Sunday, 11 November 2012

Jarvis Cocker opens Wakefield Library

"I've always wanted to open a library" Jarvis Cocker tells the crowd, with a slight smile, in Wakefield's new museum and library building, Wakefield One. A surprisingly large crowd has gathered on what may well be the last sunny day of the year. The library building, with large square glass windows from floor to ceiling and low level, pure white book shelves invites in this sunlight and the space feels inviting and peaceful, if a little clinical.

Introduced by Councillor Box, Jarvis gives a short speech about his love of books and stories. He says he was surprised to receive the invite to open a library when so many are closing. Before his arrival I had attempted to ponder the question of whether libraries would be a thing of the past in a digital age, if the idea of storing thousands of physical books was a rather anachronistic. I say 'attempted' as my tired, hungover brain struggled to juggle the question and my co-ponderer Jack Winn of Runaround Kids simply gave me a wearied look as if to say 'do you ever stop, Dean?'

Jarvis kind of answered this in his speech, saying that the way you hunt for information and stories in a library is different to the internet. You might pick up a book simply because it’s a nice colour. Or the cover looks good. He's right; there is a random element to browsing in a library, or bookshop or record shop that is hard to replicate online.

He spoke to of the escapist quality of books. When reading online, he said, there is the constant niggle that you could be buying a new jumper or checking your Facebook that pushes you through your article or story faster than you may otherwise wish to. To curl up at home, or indeed a corner of this very library, and immerse yourself is very special indeed.

Finally, he told us how he saw books more as people; each an insight (or a 'holiday') in someone else's mind. Which in Jarvis' mind makes a library more like a party, a room full of people with interesting stories to tell. Only Jarvis could make Wakefield library seem like it was the core of a throbbing social gathering, a buzzing exciting place full of potential.

He was an inspired choice to open it, I feel. There were a lot of people from the previous night's gig at The Hop and the opening felt like a social event, like being in a pub. Walking around, bumping into people and chatting. But in a library. The air of stuffiness most of us still associate was notably absent. Personally I would go watch Jarvis open a pot of yoghurt, so I was always going to be here. But by drawing 150, maybe 200 people down, it also removed the feeling of apprehension involved with visiting somewhere new for those that attended.

For those that didn't I recommend a wander down. I haven't looked around the new museum as yet (though I hear there is a VERY special guest in line to open it next month) but there is also a great looking cafe as part of the large building. The council in general seems to take a bit of a battering from all sides on all manner of topics, though I expect this may be the case across the country. Personally, I feel the fact that new things are being built and promoted with such conviction is essential for the city.

As I admit, I am a great fan of Jarvis, but aside of that I did feel a serious pang of civic pride in him travelling up to Wakefield to open our library, which felt a little odd to me - but pleasingly so. It was great too that he patiently hung around to sign things and have photo’s taken. It was lovely. The positive perspective of an outsider always feels sweeter, so this was a good day for me and for Wakefield too.

Dean Freeman

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