One year on: #StillYes



Orkney Library

In my last post, I wrote about visiting Shetland Library while on holiday there. The following week, we moved on to Orkney and, of course, I visited the library. How could I keep away? This is a very famous library, winner of the 2015 Library of the Year Award, but long before that it was known world-wide for its humorous Twitter feed.

I was sad that the Wooden Woman (what’s she all about?) didn’t have any jokes to offer when we were there (those are hedgehogs made out of old books she’s holding) but, just so you don’t miss out, here’s an example of what she gets up to from Twitter.

If you don’t already follow @OrkneyLibrary I suggest you do so right now! Life will never be dull.

Shetland Library

On a recent visit to Shetland, you couldn’t expect me to stay out of the library in Lerwick – could you? Thought not. Not only do I like visiting libraries, this one has some art work I wanted to see. Last year, Shetland was one of five places teamed up with an artist for Book Week Scotland (read more on the website of Scottish Book Trust which organised the scheme.) I met the artist paired with Shetland, Rosemary Cunningham, when she was working on another project, the wonderful Glasgow Alphabet Map, so I was keen to see what she had done here.

Shetland is rather windy, so Rosie designed a flagpole and a set of flags. One flies proudly outside, the others are displayed on the balcony inside. I love them! One of the staff members told me that the flag is raised and lowered each day – another skill added to the CV of multi-tasking library workers.

Since the early part of this century, the library has been based in the refurbished St Ringan’s Church. It’s beautiful, inside and out.

Previously, it and the town museum shared the rather unattractive building next door which still houses the library admin and reserve stock. One mitigating feature of the building is the carvings by the door of a girl and boy reading.

Overall, I was impressed with the library. It was bright and attractive in décor and stock, lots of people seemed to be using it and the staff member I spoke to was friendly and helpful. Well worth taking half an hour out of my holiday for.


A to Z reflections

A-to-Z+Reflection+[2015]+-+LgAs soon as Gary Green and Andrew Walsh published their fabulous Library A to Z advocacy tool I knew it would make the basis of a great A to Z Challenge. But would I have time? I was already planning to enter for the second year with my travel blog (writing about Gallus Glasgow) and wasn’t sure if I could run two at once. In the end, I got all my travel posts ready before the start of the challenge so signed this blog up at the last moment – and here I am! Through to the end.

Library A to ZSo would I do it again? Yes! But not with two blogs. I feel I could have made much more of the “What’s good about libraries?” theme with more time. Basically, it was a cut and paste job – the graphics and alphabetical words from Gary and Andrew’s lists and a few quotes each day that I had been collecting for a while. I could, for example, have expanded on those with some details about the person quoted. A couple of days when I didn’t have many quotes, I wrote about a specific library and it would have been nice to have done more of that.

Still, people read and commented, more so than ever before on this blog, although both stats fell through the month. That doesn’t surprise me – I started off visiting far too many other challengers’ blogs and had to cut down over time. I hope I wasn’t preaching entirely to the converted and that at least a few people had their eyes opened to the range of services and activities that libraries offer.

Future plans? Short term, I want to go back over the comments and collate them with those from Facebook but that will have to wait. In the long-term, if I do the challenge again, I think it would be better to do alternate years on each blog. I’ll leave you with thanks for reading, and one last library quote from Matthew Battles, a Harvard Librarian:

The library … is no mere cabinet of curiosities; it’s a world, complete and completable, and it is filled with secrets. Like a world, it has its changes and its seasons, which belie the permanence that ordered ranks of books imply. Tugged by the gravity of readers’ desires, books flow in and out of the library like the tides.

What’s good about libraries? Z

Library A to Z: ZThis is the last of my A to Z Challenge posts about the importance of libraries. I’ve been using the Library A to Z advocacy materials and adding a small selection of quotations. Thank you to everyone who has followed along.

What good things about libraries begin with Z?

Zines (magazines); zzzzz (child sleeping after being read bedtime story).

And a posthumous thank you to Frank Zappa who supplies both of today’s quotes:

If you want to get laid, go to college. If you want an education, go to the Library.

So many books, so little time.

And that’s it! Except, not quite. If you haven’t already, I urge you to visit the Library A to Z site. There are downloadable materials, including the graphics and words that I’ve been using, and a page of excellent arguments about the importance of libraries. These are mostly non-country specific, but in the UK we should make urgent use of them. The General Election is days away. There may be other issues on your mind, but have you asked your candidates about their views on libraries? For more ideas on what to say, see CILIPS’ (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) Electionwatch page. And above all – vote!

Thanks again to everyone who has read, commented and made suggestions over the last month. If you have any for Z, please add them below. Au revoir!

What’s good about libraries? Y

Library A to Z: YI’m following the A to Z Challenge by posting every day in April (except Sundays) about the importance of libraries. I’m using the Library A to Z advocacy materials and a small selection of quotations in each post.

What good things about libraries begin with Y?

Young adult; your library; youth.

No quotes about libraries today – and even the one about reading is not quite on-message:

Henry Youngman: When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.

Do you have any other suggestions for Y?

What’s good about libraries? X

Library A to Z: XI’m following the A to Z Challenge by posting every day in April (except Sundays) about the importance of libraries. I’m using the Library A to Z advocacy materials and a small selection of quotations in each post.

What good things about libraries begin with X?

Xml (web of information; organisation of information online), eXciting, eXpression.

Hmm, X is tricky. Bet you thought I wouldn’t find a quote! But I did:

Malcolm X: My alma mater was books, a good library . . . I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.

Do you have any other suggestions for X?


What’s good about libraries? W

Library A to Z: WI’m following the A to Z Challenge by posting every day in April (except Sundays) about the importance of libraries. I’m using the Library A to Z advocacy materials and a small selection of quotations in each post.

What good things about libraries begin with W?

Warmth; well-being; wifi (free); wisdom; workshops; World Wide Web.

W quotes – I wasn’t sure if strictly speaking Dr Who should be under D since he is “The Doctor”. But here he is in the good and varied company of a chemistry professor, a novelist and an ex-Rolling Stone.

Frank H. Westheimer: A couple of months in the laboratory can save a couple of hours in the library.

Dr Who: You want weapons? We’re in a library. Books … the best weapons in the world! This room’s the greatest arsenal we could have. Arm yourself!

Virginia Woolf: Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.

Bill Wyman: The 15 years since I left the band have been the best years of my life. I should have been a museum curator or a librarian because I like that better than being a “rock star”.

Do you have any other suggestions for W?

Aye Write!

The 10th annual Aye Write! has just finished at the Mitchell Library – what does the name mean? In my review of the festival two years ago, I wrote:

There are several levels of pun involved in the title of Glasgow’s book festival: Aye Write! “Yes, write” and “I write” are probably obvious to all, but non-Scots might not know that “Aye, right!” is a Glaswegian expression of some scepticism, a rare example of a double positive making a negative.

So now you know! As two years ago, I attended several sessions in return for volunteering – directing people to the right venues, checking tickets and taking round the microphone for Q&A sessions. It was great fun being able to help and, because I didn’t request any specific sessions that I wanted to attend, I heard from authors that I’d previously known nothing about.

There’s a whole range of talks to suit every taste from celebrity writers, who naturally can turn their event into a performance, to special interest writers, some of whom are obviously not used to public speaking.  Panel and interview formats are also popular and can work very well. Here are my highlights.

John Mackay : The books that made me

Road DanceJohn Mackay is a well-known Scottish political journalist. I didn’t know he was also a novelist – he has written a trilogy set on the Isle of Lewis, the first of which is The Road Dance. In this session, he talked about five books that had influenced him, starting with the Bible. John was born in Glasgow, but from a Hebridean background. His family were members of the Free Church. Favourite part: when he had to explain to his childhood pals that he wasn’t allowed to play football on Sundays because of his church. “Free Church? Does that mean you don’t have to pay a collection then?”

Crime and the city

Crime writing is not my genre of choice, so I didn’t know any of these authors. Stuart McBride, Neil Broadfoot and Malcolm MacKay discussed the importance of, respectively, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow to their novels and why they chose the location in the first place. Favourite part: the Q&A. Chair Russel D MacLean (another crime writer who sets his novels in Dundee) exhorted the audience not to be shy – their questions couldn’t be any worse than one he had been asked: “Have you, or any of your characters, ever been made into bubble bath dispensers?” Then I took the mic to a lady who started “Stuart, I’ve never been able to finish any of your books…..” She went on to say that they were too gory, she worried about him and was relieved to see that he looked normal and quite human! Fortunately, Stuart took this in good part and banter ensued. Kudos to Russel for introducing the signing session by saying “and if you can’t read the books, I’m told they make excellent paperweights”

My era is better than yours

Three historical fiction writers made a pitch for their chosen period: Lindsey Davis (the Georgians), Rory Clements (the Elizabethans) and Michael Arnold (the English Civil War). Favourite part: the result. The chair allegedly had a clapometer which measured audience applause and produced – a three-way tie! I don’t believe it. Not only are the Tudors obviously the best, but I thought Rory Clements was the best speaker and made a proper case rather than just telling anecdotes from his period. But what do I know?

Nikolaus Wachsmann / Eva Schloss

9780374118259These were two separate talks, but they were programmed consecutively and it was obvious that many of the audience for the first had stayed on for the second. Nikolaus Wachsmann is the first historian to write a complete history of the Nazi concentration camps in KL. He tells the full story of the camp system’s development and the everyday experiences of its inhabitants, both perpetrators and victims. It was the question of the perpetrators that fascinated me. How could anyone do such things? Wachsmann outlined a range of reactions:

  • The SS man who vomited at his first sighting of mass murder then got used to it and participated.
  • The SS men who saw it as a profession and were quite business-like about it. One said of a Jehovah’s Witness when asked why he buried him alive: “He was a Conscientious Objector and had no right to life in my view”.
  • One officer wrote to his wife that he “put his head in the sand”. This was a common reaction. Wachsmann says that the claim after the war that the population did not know what was going on was a myth. The camps and the prisoners were in plain sight.

He concluded that, on the whole, perpetrators lived quieter lives than those who suffered – they seemed to be able to forget.

Eva SchlossEva Schloss and her family were taken to Auschwitz in May 1944. Her father and brother died, but she and her mother were freed by the Russians in 1945. Wachsmann cared deeply about his subject, but Schloss’s session (in the form of a discussion about her book, After Auschwitz, with Ruth Wishart) had the added passion of the survivor and bears out Wachsmann’s theory. She was filled with hate for years, also jealousy. After the war her mother remarried – to Otto Frank, making her Anne’s step-sister. She felt side-lined; that her own identity had been overwhelmed by this connection. For years, she didn’t talk about what happened for fear of burdening her own children. Now, she sees this as damaging and wishes she had spoken about it more. The floodgates, for her, were opened when Ken Livingstone asked her to take part in an exhibition.

Schloss also had her views about the perpetrators. She might be happy now (she has had a long marriage and children and grandchildren) but she cannot forgive the perpetrators, nor does she want to. She has no truck with the “only obeying orders” excuse, citing an officer in the early years of the camps who had expressed distaste for his role and been moved elsewhere. What if they had all done that? Not only that, she feels some of the guards took pleasure in inventing even worse things than those that they were ordered to do. Like Wachsmann, she feels that they were, unaccountably, able to live with themselves afterwards and some were just sorry that they didn’t finish the job.

This was a very moving, even traumatic, evening. One audience member I spoke with wondered whether it would have been better to have the sessions on different days, then decided that would lessen the impact and it was better to confront ( I can’t say enjoy) both at once. I agree.

Tony Roper : I’ll no tell you again

tonyroper_cover01This one I actually had a ticket for. Tony Roper is one of Scotland’s most recognisable faces. He is best known for playing Jamesie Cotter in Rab C. Nesbitt and for writing the classic comedy-drama The Steamie. I’ll no tell you again is his autobiography, telling of his Glasgow childhood and his early working life in coal mines, building sites and ship yards before he found his vocation as an actor and writer.

Roper is very, very funny and kept the theatre laughing for an hour. Who knew he was 73? I’d never have thought it. And his real name’s not Tony – not unusual for an actor to have a stage name, but his renaming long predated his acting days. He was called Dennis after his father, but his mother didn’t like his father very much so young Dennis was always known as Junior until he went to work at Bilsland’s Bakery. The van driver he was assigned to kept calling him Tony, because that was the name of his last assistant. Everyone else took it up, and he’s been Tony ever since. Favourite part: Tony imitating Rikki Fulton as Rev I M Jolly.

Apologies to non-Scottish readers who have missed out on some of the cultural references in this post!