Posts in Opinion

Rooftop protests not recommended – Jenn Ashworth on the power of libraries

Posted Monday 9 July 2018 by Ian Anstice in Author blogs, Opinion

Jenn AshworthWe were very lucky to have Jenn Ashworth, author of several books including the most recent Fell, talking to the Time To Read group. She is a passionate advocator for libraries and a brilliant speaker so we all fell silent – not a normal thing in the meetings - when she started speaking. We were not disappointed.This is a summary from my notes that the author has checked.

"being she truanted in public libraries she gained a lot out of it"

Jenn started with her upbringing and a confession or two, for she had a “troubled and troubling” childhood and often truanted. However, being she truanted in public libraries she gained a lot out of it. “Libraries were a place to go for free and that were warm and safe” she said, saying they offered “a strange combination of safety and freedom”. The author found the time she spent skiving at the Harris Library in Preston as “a way to be part of the community”.

"The best things the librarians did for her was not telling her what to read"

The best things the librarians did for her was not telling her what to read. So she read everything, from  Jane Austen to Stephen King to a guide to how to get published simply because she did not know this was not the right thing to do. But the librarians did teach her one thing. Forgiveness. Jenn sometimes did not return books and repeatedly lost her library card but that did not prevent the library from allowing her to take out more, for which she is very grateful.

"She remembers forgetting she was in a library for a couple of hours due to that book. How had Melvin done that?"

Baby and Fly PieThere was a book, “The Baby and Fly Pie” by Melvin Burgess, which made as big an impression on Jenn than the forgiveness shown. Although it was a depressing dystopia, it allowed Jenn to be “lost in that world and not in mine” and that was what was so important for her at the time.  She remembers forgetting she was in a library for a couple of hours due to that book. How had Melvin done that? How had the book managed to transport her to a different world? Jenn had to find out. She stole the book from the library. 

"Authors can go to festivals to sell books but authors don’t go to libraries for that to the same extent. Talking to readers, in a way that libraries can facilitate, is why they write."

What libraries do is incredibly important and have life-changing effects. Authors are usually deeply and personally grateful to libraries and can be their biggest champions as a result. Libraries develop relationships with readers and the wider community in the way that other purveyors of books do not. The staff often have a unique personal relationship with readers and with reading groups. Authors can go to festivals to sell books but authors don’t go to libraries for that to the same extent. Talking to readers, in a way that libraries can facilitate, is why they write. A writer wants to make connections and want to write to explore what it is to be a human, messily in relationships with other humans, the landscape and the world - and to help the reader think about those things for themselves …  and libraries can be very helpful in that. The local connection libraries have are important. Jenn comes from the Northwest and knows that the region has a strong literary community that is under-represented in the publishing and prizes worlds.

Jenn at lecternThen there were some tips on how to get the best out of an author visit:

  • Be clear on what the author is doing, what they’re good at and what genre they write. For example, Jenn, like many others, finds the teenage age group challenging and would not appreciate discovering a group of teens being dragooned in to one of her talks.

  • Be clear to the author as to what you expect them to do and why you want them. If it’s for an end-of-year celebration for reading groups, who may not have read the author’s books, tell the author that and they will prepare very differently than if it is for a group of fans who have read every word of their writing.

  • If an event is pairing the author with another one, there needs to be a reason. Just availability or geographic closeness is not enough. The authors will read eachother’s  books and discuss them so there needs to be a thematic or other connection.

  • Make sure the branch library staff know who is coming and not to be afraid of them. Authors very rarely bite.

  • Authors need to make an entrance at the start of the talk to make the opening crisp Fell ashworthand obvious. For this reason, have them in a separate room (be it staffroom or broom cupboard) beforehand.

    "Authors know what libraries are like. They have not come for the building but for the audience."

  • Give authors advice on travel and parking. Think about how easy it is getting to the venue will be and offer to pick up from the station if necessary.

  • Get in touch with the author’s publicist as soon as you can. An author will give an image or two but the publicist can help with graphics, how to do publicity and social media.

  • Above all, get whoever is introducing the author to have read the book. The library staff have the personal connection with the audience and if they don’t have a connection with the book, the audience will see that and take their cue from them.

  • If an introduction is delegated to front line staff, make sure they want to do it and know what to do. A terrified introduction does not a successful event make.

Rooftop protestAuthors do not expect libraries to be swish. There’s no need to apologise for not being so or if the building is a bit small or grubby. Authors know what libraries are like. They have not come for the building but for the audience. They know that a library is not a place where people simply come to get culture but to make culture.

"a library is not a place where people simply come to get culture but to make culture."

Jenn then finished with a story. When she worked in a prison library, she talked about a book she had published. Her audience talked about her book and then offered to do a rooftop protest and show the book to the television crews filming it from helicopters. You don’t tend to get such offers from festival audiences. Those who attend library events tend to be more helpful. Although, of course, rooftop protests are not recommended.

"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.

Toilet

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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.

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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