British Library - I jumped!
Much like when I started my day job- I went into the placement with a focus on the collection- seeing the British Library as that big building in London that (mind-bogglingly) houses a copy of every publication in the UK and Ireland- but during my placement my mentor Taneesha opened my eyes to how much more the job truly entails. She and her colleagues are part of the British Library Leeds (an offshoot I was initially unfamiliar with but have since become fascinated by) have plans to open a new site in the Grade I listed Temple Works building with hopes of making a space special to locals.
With the building set to open, my placement was online and while I couldn’t explore the physical collection (containing over 170 million items and 746km of total shelving that spans London to Aberdeen if laid out in its entirety!) during the week I was able to access their online resources and archives to researching into reference material and fall down several rabbit holes of interesting information!
Some of my tasks for the week involved combining my interest in animation with the materials available in this archive. With an upcoming British Library animation requiring reference images for a spider folk tale, I was able to use the catalogue to source these (as well as look into some lizard stuff for my own projects!)
It was also exciting to look into the work of local artists- in particular, the Leeds Animation Workshop, whose short films are among the many catalogued in the online British Library. Established formally in 1978, the women’s collective has worked hard over the years to advocate for social issues - with approximately 40 films under their belt educating audiences on everything from harassment to health and safety to environmental concerns. The online collection includes “Working with Care”, “Give Us a Smile”, “No Offence”, “Out to Lunch”, “Through the Glass Ceiling” and “Did I Say Hairdressing? I meant astrophysics”- all of which (especially the latter) I strongly recommend!
One of my favourite parts of the week, however, was meeting with hearing about the roles of the community teams in Leeds and London- through the informal chats Taneesha organised! Everyone was so generous in sharing their backgrounds, day-to-day responsibilities and experience within the library. The importance of community to the team is truly inspiring and everyone I spoke with seemed so driven to make a positive change- so thank you to Gaby, Kenn, Elvie, Jodie, Jamal, Ely and Tasha for taking the time to talk!
It was fascinating to see the overlap between those with creative backgrounds and library work, as well as the parallels between the British Library and my day job! While I see the impact of libraries on communities directly (helping with children’s activities, tech, printers and council issues on a day-to-day basis) learning about the motives behind and decisions made for future opportunities and exploring their impacts was so exciting and I’m coming off this placement with confidence for the future of libraries as a changing evolving force
Again very thankful to Taneesha and Aksana at Arts Emergency for putting together the placement. I can’t wait to see how the Leeds branch evolves knowing the good hands it’s in and will be signing up for a readers card on my next trip to London!