Category Archives: Libraries & Librarians

Public libraries – more than ‘just’ books

What a silly title for a blog post. Books are never ‘just’ books. Books are one of the best things in the world, if you ask me. And my parents would have gone bankrupt, had they had to buy all the books I took out from the public library as a kid. And yet, public libraries offer so much more than ‘just’ books.

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(Image via Pexels)

As part of this term’s module on ‘Managing Library Services’, I have been thinking about public libraries a lot. Since I started the MSc, I have always been more interested in academic libraries – very predictable perhaps, since I work in higher education. This term, however, has been an eye opener with regards to the millions of things that public libraries do other than lending books.

Perhaps this is a good time to remind ourselves of the value of libraries, given the news about the plans of Lambeth Council to turn two of its libraries into gyms. What follows is a random list of some great stuff going on in public libraries – just some articles I’ve come across on the internet. And it’s in no way extensive. Of course it’s not. As I said above, there are millions of innovative things that public libraries do!

1. There is the Reading Well Books on Prescription scheme. This is a scheme, delivered by the Reading Agency and the Society of Chief Librarians, by which GPs and other healthcare professionals use self-help reading – with the books being available from the library – to treat mild to moderate mental health conditions. I have just read that the scheme has been extended to young people.

2. A bit further away from home (I did say this would be a random list), San Francisco Public Library’s mobile kitchen, the Biblio Bistro, is used to teach users how to cook food.

3. Libraries also provide information and support for start-up businesses and entrepreneurs, for example through the British Library’s Business and IP Centre National Network. The Enterprise Hub run by Northamptonshire Libraries is part of the network and has won the CILIP Libraries Change Lives Award in 2014. (I could go on about this forever as my current assignment is all about enterprise services. Probably best to stop here though.)

4. Once again looking to the States, libraries are hiring outreach workers for homeless users.

5. Back at home, the Library of Birmingham has been the stage for a play – Hamlets.

6. And New York Public Library users can borrow WiFi hotspots, through the Library HotSpot programme, bringing the internet to many people who would otherwise be on the wrong side of the digital divide.

7. Staying with the theme of technology, more and more public libraries offer Makerspace workshops, were users can try out technologies such as 3D-printing. For example, looking to my home country, the Cologne Public Library.

There we go – just a few examples. I would love to hear about other examples of libraries being innovative. This list has the potential to become very long!

 

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Baby’s first trip to the library

childrens library

(image via pixabay)

Personally, I believe you can’t start early enough taking your child to the library. Consequently, I got my lovely baby daughter a library card when she was just over five weeks old. As we happened to be in the city centre that day, we went to the magnificent Library of Birmingham, which of course you can see on the picture below. They have a lovely Children’s Library  on the lower ground floor and even a small collection of German books for kids of all ages. Since German is my first language, this is pretty cool.

Library of Birmingham

(image: my own)

On a daily basis, however, other libraries are much closer to where we live. Stirchley Library is in walking distance, and we are yet to check out their weekly Story & Rhyme sessions on Tuesday mornings – we’re already going to Baby Sensory classes that day. (Yes, my baby has a better social life than me.) But a couple of my friends with babies have been and I have heard that the sessions are very popular and well worth going too.

And last Friday, we made the short car journey to Northfield Library to go to the monthly Book-a-Boo! session. My baby might have slept through the whole hour of stories and nursery rhymes, but I like to think that she’ll grow up to see libraries as an exciting place full of stories and fun, if we continue to visit them. It was lovely to see the older kids engage with the stories too. And it’s all free!

I had a quick browse of the board books at Northfield Library and got quite excited about all the books – I’m sure we’ll be making best use of the collections in the not so distant future. For now, the baby is quite happy with the small selection of high contrast black-and-white books we’ve got at home.

In short, our libraries are great places (despite all the painful cut-backs on funding) – take your children there! I certainly will continue to do so.

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Hamlets at the Library of Birmingham

No, no, no, it’s not a typo up there in the title, the performance I saw at the Library of Birmingham the other week really was called Hamlets with an -s. It was an adaptation of the famous play and it was also one of the best, most exhilarating theatre experiences I’ve had in a while.

Why? Firstly, it was set in the Library of Birmingham, probably the most exciting building in Birmingham. And I’m not just saying this as a library student:

Library of Birmingham

There was no fourth wall in this performance. We started in the foyer and were taken to various parts of the building as the action unfolded, sometimes with the actors literally all around us. The Library here doubled as the Hamlet archives, with boxes with archival material strewn around, and “archivists” guiding us from one location to the next.

You know how the Library of Birmingham is an amazing building? Just imagine being there after hours, with nothing than a group of actors and some fellow audience members to keep you company. It is brilliant. Just look at this view:

Library of Birmingham at night

Secondly, I loved what the director, Daniel Tyler, did with the text. In a nutshell, he took Hamlet apart and then put the pieces back together. I loved how refreshing this approach was – it might just be my perception, but I felt that this performance was much less in awe of the Bard than many others I have seen.

We all got given a visit checklist. Of course I checked off the scenes as we went along – I cannot go past a good checklist!

Checklist

The actors were fantastic and really devoted themselves to their roles. There was not one, but about a dozen different Hamlets. In line with the archives theme, we had actors representing previous incarnations or archetypes of Hamlet, e.g. the female Hamlet, the Sarah Bernhardt Hamlet and the Wild West Hamlet. There also were multiple Ophelias. Here you can see Gertrude and Claudius (and some archive boxes, if you look closely):

Scene from Hamlets

Some of my favourite parts?

  • The ghost scene which took place in the Secret Garden – outside on the rooftop terrace – after nightfall. Eery!
  • The Hamlet monologues – many, many different versions happening at the same time. This included a Punjabi version, a ‘Hamlet challenge’ where audience members had to fill in the gaps in the monologue, and a silent movie version.
  • The Mousetrap. I don’t think there would have been a better way to use the Library, as both the audience and the actors (who were also the audience here) were strategically placed on two levels around the rotunda.
  • Hamlet going mad: pandemonium enfolding all around the audience over an entire floor. We were free to go anywhere on that level, and wherever you looked, something was going on.

(I saw: Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Library of Birmingham & Hôtel Teatro Theatre Company present a Young REP 18-25 Company production Hamlets.  Based on William Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. Adapted and directed by Daniel Tyler)

Happy

I first came across this lovely video of staff and students at Texas A&M University Libraries dancing to “Happy” via Ned Potter’s blog.

You can read more about the thinking behind the video on Ned Potter’s blog. Personally, I think this is a great way to reach out to new students and to introduce the library to them in a fun way.

I speak from personal experience! These days, of course, my local university library  is one of my “happy” places and you can often find me there browsing the shelves after a long day at work. A particular favourite are the Library Science books on the fourth floor. It de-stresses me. I remember well, however, being a first-year undergraduate student at Münster University, and being terrified of even entering the huge, imposing university library.

Here is a photo of said university library. It actually looks really cool, don’t you think?

ULB Münster HDR Gehorche Keinem

For my entire first semester at university, I relied on the two libraries of the History and English departments. Admittedly, they were quite extensive and probably covered most of the needs of a first-year student, but that’s not the point.

I eventually got over my awe of the main library, you will be pleased to hear. I joined one of the many library tours on offer, and after that, became a regular patron.

The point of all of this? I think that videos like the one above can go a long way in familiarising students with the library early on. Watching the video has got me thinking about library induction and this is something that I would like to explore more. Do you have any suggestions for resources I should look at?

Video source: “Happy” by Texas A&M University Libraries

Photo source: “ULB Münster HDR Gehorche Keinem” by Philip Brechler is licenced under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0