Rock festival librarians

Here in the Arendal Public Library we have often discussed how best to become more visible to the general public and to young people in particular. Youngsters make considerable use of the library, but mainly in connection with school and their studies. We have repeatedly asked ourselves what more we could offer in the fields of leisure and general reading.

So when in the spring the newspapers started writing about the coming rock festival at Hove on the island of Tromøya and referred to it as “Norway’s best rock festival for young people”, we decided to participate. An e-mail to the festival organisers and we were off. They wanted to have us!

Preparing to meet the challenge

In June we took part in a profiling seminar and workshop with a view to hearing about experiences from other rock festivals. Several meetings with the organisers established good communications and a mutual exchange of aims and ideas. As they wrote in an e-mail, “The fact that you can be flexible enough to adapt your product to our particular public is super-cool”.

An agreement was signed where the library committed itself not to ‘advertise’ the products or services of any third party.We were to “run an information stand at our own cost and to cooperate with the Hove Festival in creating a library which would be a festival attraction and an interesting place to visit.”

Contact with the press has shown that they are mainly interested in the special and unusual.When we announced that our library was to participate with a stand at the Hove festival we were promptly invited to the TV-studio!

We were librarians between 40 and 60 years old. None of us had ever been to a rock festival before, the nearest similar experiences being Christian youth camps and an all-women’s gathering in the 70s. By taking part in the Hove Festival we hoped to dispel the image of librarians as dull, boring people and there was much discussion about how we should present ourselves in the festival publicity.

Were we sexy? Were we ‘cool’? We finally decided to be simply ‘festival librarians’, aiming to challenge the public by doing untraditional things and giving priority to our many, varied services for young people. As we gradually worked towards our goal and enjoyed favourable reactions from the festival organisers, we did in fact start to feel quite ‘cool’.

The festival library

Loaded down with books, café tables, exhibition panels, old wooden book containers, steel boxes from Ikea, a counter top, trestles, posters, the library’s jubilee banner, various spin-off bits and pieces and, not least of all, the library bed, we set off – with the invaluable assistance of two splendid caretakers, two cars and two trailers – to spend the next five days at the festival.

We were given a place in the festival village together with a number of organisations such as Amnesty International, Médecins sans Frontières, the environmental Bellona Foundation, Oikos (The National movement of organic producers and consumers) and others.

Choice of media

50 kilograms of new strip cartoons from the specialist bookshop did the trick and bolstered our confidence.We could also offer novels and short stories suitable for our youthful target group together with non-fiction and periodicals dealing with subjects such as music, the environment, feminism, homosexuality, human rights, philosophy, science, photography and even quizzes and jokes. Altogether we had 425 titles on our list.

“Take a book and pass it on”

We purchased 20 novels bearing the following message, “These books are released into the public domain and beg to be read. If you find one, please make yourself comfortable wherever you are and read it.We hope you enjoy it and will take the trouble to write your comments, either in the book itself or using the blog on our website. Pass the book on to a friend or leave it in a public place where somebody else can find it and enjoy reading it.”

We had hoped for a good response and there was indeed considerable interest among the young festival-goers, even though the constant rain forced us to distribute only from our stand. Unfortunately we cannot boast of many contributions to our website.

“Exchange a book”

A box full of paperbacks was set up, the idea being that people could exchange their old paperback for a new one. However, very few festival-goers had books with them, so little exchange took place. Some we simply loaned out and one we actually sold for NOK 50,- (6 Euro).

Daily newspapers

Local and national newspapers were made available every day and proved very popular. The Hove Festival’s own daily paper containing reviews of the concerts and reports on the festival in general was widely read. Here the library had taken out a whole-page advertisement.

“Are you a poet?”

Festival participants were invited to use the library stand to present their own poems or texts every day. Response, however, was negligible, so we ourselves performed as ‘stunt poets’, reading poetry aloud.


The festival village had its own wireless local area network and the library system ‘Bibliofil’ was installed on our PC. However, the network functioned poorly, particularly in relation to our Bibliofil programmes. Searching on the Internet was easier, but at times this also failed. As a result we were unable to issue as many National Library Cards as we had hoped. However, since many festival-goers wished to borrow a book or a cartoon strip, we wrote down their names and mobile numbers and agreed on a return date. This worked very well and we lost only one book.


Our stand was open from 10 am to 10 pm every day but was only manned by library staff for eight hours. In the evening two festival participants/librarians took over, working on a voluntary basis.

What about the literature?

The most popular book was without doubt 1001 Albums to listen to before you die with The Norwegian pop and rock lexicon a close second. Interest was greatest for fiction, cartoon strips and newspapers, whereas works of non-fiction were in much less demand.Who says that young people, boys in particular, do not read? Many of them spent hours with us. Our bed became the most popular fixture with people sitting, lying down, reading and talking for long periods.

The weather

Every day we displayed the weather forecast. Since it rained a great deal throughout the festival, the weather became an important topic of conversation, second only to the music itself. Books swelled up in the damp atmosphere but have since regained their proper shape.Many people sought shelter with us during the worst downpours, the record being some 40 people crowded together on our 36 m2 of floor space, furniture and fittings included.

There were still plenty of visitors even when the sun was shining. They took books and other material and settled down in front of the stand. Evenings were devoted to the music, but even then there were many who called in. Altogether we registered a total of 2,200 visitors – well above our highest expectations.

Local presence

The presence of the library introduced a local element into the festival.We were well acquainted with the area and could answer most practical questions, such as how far it was into town, bus connections, where to go shopping, etc. Our range of services gradually widened, the recharger for mobile phone batteries proving particularly popular.We offered a slightly different place to be, a place where one could relax, read, chat over a cup of coffee and feel at home.


The young people at the Hove Festival seemed to find the library a cool place to visit and we received many positive reactions to our being there. Nobody before had come across a library at a rock festival. Our central position in the festival village was a great advantage, making us easy to spot from a distance and a popular meeting-place.

Since our nearest neighbour was the café, people often brought their cup of coffee into the library. As for the festival organisers, our impression is that they did all they could to help us. In spite of an enormous pressure of work, they always responded quickly to our requirements. Not an unfriendly face to be seen

We would definitely like to do this again!

Read more about the Hove Festival and Arendal Library: www.arendal.folkebibl. no

Eli Søyland
deputy head librarian
Arendal Public Library

eli.soyland AT

Translated by Eric Deverill

deputy head librarian Arendal Public Library