Tim, the DJ librarian

By Katie Harling-Challis

Sitting in the hexagonal bar of Trevelyan College, I’m talking with Tim Fowler, Trevs’ College Librarian, but not quite the librarian you would expect. As described in his Twitter bio, he’s a ‘Bearish librarian, maker of abstract art, writer of jokes for @rorybremner and doting father. Adorer of @mary1luv. Tweets can be jolly sweary. I like tea.’ And with job titles including Graphic Designer, Abstract artist, and DJ in his career history, Tim is certainly no ordinary librarian.

Starting in January 2003, this is the longest job Tim has had, so it’s safe to assume that he’s pretty happy here. But before 2003 he’d never been a librarian — instead, he was previously a full-time parent, and before that he was the Creative Director for an Arts Festival in Northern Scotland. In the first freshers’ week, 9 months when he was into the job, he still remembers being ‘moderately terrified’ of being ‘found out’ for not knowing what he was doing in this new job.

But he’s settled in well now, and big plans are ahead. While other college libraries may be cutting their library stock, Tim is planning the latest extension of Trevs Library. The college has grown, more study spaces are needed, and so the library must expand to accommodate it, and the library is just getting busier and busier. More flexible study spaces are being planned, retaining the two currently book-filled library rooms, while adding on an extra room built for a group study space. The architectural plans have been finalised, and now the fundraising begins, just in time for Trevelyan College’s 50th Anniversary this year, although we can’t expect any actual building to begin until 2017 at the earliest.

But Tim doesn’t spend all his time focused on Trevs library — instead he’s been keeping up his ‘portfolio career’. A freelance graphic designer in the past, he still dips into his design work every year for the Trevelyan College Musical posters. He also contributes to the Trevs’ party scene with his DJ skills, frequently filling the dance floor of Trevs Bar on many of the numerous bar nights. As Tim says, ‘Durham’s taste in music has always been atrocious’ — if you want to listen to anything that deviated from the mainstream that is. ‘I love music, I love finding new music to love.  DJing is an opportunity to play music I love really loud and entertain people in the process. What’s not to like? I think I know what works for Trevs. Someone once paid me the slightly odd compliment that I was “like Klute, only good”’.

Tim also writes comedy sketches. Posting regularly on Twitter, the posts are less about library topics, and more about the jokes and puns of every day life. Tim loves to play with words, and comedy gives him that chance. ‘Twitter is great for honing your writing skills – fitting something into 140 characters that is topical, original, and funny is a fantastic discipline. It makes you think about every word, every word has to justify its place and have a function. A good joke is much more than just a funny idea.’

Rory Bremner’s Election Report of May 2015 brought him his first TV credit. ‘Twitter’s been very good to me. I met my wonderful partner there and I got into comedy writing through it after I had a joke go viral. And now I write material for Rory Bremner, which I still find a slightly odd thing to say out loud.’ 

For Tim, satire is incredibly important. The best jokes are those right on the edge of being in bad taste; where just before the audience laughs, they have this moment of thinking ‘I can’t believe you did that, but that is funny’. Satire becomes so important for pointing out things that aren’t right in society, and making you laugh at their ridiculousness.


But the list on Tim’s career history doesn’t stop there — he also holds the title of Abstract Artist. A few years back he even had his own exhibition in Trevs Bar. Walking into Trevs Bar when the exhibition was on he’d often do a double take and think ‘Wooh, there’s my subconscious’ hanging on the walls. For Tim, it’s all about the individual response: ‘abstract art appeals to me because I feel there’s something very special about the way people react to it – it’s primarily an emotional reaction. I think the art happens in two places – one where I make the image, the other whenever someone sees it and reacts to it.’

Of course, this is Palatinate Books, and I am talking to a librarian, so I have to ask the question — do you have a favourite book? As all book lovers know, it’s never possible to have just one favourite book, but Tim did manage to choose one of the many possibilities to mention, one that had stayed with him. What was the book? The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. Yes, she is the creator of the Moomins, but this is one of her adult books. Focussing on the relationship between a young girl and her granddaughter, Tim described this favourite of his as ‘funny and wise and moving’. Short, and only 172 pages, this thoughtful novella comes highly recommended. ‘It’s one of those very special books that almost seems to be different every time you read it. On one level it’s very simple, on another as complex and all-encompassing as life itself. I’ve bought it as a gift many times’.

We later got onto the topic of the future of libraries. Admitting that ebooks are ‘undoubtedly having an effect’ on the format of libraries, Tim is insistent that that doesn’t mean they are going to disappear. There will certainly always be a place for academic libraries, a place where very few people have only one book open at a time, and unless you go out and buy four or five kindles, it isn’t possible to have more than one ebook open at once. ‘I think that the book is with us for a very long time’, and you’ve just got to look at how we’ve shifted back to vinyl from digital as a format that everyone wants now.

But there are changes happening, which is why Trevs is expanding the library in an attempt to match the needs of the present while trying to be ahead of the change. ‘I am proud that we as a college are building a bigger library, while others aren’t’. Trevs is widely considered to have the best library in Durham, and Tim is keeping up that reputation for the foreseeable future. A future where Tim decidedly states, ‘The book ain’t going anywhere’.

Photograph: Grace Tseng

Art: ‘Solar’ by Tim Fowler

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.