Thursday, 1 December 2011

Keep the sparkle going

On Tuesday night I found myself on the 5th Floor of the Piccadilly (London) branch of Waterstones at a glittering gathering of publishers, writers, librarians (current & former) Reading Agency staff and assorted "literary" supporters. All had gathered to celebrate the publisher & library partnership Reading Partners and to hear details of future co-operation for 2012.

Despite the current uncertainty about, in both local government and publishing, the tone of the evening was resolutely positive and optimistic ( to quote Tony Durcan of Society of Chief Librarians). At least 40 new or significantly re-furbished libraries will open in 2012 and The Reading Agency will continue to be energetic, supporting a strategic reading year with high impact events and promotions. We were reminded that across the UK's public library network there remain over 4,100 library sites and 12 million active borrowers

Reading Partners involves 40 UK publishers and will now embrace Waterstones as a retail partner. There is still room to work with Independent booksellers, many of whom will continue to work closely with their local libraries. It was heart-warming to hear Joanna Prior , Managing Director of Penguin (General Division) state that libraries are a vital partner for publishers and are always considered and included in marketing campaigns.

The short series of speeches was rounded off by novelist Kate Mosse who spoke passionately about libraries role in providing access to the written word and declared "authors and readers of today will not let down the writers and readers of tomorrow".

Yes, everyone there was committed to the future of libraries and as far as I could tell, understood the vital role libraries play in generating readers for writers across the spectrum of publishing. But in these hard times when much of the future seems uncertain, it was wonderfully reassuring, as well as an increasingly rare opprtunity, to meet work colleagues and make new contacts. Fantastic as well to talk to writers such as Hardeep Singh Kohli and Patrick Ness (pictured with me here) who had enjoyed visits to libraries in this region and are keen to return.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Literature & Philosophy in Rochdale

A few years ago Rochdale Library Service was delighted to discover that it had been left a substantial legacy by a local couple Mr Frank and Mrs Annie Maskew for a collection of works of Literature & Philosophy. Monday evening this week saw the formal launch of the collection and the fruition of long-held dreams.

Frank and Annie Maskew who originally met in Rochdale library, shared a passion for reading and thinking . Annie, a long-serving teacher at the former Queen Elizabeth High School died in 2006, after leaving a bequest to the library service to be used on English literature and philosophy, to ensure classic works are available for future generations. Several of her former pupils attended Monday's launch and spoke movingly about the long-standing love of classic literature she had instilled in them. She had clearly been an inspirational teacher of the sort we might all wish we had encountered.

Rochdale Council has now recruited Suzi Heslan as project manager and launched an extended ‘Maskew Collection’ which includes literature & philosophy titles for adults and children together with CDs and DVDs. The collection includes prize-winning books alongside popular philosophy titles, and is being used as an opportunity to develop innovative new ways of using library services. Suzi has planned and begun a series of events including Philosophy Coffee and Classic Reads discussion groups. The week of November 21st sees a whole week of activity to 'Get Rochdale Reading' and in January there will be an event on Lord Byron's birthday, marking his understated links with the area.

Monday's well-attended launch brought poets and musicians together for a cool set of jazz and poetry from local writers, in a corner of the library where we were surrounded by the first books to have been purchased through the bequest. I'm sure the evening would have made Mr and Mrs Maskew feel very proud and it certainly felt like a beacon of cultural enjoyment and optimism amidst all the recent more gloomy news stories about the decline of libraries.

For more information about the Maskew Collection or to find out about more about planned activities please contact Suzi Heslan on (01706) 924 933

Friday, 28 October 2011

Dickens matters

Well- where did all those weeks go? I can't believe 6 weeks have passed since I last wrote here. A couple of them were spent very happily attending Manchester Literature Festival events, bigger and better than ever this year. One of the great features of this festival for me, is that someone writes up a blog for every event which all give a really good flavour. These are brilliant for confirming or challenging your own experience, or for describing an event you may have missed. Please take a look at some or all of them here.

As for the other weeks, they are lost in routine and activity planning for next year. Which brings me to Dickens. Anyone interested in books will already know that we will all be celebrating the bi-centenary of Dickens' birth on 7th Feb 2012. The BBC is making splendid plans for some new productions , publishers will be re-issuing and promoting his titles, London is holding a Cultural Olympiad Festival. One of the Manchester Literature Festival events I attended was a talk by Clare Tomalin about Dicken's life and I have since been reading her thorough and detailed biography. This in turn has led me back to his fiction, in audio form. Many a librarian has said to me that they think people are put off reading him because of the sheer size of his volumes. But today there are so many ways to "access" Dickens. There are marvellous recorded readings of all his titles, brilliant TV productions on DVD, condensed and illustrated graphic versions for younger readers and of course e-book versions for those readers attracted to new lightweight formats.

I am all in favour of people discovering Dickens in whatever way suits them best. Most of his books are door-stop sized and somewhat intimidating for the casual reader. But the themes and subjects of his books are important and relevant to our current times. Here in the NW I hope that all our libraries will celebrate Dickens both for what he was and for what he wrote about. He visited the region many times and was particularly fond of both Manchester & Liverpool. I will be trying to trace all the other places he visited locally as well.

For a brilliant summary of why he matters you just need to read the final paragraph of Claire Tomalin's biography which starts He left a trail like a meteor, and everyone finds their own version of Charles Dickens. More anon...

Friday, 16 September 2011

Great American Novels

Yesterday in my reading group we were talking about Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. A lively group of 15 people all seemed to have enjoyed the characters, the wit and the important and perennial themes it tackles. Linda, a fairly new member of the group who has lived half her life in the US, felt it highlighted the fundamental pragmatism of American people. Lots of people commented on the river as metaphor for constant movement and freedom.

Of course we also talked about the racism it highlights and attitudes between white and black people which remain as a subject matter for modern writing, as well as the now shocking un-pc language it is written in. We had read The Help by Kathryn Stockett earlier in the year and there was much to be said about how black people can still be treated by land-owning whites. Clare, as she often does, compared it with her favorite William Faulkner and found it wanting.

What puzzled me as the discussion went on was why I hadn't read it earlier. I had ostensibly studied American literature at University (along with English) but had managed to avoid both Uncle Tom's Cabin and Huckleberry Finn, both widely regarded as seminal works, not only of anti-slavery literature, but also of American Literature in its entirety. Twain's house in Hartford, Connecticut pictured here, stands directly next door to that of Harriet Beecher Stowe and now I understand what an influence she must have had on his thinking and writing. I haven't thought about my university days for many years but this really made me wonder if we weren't pointed at these books because of some politically correct anxiety about the content or language. If that was the case, it was a pity and an omission.

But perhaps it was just me. Perhaps we were given options which I have now forgotten. All I remember is that for a very long time I immersed myself in Moby Dick and for decades have enthused about that as greatest ever American novel. In recent years its status in my eyes was challenged by Jonathan Franzen's Freedom, but I still think I would take MD to my desert island. But now that certainty has been shaken. Once again a reading group discussion has caused me to question what I thought I knew, admire other people's perception and judgement, bemoan my own ignorance. I know it has all been said before in other places, but when they work well, reading groups really can be an amazing source of inspiration and learning. And if you think Huckleberry Finn is a children's book you are in for a surprise.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Event fatigue? I hope not.

As someone involved in helping to make "live literature " events happen, from time to time I take an interest in audience numbers at book and reading events. Perhaps its because I work within local government which is currently having to justify every penny of expenditure more than ever before, but am I alone in detecting a worrying trend? Are fewer people attending literature events? Perhaps fewer people are attending events in general? Is everyone so concerned about their security & their finances that they aren't going out as much. Or is it just that we have had a wet and disappointing summer?

Last week I was in Fife, not too far from Edinburgh and managed to squeeze in a visit to the Edinburgh Book Festival on its last day. The site was looking a bit bedraggled and muddy, but there seemed to be a healthy number of people there and the bookshop was busy. But I read in the press that 10,000 fewer people had attended in total this year (n.b. total was a healthy sounding 190,000) when compared with last, even though record numbers attended the Fringe. Was this all to do with rain?

Closer to home, a reading this week in a large and busy town centre library with a good track record of hosting successful activity, only attracted 5 people. And a forthcoming event which I would have expected to be almost sold out by now, has only attracted a quarter of its target audience so far.

Is this all coincidence, or is it a trend? It would be good to hear some other recent experiences.

Manchester Literature Festival is only a month way. I really hope people locally will be excited enough by the programme to come along to as many events as possible. View the programme here. For those who are part of a reading group or want to arrange a night out with a group of book-loving friends, there is a special Reading Group Ticket Offer.

The Offer: Book for 4 or more people and get all your tickets at the concessionary rate. The offer is available on the following events and can be booked via the website or by phoning our Box Office on 0843 208 0500 and quoting MLF Reading Group offer at the time of booking.

Manchester Sermon – Manchester Cathedral, Tuesday 11th October, 7pm
Michael Frayn – Manchester Town Hall, Thursday 13th October, 5pm
Roma Tearne – International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Friday 14th October, 6pm
Emma Jane Unsworth & John Niven – Waterstone’s Deansgate, Saturday 15th October, 6pm
Sacred Hearts – Manchester Cathedral, Sunday 16th October, 7.30pm
Navtej Sarna & Shrabani Basu – Waterstone’s Deansgate, Monday 17th October, 6pm
Mimi Khalvati & Carola Luther – International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Thursday 20th October, 6pm
David Lodge – Whitworth Art Gallery, Friday 21st October, 7.30pm
The Devil’s Garden – Manchester Museum, Saturday 22nd October, 1pm
Catherine O’Flynn – Waterstone’s Deasngate, Saturday 22nd October, 6pm

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Love Libraries Day

Saturday 4th February 2012 will be a national day of celebration of local libraries, preceeded by a week of activity in schools and colleges. Library campaigner Alan Gibbons says " it will be a celebration of libraries and librarians... a day when families and communities flock to their local library to use it, join it, love it."

This could be a really exciting opportunity for lots of reading -related events, which could include readings, story-telling and family centred fun and games, but could also be really imaginative.

A large number of organisations have already pledged support including The Bookseller, National Federation of Women's Institutes, National Literacy Trust, The Reading Agency, Society of Authors, Unison, Voices for the Library. A national website is planned for September.

Time To Read would love to try and help co-ordinate some innovative activity across North West Libraries and would like to hear from anyone with interesting ideas to offer. Time To Read has some funds to support activity but is short of time, so ideas must be easy to understand & organise, with plenty of publicity potential as well as impact.

Please get in touch if you have any suggestions.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Wherever the plot takes you

Where does time go? More than 3 weeks already since I last wrote anything here. That's not because, regrettably that I've been on holiday, but there has been so much going on and so much news to keep up with, that its tricky getting time to reflect. Every day at the moment , or so it seems, there is news of library closure decisions being reversed or delayed, judicial reviews and new authors joining campaigns. Its really encouraging that there seems to be so much support for library services and so many writers who realise the important role libraries play in giving access to books to people of all ages.

To our own activity here in the NW: reading The Observer yesterday I was pleased to find a double-page spread about books to read in top holiday destinations. This fits perfectly with our own Reading Places promotion. 10 writers have picked 10 top holiday destinations and recommended some relevant reading. You can see the whole list and additional reader comments here.

I note in the comments, Claire Armitstead of The Guardian says:
Please do ask everyone you know to contribute to this list of suggestions. If we get enough we'll make a dinky little map with all your recommended reads on it next week, which would be a great resource for all those holiday-bound readers over the next few weeks. I'm off to Germany - just north of Nuremberg. Any suggestions welcome. Preferably not involving rallies, of any sort!

From a Reader Development point of view, the recommendations given are varied, with most of the writers choosing something classic alongside a fiction & non-fiction title, offering a range of substantial reads. Even if, like me, you aren't heading off abroad this year, this list can help take you to some favourite destinations, in your imagination.

Elsewhere library staff in the region are starting to organise Reading Places events. Keep an eye on the listings for news of these.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Greatest non-fiction books

There is an interesting discussion going on this week over on the Guardian Books website.
They have compiled a list they are calling The 100 greatest non-fiction books. Obviously lists such as these are always biased to the interests and knowledge of the people compiling them, hence the greatest number of titles appear in History, Memoir, Philosophy and Politics while sections on Music, Maths, Environment and Religion are alarmingly short.

Also noticeable is the great age of many of the chosen books, which makes it a difficult list for public libraries to promote, though many of the titles will still be in print in new editions. The most recent title I spotted is Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (2008) on the social media revolution.

There are already lots of comments about the list over on the Guardian site, most of them bemoaning the lack of individual people's personal favourites. More interesting to me are all the comments about the lack of readability of many of the titles which seem to have been picked because they are "classic" but not necessarily because they are an enjoyable good read.

So there is work to be done- can we flag up alternative titles in libraries? Titles which still inform and educate and which more people might actually finish reading; titles which complement this very worthy list. If there are any public libraries which take on this task please let me know here.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Women Write

Last night I attended City Library, Manchester for the launch of an anthology “Life, Death… The Whole Damn Thing”, featuring short stories from members of the award-winning writing group at Commonword in Manchester. The room was packed with writers, their friends and family members as well as some of us there as supporters and admirers.

The womanswrite group has existed for decades, encouraging many women to find their writing voices and in some cases develop their writing careers. Cathy Bolton, now Director of Manchester Literature Festival, kicked off the proceedings with some of her award-winning poetry. Novelist Cath Staincliffe rounded the event off by acknowledging the importance of womanswrite to her own successful career.What came through strongly throughout the event was the value of this supportive network in helping numerous writers to improve their work and gain in confidence.

In between Cathy and Cath, 7 members of the group read extracts from the stories appearing in the anthology. There was great variety in the work, some being very real, others rooted in fantasy or fairytale. In a way though, what was read, although enjoyable, wasn't really the essence of this event. What mattered was the sense of achievement and the pride everyone , from publisher, editor to all the writers felt in having published.

While most of the work of a librarian is dealing with published work, it was great that this event celebrating creative writing happened in a library. Without the valuable work going on in writing groups, workshops and masterclasses all over the country, sometimes in libraries, many successful writers might not come to light. Writers need to read. Many writers need to test their work in friendly and supportive groups. Writers need to promote their early work when it is published. Libraries can and do support the creative act of writing. With all the cutbacks and change currently happening to libraries in many parts of the UK, I hope this important function won't be lost.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Reading & Travel

Funny how here in NW Libraries we have just launched Reading Places, a promotion of travel writing and in the same week The Independent published in its "i" paper (Thurs p 35) a top ten list of travel books:
Arabian Sands – William Thesiger
Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell
Notes from a Small Island – Bill Bryson
Journey to Portugal – Jose Saramago
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S Thompson
Travels with Charley – John Steinbeck
A Wounded Civilization – V S Naipaul
The Great Railway Bazaar – Paul Theroux
The Road to Oxiana – Robert Byron
The Journals of Captain Cook – James Cook

This is a mixed selection of good writing and includes some classics and older titles as well as contemporary ones and I had selected a number of these myself to feature in our own list, but where are the women? I find it a bit remiss of the Indie not to have included even one woman.

I must admit that a lack of female writers to choose from struck me too while I was looking for titles to promote on our own site. There are obvious reasons why women found it harder to travel in the past and I LOVE this qoutation from George Eliot Daniel Deronda, Book II, Chapter 13, p135 (Penguin).
We women can't go in search of adventure - to find out the North-West Passage or the source of the Nile, or to hunt tigers in the East. We must stay where we grow, or where the gardeners like to transplant us. We are brought up like the flowers, to look as pretty as we can, and be dull without complaining. That is my notion about the plants: they are often bored, and that is the reason why some of them have got poisonous.
Times have most definitely changed and a moment's research soon comes up with plenty of female travel writers . The easiest possible hunt on Amazon today displays 2,829 results for Women Travellers in a list that includes lots of handbooks and guides for independent women, especially those travelling alone. There are collections of comic writing, descriptions by fearless adventurers and cautionary tales for the inexperienced and unwary.

Wonderful Virago published a collection in the early 1990s edited by Mary Morris, surveying 300 years of travel writing in which women are observers of the world in which they wander; their prose rich in description, remarkable in detail. This is now on my "books to read soon" list.

What also strikes me about the Indie's list is that several of the writers included are known as novelists as well- George Orwell, Jose Saramago, Joseph Steinbeck, VS Naipaul. Is this something that men find easier than women- moving seemlessly between different sorts of writing? I wonder. There are probably lots of female novelists who have also published memoirs and travel descriptions- but who are they? I can think of Kate Grenville who wrote the highly recommended novel about early settlers in Australia The Secret River, and then followed up with a memoir Searching For the Secret River, about her family and the inspiration for the novel. Are there other examples like this?

It would be good to be able to add to the short list of Women travel writers on this website, so do get in touch with your own ideas.

In the meantime I hope you will discover one or two titles to read on our site- we have given you a lot more than 10 to select from. And please send us a photo of yourself reading on your travels, whether that's to somewhere exotic or just as far as your back garden.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Reading Places

This time last week I was in New York, and find I am still recovering from what was a very hectic trip. Apparently there are 5 time zones between here and there and consequently it will take me 5 days to feel normal (!) again.

On our trip we did squeeze in a couple of bookshops as well as the very grand New York Public Library building, which somehow felt strangely familiar. The Strand Bookshop off Union Square boasts 18 miles of books. It was certainly densely packed and I was able to spot lots of titles by American authors I now want to read. This store has a great website too with lots of book choice information.

All of which is preamble to telling you more about Reading Places which launches on Monday. If you revisit this website on Monday 9th May you should spot a new banner and link to our new promotion. If you follow through, you will have approximately 100 books promoted to you, all linked to the theme of travel. I have tried to match Fiction & Non- Fiction titles, so for example if you are planning a trip to Easter Island you will be able to find both a novel and a factual account flagged up for you. We can add more titles through the year so please get in touch if you read a particularly evocative novel while on your travels.

We also want people to send us photos from their travels, pictures of books or people reading in unusual places. These will go up on our Facebook site, NOW that's what I call READING.

More next week

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Are writers born or made?

I attended a riveting event at City Library Manchester last night which was part book launch and part debate about the value of creative writing MAs. The room was packed, not sure who by, but I guess lots of people either already on, or who may be had considered and rejected going on, a Creative Writing course.

First-time novelist Rachel Genn, a recent participant on the Novel Writing MA at Sheffield Hallam University was launching her novel The Cure. Also launching her most recent novel The Testament of Jessie Lamb, was her former tutor at Sheffield Hallam, Jane Rogers.

Both writers read from their books. The Cure is set on and around building sites in Shoreditch but is really about loss, isolation and displacement.
...Jessie Lamb is set just in the future- 6 months on from where any reader starts- and is told through the voice of a 16 year old girl. Is Jessie heroic? Or is she, as her father fears, impressionable, innocent, incapable of understanding where her actions will lead? This was the issue Jane most wanted to address in this book.

After the readings, chair Sherry Ashworth, herself a writer and creative writing teacher at MMU, led the duo through a series of probing questions, asking them to address the value of Creative Writing courses and the perennial issue of whether or not a writer can be "created" through teaching.

The exchange was fascinating to me, as someone who feels instinctively that writers are born. Jane seemed to back my instinct by saying that writers can be helped and improved, for example with how to build characters or how to structure a plot, but need to arrive with an innate feeling for language and a vision for what they want to communicate. Rachel agreed that she was someone who definitely needed support with how to control and shape her words, but the strong drive to write was what drew her to a course

Questions from the audience quickly drew out some strong feelings, particularly around the question of whether it is now almost essential for a new writer to attend a creative writing course, if they want to be "discovered" by an agent. Jane tried to allay fears on that score but I'm not sure everyone was convinced. Agents do, it seems, visit Creative Writing schools to make new contacts with aspiring writers.

The overall impression from the evening was that writing is b.....y hard work! Students on creative writing courses need to work hard, take criticism and persevere. Tutors must work hard at being even-handed and supportive, while giving criticism where its needed. We readers are indeed the lucky ones, enjoying the fruits of all that effort.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Reading Places

After much angst and changes of direction, Time To Read has now decided on its focus for activity for this year. Reading Places will promote all sorts of travel writing, in the broadest sense. We will promote books which support travel to far flung parts of the world, but we also promote books to the armchair traveler: those books which transport you to other countries, real and imaginary from the comfort of your own front room, or, let's hope, the garden deckchair.
I am currently spending much time researching fiction set in other countries to pair up with the more self-evident travel guides and directories. So yes, I am still searching for a, so far elusive, novel set in Fiji. Any ideas anyone?
In the meantime I have just finished reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen which I have been waiting to do since its release last autumn. I loved it. Like The Corrections its an absorbing read about the complex relationships between people in an introspective middle-class American family. So much is familiar and at the same time I wanted to scream at them for not communicating better with each other. The bits that really grabbed me though were set in a lakeside summer-house which, both Patty and Walter at various times retreat to. This seems to be a recurring motif in American Literature, from Thoreau's Walden to the most recent novels I have read. In both Freedom and the very bleak Caribou Island (David Vann), the need for a lakeside retreat is obsessive. And yet in neither of these is "retreat" really possible. The outside world really can't be avoided.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

World Book Night Successes

Everyone who took part in WBN seems to be rating it as a success. Although it will be impossible to know how many of the books given away on Saturday are read, certainly the spirit in which they were given and received seems to have been very positive.
I was at a charity for homeless people , where, not only were they eager to receive books, but also wanted to know about them and were keeen to find out more about what was being given away. Picture shows giver David with some of the "receivers".

Warrington Libraries had 2 success stories, not only getting books given away at a Wolves RUFC match but also inspiring comedian Sarah Millican to announce WBN and encourage people to pick up books from library staff at the interval. Janet said The books went so fast we couldn't believe it!

Sarah from Salford took books and staff to The Lowry and said Just wish I'd had more books! They all went in about an hour! Five hundred!

I was in a meeting in London yesterday with some publisher representatives. The feeling at that was also that it had been successful in creating a buzz about books. I suppose they will be eagerly looking for an upsurge in sales now. We need to feedback our thoughts on the whole scheme which was hugely ambitious. Some of the glitches were probably inevitable in a project of this size. It will be important to hang on to the core purpose which was to get books into the hands of more people and enthuse them about reading.

Friday, 4 March 2011

time-to-read: World Book Night

time-to-read: World Book Night: "Its almost here. Tomorrow sees the first World Book Night and a million books being given away. The organisation must have been a logistical..."

World Book Night

Its almost here. Tomorrow sees the first World Book Night and a million books being given away. The organisation must have been a logistical Everest but certainly we have lots of books in Manchester and have seen a long list of other book givers so there should be lots of books "on the streets".

Lots of library services are organising events. The latest I have heard of is a Quiz Night at Wallasey Central Library on the Wirral. See to find the details on the libraries' pages.

I shall be at The Mustard Tree which we hope will be featured on the BBC 2 World Book Night programme just before 9pm.

I'll report back next week on how it goes.

Monday, 28 February 2011

the World of Books Day & Night

Its potentially a big week for books. Thursday is the UK's World Book Day. Always thought it was odd that we didn't fit with the rest of the world which holds WBD on April 23rd, but its to do with schools & Easter hols I believe. That aside, World Book Day in the UK has seen massive publisher support for children's reading and in recent years the launch of a new set of Quick Reads.

Quick Reads are a great series of books for people who have never had, or who have lost the habit of reading. Each year 10 titles are published on World Book Day and libraries and learning organisations work hard to get them into the hands of people who may not discover them on their own.

The list of new titles for this year can be seen on the QR website. I notice this year's list includes books by top borrowed author James Patterson, alongside former Monty Python star Terry Jones and a Martial Arts Adventure from Benjamin Zephania. So there should be some really varied and interesting reading to be found.

WBD will be closely followed on Saturday by the first World Book Night
The intention of WBN is that a million books will be given away by a "army of passionate book givers". While there have been some murmurings of scepticism about this venture by some booksellers, writers and librarians ( after all libraries are full of free books all the time- the only difference is we ask you to bring them back), it does seem that it should be successful at getting books into people's hands in some unusual and imaginative ways. Book givers have been recruited in sufficient numbers and certainly from where I am in Manchester, there is a long list of givers who have opted to collect their books from libraries and take them who knows where?

I am excited to be supporting a project which hopefully really will get books into the hands of people who are not already regular book buyers, though we are told, are often voracious readers. Manchester Libraries are supporting The Mustard Tree , a charity which supports homeless and marginalised people. The library service is working in partnership with the Mustard Tree to present an open mic night at which clients of the charity can perform their work. The library service is delighted that the BBC has chosen this event as one to highlight on their special BBC 2 World Book Night programme.

Around the NW region there are plenty of other WBN events as well. It makes me proud as a librarian to see so many library staff, currently working under great pressure, still willing and able to pick up an external opportunity like this and create lively events which will bring books to more readers.

I shall try to give as much publicity as I can to all the events taking place "on my patch".

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Time for some reader development?

Listening to the very positive You and Yours phone-in and discussion about public libraries yesterday, one caller 's remarks jumped out at me. I didn't catch where she called from- but by the sound of her voice she was older, well-educated (mentioned Oxford University) and a keen user of library services- both her small local branch and a larger town centre one. She had moved recently and commented that her local library did not offer her a choice of books. I hope this was over-stating the case. I'm not aware there are any public libraries yet with no books at all. What I suspect she meant was that there were lots of other things more obvious- such as computers, DVDs, music and that she struggled to find a book that she felt she wanted to borrow.

The experts in the studio didn't have time to follow up this person's comments, but I think she was making 2 points. The question of whether libraries have given away too much space to ICT and other services has been in the air for many years now. My own interest in reader development was spurred on by trying to defend the need for books against a policy of expansion for ICT services and the belief by some managers that demand for books would spiral downwards rapidly. Most of us in the profession with a deep love of books have always felt that the two can and should exist side by side. A library isn't a library without books, but we recognise and value ICT services for all that they offer, and yes, libraries should be offering them. Other collections such as DVDs and music are a valuable part of our cultural offer and sit happily within our lending services, providing additional choices to a wide range of people.

Why this person felt she couldn't find a book she wanted to borrow is a more interesting reader development question. Unless this library literally had no books or had bought no new stock for many years, then surely there should have been at least one tempting title. Was it to do with the way the books were presented- all spine -on, leaving the browser no clues as to their content? Or was it to do with the selection- possibly all popular & genre fiction, leaving nothing apparently serious for a demanding reader? Or may be this reader was limiting her browsing to only writers she had heard of previously?

All these questions can be addressed by a library service taking reader development seriously. Consideration of presentation is obvious. Publishers know that covers sell books and many libraries have long been trying to offer more face-on display. Libraries do need to remain aware of looking attractive, contemporary and yes, tidy. Potential borrowers can be very quickly deterred if its difficult to see what might be interesting behind a barrage of For Sale trolleys or beyond a bank of computer desks

If the selection of titles is small and in the face of shrinking bookfunds, this is going to become a problem in most places, then library staff have to work at enticing people to pick up something different. They need to describe books, perhaps on shelf-talkers or by pulling them together into " If you like x you'll love y " displays or lists. They need to "market" books to readers by any means available, through mailing lists, social networking, text messages, by putting on events and activities where books are discussed. Readers are understandably reluctant to try books they know nothing about or which don't seem to match with anything they might have enjoyed before.We need to encourage them to dare something different.

I'm sure even the most narrowly focused reader can be encouraged to try something else for a change, if its presented to them in the right way. Maybe if its won a prize or been reviewed by a serious critic: the library needs to know that and present the information. Perhaps the reader could be asked to read something on behalf of the service and provide a review for a library website or to inform the library's readers groups. By joining a reading group themselves they might soon be able to influence the choice of books being offered. So many ideas come to mind, so quickly.

But all of this requires work and effort. This is reader development in action. The current round of spending cuts is having a massive effect on staffing structures and the sheer capacity of services to deliver. In a time of austerity those libraries which do survive, need to put more effort into retaining existing enthusiastic readers and creating new ones, not less. There is a huge groundswell of vocal support for library services currently and we must surely reflect on whether or not their continued support is deserved.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Pages Ago reviewed

Apologies that posts on this blog have been rather infrequent lately. As well as the distractions caused by trying to keep up with the news about threats to libraries nationwide and the growing numbers of campaigns and messages of support from writers, publishers etc, I have spent much of the last couple of months deep in surveys and evaluation reports.

One of the major reports I have been writing is an evaluation of the Pages Ago promotion, where this blog began back in April 2010. In terms of the number of events held and opportunities for writers to appear in libraries, Pages Ago has been the most successful reading promotion we have delivered across the North West's libraries. While my evaluation still isn't quite complete I am happy to report that because of Pages Ago there were at least 110 events which focussed on reading and writing about history, in NW libraries during 2010. Of these, at least 55 offered opportunities for writers based here in the NW to gain employment and promote themselves and their work. All these events were encouraged by Time To Read, the NW public libraries' reading network, and many were supported with Arts Council GFA lottery funding.

These events ranged from single writers reading from their books, such as Harry Sidebottom talking about his new Roman-set title in Macclesfield & Bury, creative writing workshops such as Jo Bell's (pictured) Curses, Cures and Wills workshop using historical documents as inspiration, imaginative events such as Stockport's trip into Air Raid Shelters featuring staff in costume and carefully chosen readings, to my personal highlights such as Manchester's Readers Day featuring 10 historical writers and the Big Family Book Day held in the Tenant's Hall at Tatton Park.

Many librarians who worked on Pages Ago have said that they found the historical theme a really fruitful one to work with. They enjoyed pairing up fiction and non-fiction books and found the range of potential writers keen to work with us, inspiring.

We are now in a new year which seems to be posing major challenges to us in public libraries. Time To Read's main task is to maintain the enthusiasm for promoting books and reading which was so clearly demonstrated through Pages Ago. To keep our spirits up we have decided to focus on Humour and will be planning our new activity over the coming weeks.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

New Year of Reading

After what has been the longest Xmas/New Year break I have ever enjoyed, I am back at my desk and raring to go with a new year of reading and promotion of books/writers.

One thing I have just found time to do has been to review the stats of how many people are reading this blog and have been pleasantly surprised. Although not many people are leaving comments, the blog is being read in some surprising places. Can I just say hello to whoever is following this from S.Korea and Armenia!

For reasons which must remain under wraps I have spent Xmas reading romance. This has been a real indulgence. My understanding of the world of regency dress, manners and morals has till now been confined to what I've learned through Jane Austen. I now know far more than I did about the importance of the horse-racing world as a means to meeting new beaux. And Scottish lairds still exude the irresistible charisma which caused me to fall for my own scotsman more than 30 years ago. Pity he wasn't a laird with his own loch.

When my heap of romantic novels has all been read, I hope to spend much of 2011 seeking out and reading feelgood books with a humorous edge. Libraries here in NW England want to promote the reading of "humour" as a means to countering the economic gloom we all seem to be facing, especially here in public libraries. We intend to launch our hunt for the funniest book we have read. Details of this will follow in due course, but in the meantime if anyone wants to recommend a really funny read to take us cheerfully into 2011 please do so here or on our Facebook page NOW that's what I call READING.