The Rolling Tomes

Posted on behalf of Eleanor McCann, Mersey Care Reader in Residence

I knew I’d picked the right seminar at the TRO conference when the first slide in the Libraries We Love presentation was of an old man wielding a guitar, impressively close to doing the splits:

 

That old man is, in fact, Keith Richards busting out on his trademark Telecaster. Richards was guitarist with The Rolling Stones from the early 1960s up until their demise in… no, incredibly they’re still creaking around… anyway, it has come to our attention that Richards is a big fan of libraries. Well, my two great loves are books and rock ‘n’ roll so I thought I’d have a look and see what involvement Richards has had, and could have, in the future of public libraries.

The first thing I found was a video of a long interview with Richards at the New York Central Library.

If you click along to around 8 minutes 50 seconds in, you will hear him talking about his love of libraries as a child growing up in Kent. I was struck by Richards’ response to the interviewer’s initial question about libraries – he smiles and says ‘Sure’ with quiet relish as though it’s his special topic on Mastermind. For a boy expelled from school, it is interesting to hear Richards speak of his willingness to obey the rules of libraries and that he valued them as places of civilisation.

In a BBC interview with Andrew Marr, Richards agreed that his childhood was Dickensian and that he was ‘one of the reprobates’, something which clearly continued into adulthood when he was jailed in 1967 on drugs charges. There is something about strict routine and regulation which connects prisons with Richards’ perception of libraries. The idea of ‘thou shalt not’, perhaps. Nevertheless, that libraries operate around their own internal laws (no talking, no food and drink etc.) was somehow appealing to Richards; strangely the institutionalism of his library was the thing he enjoyed, perhaps giving a sense of order to what became an otherwise hectic lifestyle. It certainly makes you wonder how we could achieve a balance between relaxing rules to make libraries less intimidating but also preserving rules so as to maintain the comfort of clarity and stability for library users.

Next, I came came across a short article in The Times, ‘It’s only books and shelves but I like it’. The article reports on the career Richards might have chosen had he not become a musician…

Last year Richards released a book himself, Life. I haven’t read it yet but reviews of the autobiography suggest it is a warts n all type of thing. I searched online for a taster and found a digital version of it, available here.

(You might need to press on the + button to make it legible.)

During the conference seminar, we had a long discussion about which titles should be in our libraries and who should choose them. Maybe Life ought to be among the stock on our dream library’s shelves – it is life we need to breathe into the public library system, after all.

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