Getting men and boys into the library: extreme sports at Bath

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Getting a stranglehold on library promotion

Wrestlers at Bath Library
The 2008 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 Read

Teens read with the wrestlers
The aim of the exercise was to encourage non-traditional users into the library, also to show that libraries could be used as performance venues. August’s theme for the NYR was Reading the Game so wrestling linked in well with this and could also be associated with Team Read, the Children’s Summer Reading Challenge.

Event Organisation

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.

Wrestlers and the fans mixed
The wrestlers provided ticket sales facilities, door security and medical support. Library staff concentrated on generating publicity and awareness for the event. One member of library staff acted as the contact for the wrestlers with all communication fed through this way.

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.

Wrestling 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.

Wrestlers reading to children at the library
Some of the wrestlers’ families who had come along for the evening commented that they were pleased that the match was being held in the library as it gave them something to read while everything was being set up.

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.

Evaluation

The event was successful because it:

• Gave libraries and reading publicity on a wide scale (TV and Press)

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)

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