The project’s title refers to a well-known Danish concept of a very avid reader: ‘læsehest’ (direct translation ‘reading horse’) and to Hundehoved (direct translation ‘doghead’) which is a reference to the title of the recent Danish bestseller by Morten Ramsland, who at the initial phase of the project had just published this ‘cracker’ of a modern story.
Bookworms and Dogheads was a joint development project in 2007-2008 between Århus Public Libraries and the local literary milieu. The idea was to promote the libraries’ role as cultural meeting place and to rethink the libraries’ literature mediation and thus fuel the interest in literature.
In 2006 a report was published dealing with the literature sphere in Århus municipality. It reflected a desire for the formulation of a literature policy for talent development and a fuelling of the interest in literature as part of the municipality’s cultural policy. The literature report showed that a very vibrant and active literature milieu exists in Århus, but also that it is rather fragmented and lacks coordination. In this connection one might mention that Århus, the second largest town in Denmark, has a lot of students who put their stamp on the diverse cultural life.
The literature report was a stepping stone for Bookworms and Dogheads combined with the realisation that the libraries tended to be too invisible in connection with literary events and large literature arrangements in the town. Literature was in fact more and more becoming a common point of reference, and also the media were more inclined to direct their focus towards literature as such. This growing interest in literature was bound to require new initiatives on behalf of the libraries.
Bookworms and Dogheads
The pivotal point in the project was cooperation with other literary players such as literary associations, authors, publishers, booksellers, Århus University etc. Inclusive cooperation became the operative word which helped to create the feeling of joint ownership. Selected members from the town’s literary milieu took part in the project organisation and helped to plan and carry out initiatives and events while to a considerable extent involving their networks in this work.
In all 44 literary events were staged in and outside the libraries, ranging from traditional author evenings to experimenting literary performance. The town itself was included, and the library moved out to different localities such as Varmestuen in Århus Harbour, the Women’s Museum, the Goods Yard and the Author and Translator Centre, Hald Hovedgaard. The themes ranged from the local with hiphop from the local ghetto to the international with contributions from Bergen and the Middle East. The project appealed to different target groups and with its broad palette of arrangements attracted members of reading circles, students, people who do not normally use the libraries and youngsters from the literary growth layer.
Thematic literary mediation was particularly popular and opened up the possibility for professional absorption, a creative approach and more longterm planning where a theme might often stretch over several months. The professional absorption meant a more thorough preparation where a literary area like for example sound+literature was uncovered and added knowledge from local literati. The creative approach meant that more elements could be introduced in the theme which helped to expand the literary experience. It might for example take the form of an introductory reading circle meeting, a literature course, a study circle, a film being shown before an author event or a culinary interlude in connection with an event.
A doghead concludes
The conclusions in relation to Bookworms and Dogheads and its further implementation in Århus Public Libraries can be summed up thus:
Collaboration with the literary players has produced new knowledge and many opportunities in connection with the libraries’ literature mediation. First and foremost, the libraries have become a more obvious partner and are now often included in the planning of new initiatives, festivals and arrangements, which means more coordination within the literary field in the town. As for the libraries, the knowledge of literature in its many forms has been increased and new fields have presented themselves. As regards the mediation, the libraries have become aware of their partners’ approach to literature mediation where focus to a great extent is directed at literary content and its performance, which can help enhance the total experience of the literary event. Finally, PR and branding have arrived on the agenda as an important element in literature mediation.
Bookworms and Dogheads focused from the very beginning on the literature that does not mediate itself and has not got bestseller status. The collaboration with other players, who deal with and engage themselves in literature, inspired to concentrate more on a mediation which lets the public ‘stumble across’ a novel or a poem. Thereby the public is given the chance to get unexpected reading experiences and it is instrumental in introducing the public to a broader spectrum of literature. This way something very essential in the libraries’ culture-mediating obligation is fulfilled.
Also the literary players have benefited from the cooperation in Bookworms and Dogheads. Knowledge of the libraries has produced a more nuanced view of their activities, where before some people tended to have the preconceived idea that the libraries did not take their culture-mediatory role seriously enough and focused too much on the popular aspect. Via the libraries, the literary players have gained access to a larger forum and a broader public. Altogether the literary players have come to recognise the library as a partner of many resources.
A bookworm looks ahead
Bookworms and Dogheads finished as a project over a year ago, but there have in various ways been followed up on the project: Århus Public Libraries has employed an expert as literary consultant, who amongst other things is to continue the external collaboration. A new homepage (Littaros), which collectively promotes the town’s literary arrangements, has been established in answer to a request from the town’s literary milieu. And an investigation has started into new literary tendencies where literature to a greater degree moves between media forms and is published in novel ways. This is an area that caught the project’s attention via collaboration with the town’s growth layer, and which at the moment is not being sufficiently strongly mediated in the libraries.
The libraries are still facing major challenges, for example the struggle for potential users that goes on between private culture providers and public cultural institutions in the experience society. Apart from this, there is the technological development which still to a large extent challenges the libra ries’ fundamental services within the cultural area. The library therefore has to reshape form and content in the mediation so that it fulfils – and keeps abreast of – the patrons’ wishes and needs, while at the same time living up to the libraries’ culture-mediatory obligation. Literature is vital in relation to the libraries’ mediation, and a strategy is needed in this area as new knowledge is gathered into the libraries. This can happen via inclusion of and cooperation with other literary players who are involved professionally with literature, by employing literary experts etc.
Bookworms and Dogheads in Århus has been a success and has contributed to promoting the libraries’ role as cultural meeting place and an innovation in terms of literature mediation. Thus the project has also been a contributory factor in producing new answers to some of the libraries’ present challenges.
Anja Nalholm Nielsen
ann AT aakb.bib.dk
dla AT aarhus.dk
The local libraries, Århus Public Libraries
Translated by Vibeke Cranfield