By Zac Mehdid
Yesterday, John introduced us – my agency-naming team and I – to this cool creative director from Romania. This cool creative director talked to us about a project of his that won an Effie. A really cool (third time’s the charm) and heart warming project about storytelling.
The project is called Library Wanderers, and started with the noble goal of saving libraries in Romania. From what I can recall – I don’t want to look it up; will test my memory instead – 500,000 people in Romania don’t have access to the Internet. Therefore, the government decided to inject around 30,000,000 euros in libraries, which thanks to that now have access to the Internet. In order to promote these libraries, 4 (or 5) writers and journalists went there, spent hours, days, weeks in libraries observing people and writing stories from what they would observe. Some of these stories are amazing. The story of a daughter brought back to her mom after years, realizing that the whole time they lived only 20km away from each other. These stories were put together to become e-books, and as a result the number of people going to libraries rose by 60%. Pretty cool, innit?
That made me realize: if one wants to tell a story, to control the narrative, one doesn’t have to alter it. One can choose to observe people, and simply tell their stories the way they are. Hence, I decided to try and do the same, so I came to the Brixton library.
Saturday morning is not what I expected.
Whilst most of us adults are in our beds, lying down trying not to vomit the huge amount of booze and filthy kebabs we had last night, our next generation is here, making us look like fools. On my right, a teenager – probably around 13 years old – is typing numbers on his calculator. His eyes are wide open, moving from left to right as he scribbles what is probably the result of his successful calculations, and draws a subtle smile. You wouldn’t even see that he is smiling since he keeps his focus on the endless numbers rapidly making their way towards the end of the page. He looks at me. He knows. I turn my head and look straightaway, 12 o’clock.
A 10-year-old kid is sitting at a table, next to a girl that could be his sister. Probably his sister. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such focused eyes. They are half closed yet his pupils are fully dilated. He is trying to absorb as much information as possible, but only the useful one. He shuts his gates to the futilities that surround him. Colourful books, computer screens, buildings and trees through the window; that he doesn’t want. He only seeks for what will make him smarter, what excites him, what will fill his day with joy and make his life less boring. For him, knowledge is not power; it is a game.
Here comes a forty something man in a yellow shirt which colour attacks my eyes and makes me want to throw up. He might be his dad. No, he surely is his dad. Maybe the kid doesn’t like to study. Maybe he just want to go out and play football with his friends, but his dad forces him to “be the best” because he has to: this is the only way he will get money in the future, and money is everything. Obviously.
I will stop now as I slowly realize that I am not observing. I am projecting myself into those kids. It is overwhelming; I can’t deal with this right now. I need to take a break.
I will definitely come back though.
The Library Wanderers, case study: https://vimeo.com/68683602