The Walking Library is an ongoing creative research project created by Misha Myers and Dee Heddon, that seeks to bring together walking and books – walking, reading, reflecting, writing…
Inaugurated in 2012, each Walking Library edition we create responds to – is specific to – the context of its walking. Each walk changes the shape – the content and the actions – of the library.
The Walking Library, bringing together walking and reading, follows in the footsteps of a long history.
In 1794, John Hucks and Coleridge walked to North Wales. Hucks carried with him the poems of Thomas Churchyard.
In 1802, Coleridge walked through Cumberland, carrying with him ‘a shirt, a cravat, two pairs of stockings, tea, sugar, pens and paper, his night-cap, and a book of German poetry wrapped in green oilskin.’ He apparently read the Book of Revelations in Buttermere.
In 1818, Keats travelled the Lake District and up to Scotland with his friend Charles Brown. Keats carried Dante’s Divine Comedy, Brown the works of Milton.
In 1867, on a thousand mile walk to the gulf, John Muir carried a copy of Robert Burns’ poetry, Milton’s Paradise Lost, William Wood’s Botany, and a small New Testament.
The Walking Library took its first walk as part of the Sideways Festival 2012, a peripatetic arts festival that walked 333km from the western to the eastern border of Belgium ‘in the open’ and ‘on the go’, which aimed to connect ecology and culture through using the ‘slow ways’ or ‘slow paths’ of Flanders. For that journey, we asked a general question:
What book would you take on a walk?
We received lots of suggestions of books good to take on a walk and put together our first Walking Library, walking it across Flanders. Since 2012, we have curated a number of different editions, many of them commissioned. These include a Walking Library for Bothan Suibhne, a Walking Library for Women Walking, and a Walking Library for a Wild City.
As with all good libraries, the Walking Library facilitates extension activities, including a peripatetic reading group allowing engagement with and reflection on the Walking Library’s content, and some sketching with words or images. Where a book is suggested or donated to the library, the reason why the book has been donated is also left in the library book card. These cards, each with their personal story, collectively form an autobibliography.
Walking with a library of books, we wonder what these literary companions add to the journey; how collective reading and writing in situ affects the experience of the journey, the landscape and the experience of walking; how journeying and the landscape affects the experience of reading; how reading affects the experience of writing; and how a walk, as a space of knowledge production, is written and read. Through walking, reading and writing together we create an immersive and moving space, a kind of mobile laboratory.