Posts in Opinion

"It’s hard hanging out with celebrities and acclaimed authors, but someone’s got to do it."

Posted Monday 21 May 2018 by Samuel Thornley in Opinion

Oldham entrance

Libraries are an exciting place to be in 2018, no longer are they a place of “shush” or “be quiet”, but we all know this by now. By all accounts, I am still new to libraries, having only joined Oldham’s Library Service two years ago, and I am incredibly guilty of having those same old and tired misconceptions. “Libraries are quiet, full of books and not much else”… how wrong was I? Very.

Following my Master’s Degree in Archaeology, I viewed libraries as a stop gap, a place to bide my time before going onto my PhD. There was nothing wrong with libraries per se, I just didn’t view it as a viable career option for myself, I was destined for a career looking at history. I couldn’t be more wrong, I was actually destined for something much more exciting.

"I was destined for a career looking at history. I couldn’t be more wrong, I was actually destined for something much more exciting."

Whilst I had always enjoyed books, reading and writing, my chosen academic career turned the act of reading into a chore. Reading wasn’t an escape, it wasn’t something to look forward to, it was a task, a challenge, something needing to be done in order to achieve something more important. This often results in very dry sessions and a total distain for the written word. I’m sure this isn’t the case for everybody, but it certainly was for me.

"Reading was fun and exciting again, the reason why? Libraries."

My time at Oldham Libraries has revitalised that spark that had so sadly dissipated in recent years. Reading was fun and exciting again, the reason why? Libraries. My two years spent with Oldham’s Library Service has allowed me to focus upon different development areas from volunteers to digital, children’s to books & reading. Each area has given me a fresh perspective on the joys of reading, the best part is that the ideals of Books & Reading always remain at the core, informing what activities we choose to programme. Through events and activities we are able to enhance the primal joys one gets from reading a story, we can bring a story to life or bring you a behind the scenes look at the writing process. The possibilities are endless.

"The possibilities are endless"

logo impression of books side by sideLong gone are the days of tired book collections and even more tired looking readers. As I see it, libraries are a place of fun, excitement and community interaction. Hubs for events, entertainment and much, much more. This brings me to Bookmark Festival 2018, my first literature based festival and my rite of passage back into the world of books. Oldham Libraries are a dab hand at running events by now, from Comic Festivals to Writers Workshops, Coding Clubs to brunches with authors; we’ve got it all. What could I add to this? Not much I imagined. What I could do however was aid the running of a landmark calendar event and in doing so, maybe I would get back into something I had sadly long since forgotten.

Excited, keen and green in my new role, it was going to be blast. It was going to be easy. It was, but not without its hurdles, and it’s here that I realised how much our libraries do for the community. Whilst many only see the end result, I truly got to appreciate all the hard work and effort every library service across the UK puts into their events and activities, ensuring a level of excellence that anyone would be proud of. I’m certainly proud of my library service, and I imagine many of you reading this feel the same way about yours.

Oldham BookMark Festival 2018Bookmark was a big event for myself, we managed to book a favourite, Simon Mayo, to headline and close the festival. Score! What a great individual he was, whilst high profile for our humble library service, he was truly down to earth. I have the signature and photograph to prove it! Being able to get a name like Mayo’s proved two things; 1) Libraries are still the place to be and 2) Libraries are as relevant as ever. If authors are asking to visit a library as part of their book tour, we’re certainly doing something right. Needless to say Bookmark 2018 was a resounding success, we had great attendance and even better feedback. This is where it hit me, books are fun! Who knew?

"Being able to get a name like Mayo’s proved two things; 1) Libraries are still the place to be and 2) Libraries are as relevant as ever. If authors are asking to visit a library as part of their book tour"

GNWR logoIt wasn’t straight away that I got back on to reading, Time to Read played a major part in that as well. My, admittedly brief, time working as a representative and partner of Time to Read has been pivotal in getting me back on the reading wagon. Fantastic initiatives such as the Great North West Read have inspired me to get back into stories, as I realised I was missing out on so many adventures and undiscovered worlds. It also helps when you get to read exclusive books, before their even published, bragging rights are a big perk! Deliberations and discussions over books made me realise that not only is this fun, but reading can be enjoyable. I was firmly back on the path to absolution. As I returned to my old friend Stephen King (don’t judge me), I felt at home. This felt right.

Oldham Library Sensory roomI suppose you can say I realised that I have a great job, work within an amazing field and this is only the start. I wasn’t waiting for anything, I just needed to realise I was already here. Libraries continue to be places of excellence for the community, a safe space of learning and caring, constantly innovating and inspiring. Did I mention we have a Sensory Room and 3D printer? Stories for another time. We inspire the community and encourage reading in so many innovative ways that it is a crime to call libraries anything lower than exciting.

When you’re next in your library, I implore you to stop for a second and take it all in. Despite how you may feel on some days, we really do have the best job going and, for me, it’s only getting better. Each day is a new adventure, each event a new world and experience to explore. Who knows what’ll happen next? I’m certainly looking forward to finding out!

It’s hard hanging out with celebrities and acclaimed authors, but someone’s got to do it. If it has to be me, I’m not going to complain. Maybe I’ll return to archaeology in the future, I might finally complete that PhD, but for now I’ll remain quite content, and perhaps a bit puzzled, as to how I found myself in such a privileged situation.

With thanks to Samuel Thornley, Library Development Officer & Volunteers Coordinator of Oldham Libraries

Six minutes to less stress

Posted Tuesday 15 May 2018 by Ian Anstice in Opinion

6 minutesLook, I like a walk as much as the next person. Ask my dog. It's a very relaxing thing to do. As is having a hot drink or listening to music. But these activities have nothing on reading. And we have the scientific evidence to prove it.

Time To Read ran a campaign a few years ago about squeezing 6 Minutes reading into busy lives because it will make us feel better. It does this by focusing our thoughts, taking us away from distractions and helping us enter another state of mind. Watch our video about the research here.

Of course, we don't mean the hectic searching for facts that typifies our internet browsing. Nah, we mean slow reading. Slow reading is not about reading at a snail's pace, but about slowing down the pace of life to take pleasure in reading. Instead of rushing to the finishing, skimming text and missing large blocks as we down when reading text online.

coffee 6 minutesThat means you can feel seriously more relaxed by having a read in a café . Hmm, that café thing. I wonder if having a tea and a read gives you an extra stress discount? Worth a go I think.

Or you could find a use for some of that dead time that we all have in our lives, like when commuting. BusNext time you're on a bus or train, don't check your emails or look out of the window. Nope. Take out a book. Savour each page and get odd looks by sniggering at the ironic humour (if it's by Donald Trump at least). And, just think, by doing so, you'd have saved six times as much as if you'd played games on your phone instead. That's a saving of half hour every six minutes. Whoah, I've heard of the train taking the strain but that's ridiculous.

Or, look, you don't have to have me recommend a space. You can find your own but, please, find it. And live longer. And relax.



Parts of this  article come from a previous piece on slow reading and the six minutes campaign available here.

Books and libraries sing to me

Posted Wednesday 25 April 2018 by Guest blog writer in Author blogs, Opinion

"That Poetry Bloke" Craig Bradley got in touch and so we naturally asked him to write something about reading and libraries. Here's what he said...

I have always been a reader. I can't remember learning how to read. Those little lines, loops and squiggles, that we call words, just made sense to me. Deep inside. They just clicked. I was very lucky.Numbers didn't though. Far from it. Despite my mum paying for extra maths lessons, I was well into my teens before timetables and long division sang to me. Even now their song is a bit out of tune. But books, they sang to me from the start. And they are still singing.

"books, they sang to me from the start. And they are still singing."

Craig BradleySo you can imagine what i thought of my local library. It was on the council estate where we lived. From the outside it was a gloomy drab, ugly, concrete building at the end of a row of run-down shops.  But when my Nan took my sisters and me inside, it was like walking into another world. A crazy, beautiful, slightly bonkers, endlessly fascinating world of ideas, imagination, language and stories.

They were books everywhere. We had a few at home- granddads encyclopedias and such - but nothing like this. This was on another scale. They were rows and rows and shelves and shelves of the things. Therer were so many books that they were piled up on the windowsills and tables.To me, it was like every book in the world was in this room. And the best thing was i could take one home. In fact, the lady who gave me my little pink "Childrens Borrower" library ticket said I could take up to seven books home. Now! Today! Seven actual books! I could read one a day for the next week. 

"That little grubby concrete building was a real, living and breathing Aladdin's cave"

Craig Bradley BrusselsAnd that's what i did. I read and read. I wasn't fussy - made up stories, true stories, old stories, new stories- you name it, i'd read it. Libraries opened up a whole new world to me. It was magic. No other word for it. That little grubby concrete building was a real, living and breathing Aladdin's cave, (Aladdin being one of the very stories i read by the way). By giving me access to loads of books, it gave me access to loads more people and the stories that they told, about their lives and the world that they lived in. I couldn't tell the time or do my timetables but I could read stories and, in doing so, became aware of another world beyond the council estate I lived in. I also read about other people who couldn't tell the time and felt like i wasn't on my own. Libraries did that and i thank them for it.

And you know what, they still do.

Craig Bradley is freelance writer, poet ad performer and has spread his love of reading through class and library visits. His website is here.

A Vintage evening: book previewing in Manchester

Posted Wednesday 28 March 2018 by Ian Anstice in Events, Opinion

Vintage inviteOne of the serious perks of being the co-ordinator of Time To Read (well, apart from working from home with my dog, Gusto, sleeping on my lap while I’m typing) is being invited to book launches and there was a particularly good one put on by Vintage this week which I want to tell you about.

The Vintage 2018 preview event took place in the wonderful Waterstones at Deansgate in Manchester on a mild Monday evening.  It turns out that the bookshop has a secret events room behind double doors by the Costa on the top floor.

So what happens? Well, you walk in and there’s free drinks (wine and juice) as well as free nibbles (the best Marks and Spencers can offer) and six authors waiting around for the event to start. This is a great time to speak to them, as they’ve not formally been introduced yet and people are a bit stand-offish. I chickened out of talking to Irvine Welsh and instead spoke to the very friendly Abir Mukherjee, who’s an old hand at such things and politely underestimated my age, and Damian Le Bas and his wife, who were fascinating.

Then the event properly started and we all took our seats to listen to the speakers and to people form the publishers. The first speaker described who was there, including not only a sprinkling of us librarians, but also staff from Waterstones, independent bookshops and book bloggers. The publishers then summarised their favourite forthcoming books from other authors, including two which caught my eye – Star of the North by DB John, due out in May, about child abductions carried out by North Korea and the new one by Yuval Noah Harari, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”.  If you’ve not read any Harari, well, start now … but don’t miss this one. The man is a genius.

Irvine WelshOK, now on to the speakers. Irvine Welsh, the megastar in the room, was first on and literally set his stopwatch at the start to make sure he did not speak too long. He was there to speak about his “third real Trainspotters” book Dead Men’s Trousers.  This is a “twisted redemption” for his characters.

Then we had Damian Le Bas whose Stopping Places is about his journey to places in the UK which Damian Le Bashad links to Travellers. I checked with him and he’s also fine with the terms Gypsies and Romany, although the fact I had to do this showed how touchy the subject still is, even in 2018. And, yes, some people do use the socially unacceptable term “pikey” but I bet none of them knew that they do so because it comes from the old word “turnpike”, which is a road-toll. He’s full of fascinating information like that and has a real flair for description, as his reading of his trip to Appleby Fair in Cumbria demonstrated. Did you know that you can so carefully control a coin toss that heads can come up nine times out of ten?

Diana EvansDiana Evans came nest with Ordinary People, a novel about black British middle class people from the day Obama was elected to the death of Michael Jackson in the same year. Themes like parenthood and middle age are touched on as is, of course, race, which she made clear was “not just a black person’s problem. Again there’s some good turns of phrase like the description of "Obama walking out victorious on to the bulletproof stage".  I love fact as well that the book has a playlist.

Andrew MacMillanPoetry is a notoriously hard sell but Andrew McMillan, now based in Manchester, gives it his best shot. Like his previous book, Physical is very graphic and eyewateringly personal, with lightning-quick turns of phrase that shock almost as much as the meteorological phenomenon itself. It’s about a homosexual adolescence but is basically also about awkwardness and the pains of growing up generally.

Christie WatsonThe next speaker grabbed the attention of everyone from the start. The story of a child dying in your arms from burns and the smell of her hair as it is washed is going  to stay with me for a long time. Such is the work of Christie Watson, whose book “The Language of Kindness: A Nurse's Story is, for my money, going to be – or damn well should be – the bestselling book here.  She’s a nurse in the NHS and talks about kindness as well as life and death. She is an absolutely riveting speaker and can move  from gruesome morbidity to humour in a minute. I think the time has come for this as it’s not misery fiction – it’s kindness non-fiction – and from a nurse, not a doctor or a midwife. I did video snaps of the other authors but I forgot to do it with Christie, she was that good.  There was a 14-way auction for the rights to this book and I can see why.

Abir MukherjeeAh, but then we had the infinitely likeable Abir Mukherjee –whose “Smoke and Ashes” is the third in a detective series based in 1920s India. It’s a good backdrop for thrillers and he does it well, with the latest being about the shameful medical tests done on Indian troops at the time, mixed in with preparations for the arrival of Prince Edward (the future Edward VIII) in Calcutta. I’ve not come across his work before but I’m going to jolly well read some now.

Abir then proved very popular in the next stage of the evening, which was a social get-together with the authors, although poor Irvine Welsh – who I suspect was too famous to be socially talked to – had to stand around for a bit while people just came up to him to autograph his new book. Oooh, did I mention there were piles of free copies of the books to just pick up? That’s rather good isn’t it? Or it would have been if I had not been so intent on speaking to people I forgot to get them until it was too late. Such are the problems of such a good evening. Here’s looking forward to the next one.

North West Libraries

Librarians in the North West have pioneered partnership working to encourage new readers into libraries. Time To Read is a partnership of librarians engaged in reader development activity in public library authorities in the North West Region. 22 public library authorities in the region currently support Time To Read.

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