Anything But Silent is the new podcast from the British Library that explores stories of people around the globe making amazing things happen in around and libraries. Each episode hones in on a particular theme – and so far has featured stories of liberty and freedom, pride, obscenity and sanctuary. The podcast is presented by Cleo Laskarin from the British Library’s exhibitions team and is produced by Pixiu. We caught up with Cleo and producer Anna Sinfield at the Pixiu studio in Shoreditch as they recorded this week’s episode…
TELL US ABOUT THE EPISODE YOU’RE RECORDING TODAY?
Cleo Laskarin: This week’s podcast is about sanctuary. It’s about people finding solace in libraries and finding somewhere that they feel safe. The episode talks about a secret library in Syria in the middle of a war-torn city, and it talks about people finding companionship through a beautiful scheme called Reading Friends.
WHY SHOULD PEOPLE LISTEN TO ANYTHING BUT SILENT?
Anna Sinfield: Firstly I think a lot of people assume the show is just about books and it’s not, it’s about the incredible things happening between the stacks, in libraries all around the world. And honestly, it’s been really exciting to discover the breadth of stories out there. As story finding goes, these aren’t regularly chartered waters, so you’re always learning something new or hearing a voice that’s not been recorded before.
CL: Yeah I totally agree… Even if you don’t think you’re a “library person” or you’re not particularly bookish – really the stories are about people and the things they are doing for each other… for their communities. Although the odd book does sneak in along the way, such as Be Bold With Bananas in our Awful Library Books feature.
WHAT’S BEEN YOUR FAVOURITE EPISODE SO FAR?
CL: I think my favourite feature to record so far has been one about erotic books. You probably don’t associate the British Library with porn but you might be surprised to find they have a rather fine collection!
AS: That was for an episode titled Redacted. That story was all about the British Library’s Private Case, which is a collection of previously segregated/restricted material from the 17th to the 20th century. Until recently the books were kept locked away from public view. We had fun with that one, it was saucy.
WHO WOULD BE YOUR DREAM GUEST ON THE PODCAST?
AS: Every two weeks we release a mini episode, where we invite special guests to present a book that set them on a new path or changed them in some way. We’ve actually got some of my dream guests lined up for upcoming episodes. But if I had to pick one it would be Stephen Fry, he’s a massive supporter of the British Library so I’m keeping my fingers crossed!
TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT THE LIBRARY THAT PEOPLE MAY NOT KNOW…
CL: People sometimes (wrongly) think of libraries as being “old” or “old fashioned” places – which is so not true. They’re super-creative places and full of innovation. You might not know that the British library is a ‘legal deposit library’ which means literally every single thing published in the UK needs to be submitted to the Library – which is a whole lot of books! The British Library has an amazing facility in a place called Boston Spa up north a few miles from York which houses the main body of the collection in some futuristic warehouses run by robots! No joke. The books are stored in a very low-level oxygen environment to preserve the collection – not because oxygen itself damages books, but for fire protection. There’s so little oxygen you can’t even light a match! Bad for humans but fine for robots.
AS:At Boston spa they also have a room called the Flashback Lab (part of the Flashback project) full to the brim with every type of old computer you can imagine. There the team are working to preserve digital content before the technology it was designed for becomes obsolete (3 ½” floppy disks for example!). It’s a really interesting project, and the lab itself also looks like a scene from a retro sci-fi movie.
WHAT OTHER PODCASTS DO YOU RECOMMEND POD BIBLE READERS CHECK OUT?
CL: Well I’ve been listening to Heavyweight and really enjoying it. It’s very moving and funny, and those are two good things. The host, Jonathan Goldstein, works with people to look at something about their past that’s sort of been ‘weighing them down’ and helps them find a resolution – often through amazing measures.
AS:On the 24th of September we’re launching two new shows that we’re really proud of. Earth Unscrewed (Virgin) is coming back for its second season. The podcast explores the growing climate crisis by shining a light on the innovators and sustainable projects that might just be able to “unscrew the planet”. We’re also launching a brand-new project with Frankie Bridge called Open Mind, where you can expect to hear Frankie and her guests open up about mental health.
CLEO THIS IS YOUR FIRST GIG AS A PODCAST PRESENTER – HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED?
CL: I work in the exhibition team, and in December of last year, an email went out to all thousand plus people who work at the British library asking if anyone wanted to be involved with the podcast. Which was the first that I’d heard of it. And I replied to the email being like, ah, looks like fun. After that I got called in to do a voice test and here we are today.
(AS: There was a rigorous process – we put the auditionees through their paces and Cleo was amazing!)
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF HOSTING THE SHOW?
CL: I love discussing our themes, finding out what stories we’re working on. Every time I’m surprised by the amazing stuff people are getting up to… and if I’m surprised hopefully our listeners are too.
THAT’S GREAT, AND HOW DO YOU SEE THIS AS A NEW CAREER FOR YOURSELF?
CL: I couldn’t say what the future holds haha but let’s see!
WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND DIFFICULT SO FAR IN THE PROCESS?
CL: I think maybe just being vulnerable, because I’m trying something new and so there’s always going to be moments where you feel a little exposed or you doubt yourself.
AS: Actually, I think it’s great when a presenter does show vulnerability because it makes you relatable. People are far more open to telling you vulnerable things about themselves when they can see that you’re a vulnerable person yourself and that’s very attractive quality in a host.
CL: I think there’s a fine line between vulnerability and just being, like, quite neurotic. So I’m trying to lean towards vulnerability rather than neuroses!
DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR ASPIRING PRESENTERS?
CL: Yeah. Just do it. It’s never too early to start. I didn’t know what I was doing. Now I’m doing it. You can too!