Reader, I streamed it…: Connecting with the world on World Book Night

In more normal times, the activities and partnerships that we document on this blog are full of movement: of people, of collections, of productions, of exhibitions…

And yet, in an outcome that felt unimaginable even a month or so ago, physical movement in our ever-more hyper-connected world has wound down.

But we are all still, of course, hyper-connected.

Not only in terms of digital technologies and platforms, but equally in terms of shared ideas, passions, and our collective imagination. And nothing connects us better in these digital times than one of the more analogue (but enduring, and time-tested) technologies: books.

This Thursday, on World Book Night, people around the UK and the world will be brought together by books, reading, and the power and joy of imagination. In the UK, the British Library will, with our partners in the public library sector, support the work of the wonderful Reading Agency in their national celebration. 

But books, and the ideas and characters that they contain, reach beyond borders. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream (World Book Night, taking place on 23 April, also of course deliberately coincides with Shakespeare’s birthday), Puck promises to ‘put a girdle about the earth, in forty minutes’. Today, a reading can reach the other side of the world at a speed that even the most puckish imagination would have thought an exaggeration not so long ago.

And so we’re delighted that our Chief Librarian, Liz Jolly, has been able to share an extract from her favourite book, Jane Eyre, with our friends and library partners this World Book Night. Beamed into a live World Book Night stream at Shanghai Library, and on weibo across Chinese social media, Liz’s reading cements the strong connections that we at the British Library have been making with partners in China around our shared appreciation for English literature.

Indeed that was the approach of a Government-funded project that I led recently, ‘The British Library in China: Connecting through Culture and Learning’, in which we shared some of our most precious literary treasures with audiences across China through a number of major exhibitions. Two of our exhibitions (in Beijing and Shanghai), and the accompanying website that we created in Chinese, featured the priceless original manuscript of the book that Liz chose, Jane Eyre.

One of the most singular elements of Jane Eyre is precisely its elemental force: those wild, majestic, open spaces…precisely the spaces that we most miss now. Although neither UK nor Chinese citizens can visit the spaces described in the book right now, we all live them vicariously through the written word, and the images that those words conjure. And we look forward to visiting them, including the wonderful Brontë Parsonage (featured on the British Library’s free online Literary Map of the UK in Chinese language once it is safe to do so.

Jamie Andrews, British Library

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