Getting men and boys into the library: extreme sports at Bath
Getting a stranglehold on library promotion2008 National Year of Reading has created many opportunities for libraries to ‘think outside the box’ this year. In Bath & NE Somerset Libraries existing contacts were used to host wrestling at Bath Central Library on a Saturday evening in August. This is probably the first time ever that a public library has been used for a wrestling match and as such was a great way to promote libraries and reading.
Controversy and TV Coverage
The idea of having wrestling in a library provoked many comments in a city such as Bath. They ranged from ‘What next – bear baiting at the Roman Baths?’ to ‘It’s the only way you’d get me into a library.’ However, this type of controversy guaranteed press and media interest in the project. Local, regional and national newspaper coverage followed and culminated in local TV news coverage the day before the event. This concentrated on the quirkiness of the event and the clash of cultures but in a positive way. References were made to suitable book titles such as ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’.
Team ReadReading the Game so wrestling linked in well with this and could also be associated with Team Read, the Children’s Summer Reading Challenge.
Wrestling fans could drop in while the library was open during the afternoon to experience training with the wrestlers with the main event being the evening’s match. This was a popular, noisy addition to Saturday afternoon. The audience of 50 on the evening ranged from ardent wrestling fans, senior citizens, children, babies in buggies and families. Many came from traditionally excluded groups and were challenged through mobility or learning difficulties. All had come to the library for a good night out.
On the night, the bookshelves were wheeled out of the way creating a vast space large enough to accommodate the full-size wrestling ring and audience seating. Refreshments were provided via the Library’s vending machines.
The atmosphere was informal, relaxed and most of all fun.
The event featured 6 bouts involving up to 12 wrestlers. One bout was a tag team challenge which involved the losers being thrown out of the ring over the top of the ropes landing at the audience’s feet! (Fortunately this type of activity had been anticipated when planning as library staff had previously seen the wrestlers in action).
The wrestlers made links to libraries and reading throughout their bouts: ‘Quiet please – this is a library’ said one as he slammed another into the canvas. One pair chased each other around the shelves, pausing to select a couple of books then one put the other in a headlock before asking, ’Can you tell me where the periodicals are?’. Winnie the Pooh from the Children’s Library was adopted as a mascot by the teenage wrestlers and paraded around before the bout started.
All evening the library rang with the sound of laughter, the slap of muscle on canvas, booing at the evil Anthrax and cheering as the ref counted the wrestlers out.
The event was successful because it:
• Gave libraries and reading publicity on a wide scale (TV and Press)
- Created controversy and consequent interest locally
- Reached the target audience of non-traditional library users. Visitor numbers were up by 300 for a Saturday and 400 for the equivalent Saturday in 2007.
- Highlighted libraries as venues for events not directly related to books – the library is currently being considered as a venue for a forthcoming comedy festival in Spring 2009
- Demonstrated how libraries can be used as performance venues by other organisations with minimal assistance from library staff
Finally, the wrestlers said they would definitely like to use the library as a venue again. So look out for Bath Library – The Rematch.
--Ball Julia 10:20, 27 August 2008 (BST)