Simon Savidge has left his role at Liverpool Libraries to take charge of logistics for the BBC’s Novels That Shaped Our World libraries events programme.
As project manager, Savidge will be overseeing a year’s worth of events up and down the country to coincide with the BBC project. Led by Libraries Connected, it is funded by a £253,000 Arts Council England grant and supported by BBC Arts.
The BBC revealed its 100-strong list of novels last year, with titles including Beloved by Toni Morrison, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, the Harry Potter series and Riders by Jilly Cooper. Libraries were given the chance to bid for sums of £7,000 or £1,000 so they can host events that coincide with a monthly theme, from identity to crime and conflict.
Savidge said 44 libraries had secured funding and their events were “so varied it’s incredible”. Some have gone for a Robinson Crusoe or Treasure Island theme, including Savidge’s old Liverpool stomping ground where coding workshops have helped children create a talking parrot.
He said: “One that I really loved is Stockton-on-Tees, they're doing an amazing event. They're putting on Swallows and Amazons on the river. So that's going to be brilliant. Dorset are working with people with dementia to make vases to help them tell their own story. Everytime I think about that one it makes me want to cry because I think that sounds wonderful. Manchester's going to have a wall of all the books, so continuously all 100 are on loan.”
The first events were held in Cambridge back in January, then Liverpool in February before the schedule ramps up with five or six libraries putting on events each month. The project also sees virtual reality headsets sent out to different libraries featuring BBC videos covering everything from "Doctor Who" to the Second World War. The videos will be accompanied by reading lists.
The programme ends in October but organisers are hoping to keep the conversation going with an author roadshow visiting libraries and a conference in January celebrating and reflecting on the project.
“It's an exciting project and it's just great for libraries,” said Savidge. “It's people putting their money where their mouth is and saying libraries really matter. Also it's really nice seeing all the different ideas libraries have had and how differently everyone's reacting to the list. It's fascinating and has created so much excitement. BBC Arts are saying it's one of the most popular initiatives they've ever done.”
Savidge, who grew to love libraries as a child after being taken there by his mother when she studied for university, said leaving Liverpool had been a “tough decision”. But he said: “I’m chuffed. It's bittersweet because I've gone on to something that's really exciting and get to work with 44 libraries instead of one but at the same time Liverpool had a special place in my heart.”