Fahrenheit 452 – the temperature at which library lovers spontaneously combust into direct action
Sunday, February 6th, 2011
Wednesday 2nd February 4.30pm. I am sitting in the window of a cafe on the Euston Road with Garfield and Ken watching the rush hour traffic gradually build whilst drinking mugs of coffee. We notice that there are a lot of police cars around, but thankfully they are all on the other side of the dual carriageway. Our rucksacks are full of video and stills cameras, a megaphone, gaffer tape, spare batteries, torches, warm clothing, and our precious ‘Save our Libraries’ banner.
I put a call through to John Bird of the Big Issue, but alas he is stuck in Cambridge. Garfield makes a final call to the media. We carefully go through the timetable again. 10 minutes before sunset we need to call the SFX team, who have parked round the corner and are ready to race in and set up their projection equipment. Ken is tweeting his growing following. At present no one knows where we are in Central London, except the press – the BBC and the Evening Standard.
Traffic builds. The pavements start to fill with commuters. Dusk settles. Still not quite dark enough. It’s now 4.50. We instruct the SFX guys to go for it. Things happen very quickly. Garfield and I wait for a gap in the traffic and then run across the dual carriageway to gaffer tape our banner onto the railings. The SFX guys race in with their scaffolding and trolleys.
Within fifteen minutes the equipment is set up and rapidly covered with a huge black cloth, so that it disappears as an anonymous piece of street furniture. Some of my Quaker friends arrive from Friends House and kindly help out with the photography. Thank you Karl and Ian!
The diesel generator is started (it can hardly be heard above the noise of the traffic) and the 20,000 Barco projector is switched on under the cloth. When it has fully powered up the cloth is removed and the astonishingly bright light bursts across the Euston Road and onto the wall of the British Library
The projector is focussed and aligned by Alex of SFX and he loads the laptop with our ‘We Love Libraries’ film. The holding slide goes up on the wall whilst we set up the DVD and test the powerful sound system.
How wonderful to see a sign saying ‘Please do not be quiet’ on the wall of the British Library!
Kate Mosse arrives to watch the screening and meets a couple of her readers who have been following our flash-mob tweets. She has been so supportive of our film and the whole library campaign in general.
Ken works the megaphone in a way only an American can and commuters stop to watch. We all keep a wary eye out for police cars, Heath and Safety Executives, Camden Council officials, Community Support Officers, Pavement Obstruction Managers, Conservative Politicians and any other potential killjoys. Ken instructs the SFX team to run the tape.
The voices of Glastonbury and Shepton Mallet residents ring out along the Euston Road. The wonderful music of Sly and Reggie of the Suburban Pirates adds to the party atmosphere.
How great to see our Lib Dem MP Tessa Munt speaking out over the roar of the traffic. We film and record the screening and repeat the film five times, before thinking we had better leave before our luck runs out.
We grab a quick picture with Jonny and Reggie, of the Surburban Pirates, pack our rucksacks and head back to the tube at Kings Cross. We drive back to Somerset exhausted but happy and get home at 1.30am. Garfield is due to start production work on a film in Italy, Ken has gone away on a retreat and the following day I am back filming on the banks of the River Parrett for an environmental film on coastal change. In the evening I send a slightly tongue-in-cheek thank you email and picture of our flash mob screening to the head of Press and PR team at the British Library.
A month earlier I joined fellow protesters outside Glastonbury Library in the snow and ice and thought how can I help this campaign? The website zocial.tv which tracks how films are shared across the web reports that within six days of being uploaded to YouTube, ‘We Love Libraries’ has become the ninth most shared non-profit film on the web. It is now playing on websites in Germany, Spain, Switzerland, New York, Baltimore, Argentina and Korea. The TUC has requested a high definition copy to screen at their outdoor rally ‘March for the Alternative’ in Hyde Park on the 26th March. I think the communities of Glastonbury and Shepton Mallet can be very proud of their impact on the libraries debate. Whilst Somerset County Council has taken our libraries off the closure list, there is still a lot to be done. If there is one thing I have learnt from working on the ‘We Love Libraries’ film it is this; I will never take my local library for granted again.