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Festival books a library

Reading tent adds literature to the Big Chill's live music mix. Adi Bloom reports

They go to drink, to rave and to chill. They go to dance the night away to cutting-edge live music and to queue for hours for malfunctioning portable toilets. But they do not, generally, go to read.

Now, for the first time, participants at a summer music festival have been offered a public library on the festival grounds.

The library, sponsored by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council and Arts Council England, was at the Big Chill festival in Herefordshire earlier this week. It was the first space of its kind at any UKsummer festival.

The tent, set up in the Big Chill's camping area, provided 2,000 books, a quiet space in which to read and staff to advise school-age festival-goers which books would best complement acts in the Club tent.

A spokeswoman for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council said:

"Libraries aren't traditionally thought of as cool places to go. So we wanted to associate a library with an exciting place to be. We wanted to hit the teenage audience, who might not otherwise walk in and borrow six books every two weeks."

The MLA initially approached the Big Chill, held this year at Eastnor Castle, because it is attended by a large number of families with children, and features a literary as well as musical line-up.

The library it provided was far from traditional. Its funky, brightly-coloured cushions frequently catered for the exhausted remnants of all-night parties.

Anne-Marie Dossett, one of four librarians staffing the tent, said: "It wasn't your average library. In the morning, it was full of people recovering. And you don't usually have to clear away bottles and drinks cans in a library."

Books were donated by publishers. Practicalities of the three-day festival meant that its 3,000 library-users were free to borrow the books or take them home.

Ms Dossett said that books by Jacqueline Wilson and Terry Deary's Horrible Histories series were particularly popular with teenage festival-goers.

"If you've spent a lot of the evening dancing, it's actually really nice to be able to chill out and have a great read," she said. "One person said it was better than the festival. Libraries can be cool. They can be quite subversive. They can lead you to different things that adults don't necessarily want you to know about."

The library tent also hosted readings by authors and poets, including Patrick Neate, winner of the 2001 Whitbread prize.

An environmental discussion included a woman dressed as a blue-skinned mermaid.

Andrew, a teenage library visitor, said: "What a great place to chill. You can't chill properly without a book."

* adi.bloom@tes.co.uk

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