In Praise of Libraries

Praising Libraries at Bank Street Arts

An intimate and nostalgic collection of digital collage, sound and photography based on the recorded reading experiences of Sheffielders who grew up during the 1930s 40s and 50s. The exhibition, which included a special viewing, an artist’s talk, a vintage tea party and a visit by Sheffield Lord Mayor Anne Murphy, took place at Bank Street Arts during October 2017 as part of Sheffield Off the Shelf Festival of Words.

The recordings are the cumulative work of an oral history group called Reading Sheffield which was founded by Dr Mary Grover in 2011. Armed with recording devices, charm and an enduring love of books the Recording Sheffield team have interviewed over 60 elderly Sheffield residents with the key aim of finding out how and when they learnt to read, discover books and the effect that had on their later lives. Full transcripts and recordings can be found on under Readers Voices.

Reading Sheffield founder Mary Grover providing entertainment at the tea party.

I was introduced to the work of Reading Sheffield about three years ago when members of the group wanted to mark the end of collecting recordings with an exhibition. Initially conceived as a large scale installation the original idea morphed into a web site with blog. To get into the mood for constructing a Reading Sheffield website it made sense to start by getting acquainted with books of the period by heading for the Readerships and Literary Cultures 1900-1950 Book Archive housed in Sheffield Hallam Adsett’s Library.

Reading Sheffield treasurer Loveday Herridge chatting to Counsellor Anne Murphy the Lord Mayor of Sheffield.

Book covers, thumbed pages, fluctuating choices of typeface and illustration, meeting the interviewees, visiting them in their homes, hearing about the influence of reading on their lives, converting old black and white photographs into digital copies, listening to the audio files, these form the basis of the work. The title ‘In Praise of Libraries’ refers to the observation that over and over again in the recorded conversations arose, with great affection, the role that the library played in their lives.

A palace of words,

a place of peace and quiet,

a store of knowledge,

a step into a new future.

I would like to thank Professor Chris Hopkins, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield Town Trust, and Off the Shelf Sheffield for generous support.  Mary Grover, Loveday Herridge, Sue Roe, Val Hewson and Eleanor Brown from Reading Sheffield for organising gallery hire,  events and curating. Dennis Tuckerman for sound installation and general help.     

lizz Tuckerman 2017