Tag Archives: Library

Who needs librarians?

We all do.

There is a new CILIP Great Libraries Campaign, launching on June 6th, to ensure that every child in England has access to a great school library. This sounds so sensible and so basic that really, there should not be a need for something like it. But of course, we know that there is every need to shout about this. And it’s not just England; every child needs a library.

I have a Facebook friend I’ve never met, but who does a lot of work for libraries and children’s reading. Her name is Dawn Finch, she’s a past president of CILIP, and last week she put the following on her Fb page:

‘Waiting at the bus stop this morning and a handsome young man out running smiled at me and stopped.
“Hello,” says he, “you don’t remember me do you?”
“No,” says I, frantically trawling my memory for sons of friends.
“I remember you,” says he, “you taught me how to read. You sat with me with an atlas and said it didn’t all have to be about stories.”
“Wow,” says I, “I still love an atlas. So what do you do now?”
Him, “I’m a pilot.”
Awesome.’

It is awesome, isn’t it? It shouldn’t make me want to cry, but it does. I realise all librarians won’t have time to sit down with every child, but it shows what a tremendous difference they can make. In this case to a young man’s life, and perhaps also to the rest of us who might fly on his plane.

And I feel slightly stupid, because it would never have occurred to me that you could learn reading from an atlas. It just goes to show that our needs are not necessarily the same as those of the person next to us. But we can [nearly] all learn to read.

I wish this library campaign will make it possible for many more Dawns to ‘get out their atlases’ and change lives.

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The danger of libraries

I can’t remember where I borrowed the quote below. Or from whom. But it has to be shared. It’s not hard to understand why they are so frightened of libraries.

Terry Pratchett on libraries

And I seem to have missed what would have been Terry’s 70th birthday a few weeks ago. Not only did I not know the date, but I had the year wrong. I must not have visited libraries often enough.

A small Oxford miscellany

The Bodleian Library shop is a dangerous place. I only went in because Daughter went in, and because it meant standing still instead of walking even more. I have a very effective do-not-buy filter that I can apply in a situation like this. Still, I went from one item to the next, feeling that as a one-off I really could buy it. Or that other thing. Maybe both.

In the end I channelled my inner Chris Riddell and bought what he had when I last saw him; a notebook covered in the cover off an old – now dead – ‘real’ book. I know, I know. But if it was good enough for the then children’s laureate to doodle in, then what hope could there possibly be for me?

We began Sunday morning by resting on the seat outside Trinity College. As we sat there, Sheena Wilkinson walked past. But these things happen. We’d had our Weetabix in the same college breakfast room as well.

Palm Sunday, Trinity

Anyway, Trinity. Suddenly there was singing from afar. The singing drew nearer and Daughter got up and said people were coming towards us. There was incense and some of them carried bits of what looked like stalks of grain. Finally, the penny dropped and Daughter remembered it was Palm Sunday. They were singing their way to the morning church service.

Very Oxford.

A ‘classmate’ from St Andrews had popped up on Facebook the previous night, and we had arranged to have lunch with him. We chose the biggest tourist trap in town, or so it seemed. But it came with Morse and Lewis connotations. And they had my broom on a beam on the ceiling.

Broom

The classmate had recently started his PhD in this venerable spot. Oxford. Not the pub. It has something to do with doughnuts. I think.

After we’d fed, we staggered round past a few more bookshops, and finished up in the Weston Library. Which is very nice. They have seats. Good baking. And a shop. Saw Ian Beck, presumably on his way to an event.

Then we agreed we’d done quite enough for one day, and walked back to our luggage and a train to take us to the sleeper train home, via another bit of Blackwells. We went in and said we wanted to buy ‘that book in the window.’ They were extremely helpful.

It would be safest never to go back there, ever again.

Lounge mouse

Sleeper passengers get to wait in the lounge at Euston. We met a nice little mouse in there. I suspect it was getting ready to collect the day’s food debris, fresh off the floor. It knew to wait until the exact right moment.

And this is not an invitation to put any traps out. Or poison. It was cute.

Pupil Library Assistants

The other night I had a dream about one of the pupil library helpers at Offspring’s secondary school. It was probably the effect of reading about the finalists of this year’s Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award. They went to London last week for an Award Ceremony, which involved lots of authors and librarians. And at the end they marched over to Downing Street to let Theresa May know what they think is important about libraries. (I suspect she has no idea.)

I’d have loved to have been there.

As I said, Offspring did this kind of thing, back in the day. I was so keen on the whole library thing that I joined them there. Hence me knowing other library helpers I can dream about.

I think we all enjoyed it. At first I was taken aback when I discovered Son joining up immediately on arriving at his new school. I didn’t disapprove; I was just not expecting it. Younger siblings clearly need to follow in the footsteps of older ones, so Daughter went along on her first day. And I doubt Bookwitch as you know her would have existed without that school library.

There was one fail, though. When asked if I could suggest any new helpers, I came up with the sister of one of Daughter’s peers from primary school. I felt she’d be perfect. However, she’d got to the stage where she needed to be cool, and the library wasn’t cool, so she declined. I think she’d have fitted in well, so it’s a shame that peer pressure can take you away from books.

One man’s rubbish…

By now you have probably seen the article[s] about the Ankara rubbish men who began collecting books for a library for themselves. I find that re-reading the story does not make it any less interesting. In fact, it would seem I have something in common with these Turkish men; we like the idea of having lots of books at our disposal, and we can’t bear getting rid of books by just chucking them away.

What’s fascinating is how many they were able to pick up for their collection/library. The books can’t have been in too bad a condition or so desperately boring that no one would want to read them.

I know very little about Turkey, so one of my potentially prejudiced views would be that they are so poor that they are happy with any old book found. But then, there were clearly many people throwing books away. And the library they built seems to have been sanctioned by the mayor in their municipality. And surely there wouldn’t be teachers clamouring to borrow books for their schools if they weren’t worth reading? Although teachers needing to ask for formerly thrown-away books suggests there are few funds for books by other routes.

I look at my own books, which I attempt to dispose of as sensibly as I can. How nice it would be if the Ankara men could inspire others in my neighbourhood to do the same. A kind of larger version of the Little Libraries you might have outside your house.

But then, we have libraries in Scotland. For how much longer, I don’t know. At that point maybe my cast-offs will be more welcome. I look at my books every day, thinking that someone not too far away would really like ‘this book’ and my main problem is finding that someone.

Maybe a small shed on my drive? You know, halfway between a Little Library and actually inviting people into my house. I’m still too unsociable to be able to do that.

While I’m vacillating, doing nothing, I’m in awe of these people in Turkey who seem to actively like the books they’ve found.

They’re all women!

They all seemed to be women. Or perhaps I merely happened to choose Book Week Scotland events that featured women. I picked what interested me, and what was nearby enough to be doable, and at times convenient to me.

Four events, though, and a total of nine women speaking at them. Only the last one, about gender violence, had a subject that determined who was likely to be taking part.

The audiences were slightly different. For Mary Queen of Scots there were three men. The gender violence had one man in the audience for part of it, one man to operate Skype (!) and one man who seemed to be working in the room where we sat. Several men for both Lin Anderson and the autism discussion, while still being in a minority.

Three events were during daytime, but that doesn’t explain the lack of men, when the women were mostly well past 70.

Do they read less, or are they not interested in events? Or do they go to the ones with men talking? (I’d have been happy to see Chris Brookmyre, but he didn’t come this way, or James Oswald, but he was sold out.)

Anyway, whatever the answer to that is, over on Swedish Bookwitch we have women today. My interview with Maria Turtschaninoff is live, and it’s mostly – just about entirely, actually – about women. And it’s in Swedish. Sorry about that. (Translation will follow.)

Mary, Queen of Scots – Revered, reviled

The Resident IT Consultant and your witch had been wondering who on earth would come to a book event at a branch library on a Tuesday morning. Even if it was Alex Nye and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Well, let me tell you; countless elderly ladies, interested in Mary, in history and most likely quite keen on some culture to liven up their day, at a time when it’s easier to get out. St Ninian’s library was ready for business at 10.30, standing by with fresh coffee and enough room for wheelchairs and zimmer frames and the odd, self-balancing stick. Not to mention an ignorant Bookwitch. The man seated in front of the Resident IT Consultant turned round and said he was so glad he wasn’t the only man in the room…

Self-balancing stick

In other news, there was barely a copy of Alex’s book – For My Sins – available to buy, because it’s out of print, and will only be in he shops again tomorrow. Alex had a few copies, which she brought, but at least that’s success, even if it would have been nice to see a roaring trade in Mary.

I hadn’t even heard it all before. This can be a problem when going to more than one event for a book, but Alex varied what she said, so it was almost like it was brand new.

Alex Nye

She set the scene by describing the snow-covered Stirling castle (we’d had one just like it three days earlier), with Mary getting ready for the christening of her baby son James. Alex read a bit from that part of the book, finishing with Darnley’s sudden departure for Glasgow (which presumably had him ride right past the library, seeing as it’s virtually on the Glasgow Road).

Alex Nye

We heard how Alex began the book in her early twenties, in her ‘garret’ in Buccleuch Street in Edinburgh, and how it was eventually discovered by publisher Clare Cain and made into what we all agreed was an attractive book (even if it did sell too well), looking as though it had just escaped from a fire.

Alex Nye, For My Sins

And when it came to questions, the assembled ladies had more and better questions than I’ve heard at other events. They know their Scottish history, and they care about it.

Maybe have more daytime events like this?