I remember fondly my experiences of studying at Liverpool Central Libraries in 1985/86. My friend and I would go a couple of evenings a week to revise for our ‘O’ levels. We both didn’t have much space at home so this was a perfect refuge to escape to and imagine our ‘glittering’ futures. The Picton and the International library were my favourite spaces. I visited recently and was disappointed that it had moved on with the times in terms of the number of computer terminals which I know is inevitable. My love of books has never dimmed and I love the presence of the Portico and the National Art Library at the V & A which still provide a refuge from modern life.
Julie remembers going to the library before she got the internet at home as a teenager – she used the public library for quick internet access. She had four siblings so it was often easier to go to the public library there.
Shona’s friend had a brand new baby and she was surprised to find she could join the library as a newborn and borrow pictures books for long periods of time.
Kim’s Mum borrowed a computer book from the library and took it home and fixed her own computer.
Katie used the public library to practice her driving theory tests – you could log in with your library number and practice for free at home. It saved her buying the DVDs and the tests changed every time you went on. She passed and it didn’t cost her a penny!
Yong – A library for relaxed social place. I learned how to use computers from my local library and also enjoyed meeting friends in the libraries for ideas and still do.
Thank you to John Dolan for sending us the following guest post.
I recoil when people say libraries are “more than just books” but let’s paraphrase that; libraries are also more than just fiction. Around a third of books borrowed are non-fiction. Many meet familiar needs in gardening or cookery; even more on all conceivable themes, history – local and everything else – politics, philosophy, science, travel, arts, health, life, the world ………
Children’s reading shifts as they grow. Little ones love stories; that’s a given. Later there is more of a mix. Research by Birmingham Libraries showed that children reached the tipping point around 8-9 years when hobbies and homework drew them closer to non-fiction. Young people urgently need info’- not just study but for their diverse and pressured personal and social lives.
Libraries are where you read newspapers – today’s local, back copies, foreign papers, national dailies, e-papers. Why should people only read one paper? They’re all political; only in a good library can you test one view against another … and in several languages and from different countries.
Free internet drew new audiences; not passive, watching “audiences” but people finding out, fascinated by facts, ideas and opinion; people wanting to disagree. Teachers would be less worried about Wikipedia if we were raised as critical readers – learners – not taught that someone else is always right, so “just cut and paste”.
The library is often cited as a community (village, city centre, whatever) meeting place. Activities in libraries bring alive the knowledge and ideas that are on the pages of the non-fiction book or the internet screen; from health to local history; from childcare to costume. At Birmingham some of our best events were with authors like Robert Winston, Betty Boothroyd, Tony Benn, Kate Adie, Ranulph Fiennes, Melvyn Bragg, Brian Keenan and, of course, Terry Deary ….
Marx and Engels studied and, surely, shared their thinking in the (open to the public) library of Manchester’s Chethams Music School http://tgr.ph/kfshR. In Birmingham, George Dawson, opening the 1879 Central Library, said the “a great library contains the diary of the human race” (Long live biography!).
The web, online reference works and e-books anticipate reflect the library of today. Now amazing stuff can be had virtually as well as in every walk-in library. As ever, the library seeks and provides. E-resources are too unaffordable for most; a library’s info service is without compare; knowledge collections critical and free computers crucial. There’s nowhere else!
So what do we need now? Four thoughts to begin:
- More promotion of the information and learning roles of all libraries
- Accreditation mechanism for learning in libraries
- Acknowledgement of the librarian’s skills in information research
- Advocate-leaders in learning, education, health, science, arts, politics, business
John Dolan OBE
10 November 2011
The views expressed in guest blog posts are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect those of Voices for the Library.
Birmingham Libraries recently appointed ambassadors for their new library. They are a group of local people with interesting stories about how libraries have inflenced and in some cases shaped their lives. Here are their stories.
Andrew Keen’s lifelong passion for libraries and learning began as a child in 1957 whilst watching the Oscar Wilde inspired movie, ‘The Canterville Ghost’. Upon seeing the wood-panelled library featured in the film, Andrew remarked that he wished he had a library – to which his father replied ‘You’ve got one!’ Shortly afterwards, father and son visited Ward End Library for the first time and Andrew, now 60, has been a regular library user ever since.
A keen reader, getting through at least two books a week, Andrew rarely buys books and instead obtains all of his reading materials from lending libraries. As well as reading for pleasure, Andrew has also used the library throughout his life to study various subjects, including his two degrees in Psychology and Exercise Physiology – and even to become a master of Karate!
With The Library of Birmingham and the Birmingham Repertory theatre set to be physically connected in 2013, it’s fitting that one of the most remarkable stories of Andrew’s library journey.
Andrew has been with his wife Linda since 1967, when, as a sixteen year old, he spent two weeks’ wages on their first date at the original Repertory Theatre on Station Street, during which Andrew proposed. Unfortunately, after spending so much on the date, Andrew had no money remaining with which to buy a copy of the programme for the production of Hans, The Witch and The Gobbin, leaving the couple without a cherished memento of their first date.
That was until many years later when the couple, both avid theatregoers, learned of The REP’s archived materials housed in Central Library’s archive and heritage collections – and finally obtained their copy of the elusive programme.
The REP, of course, has long since moved to Centenary Square, and will be joined by the Library of Birmingham, the new home of the archive collections in 2013. On the forthcoming union of the two organisations, Andrew said: “We’ve seen the plans, so to see the building when it’s completed will be exciting. We’re regular visitors to The REP, so it will be great to see it linked to the new Library.”
Iain McColl was homeless when, upon seeing a poster advertising the Business Action on Homelessness scheme whilst staying in a hostel, he began to turn his life around. Iain has now secured a job on the Library of Birmingham construction site and, significantly, a home of his own.
Continuing its commitment to people even during the construction stage, the Library of Birmingham, via construction partners Carillion, has teamed up with BAOH, a scheme run by Business in the Community, to provide new job creation opportunities in the run-up to the project’s completion in 2013.
Having come through the programme, which included a two day induction and two week voluntary placement, Iain, who was homeless for two years, impressed enough to receive a job offer to remain on site, an opportunity which has allowed him to start rebuilding his life.
Now working as an Assistant Engineer for sub-contractors Morrisroe, Iain is benefiting from the opportunity to study for NVQs, and the possibility of becoming an engineer in his own right, improving his future career prospects.
It’s somewhat appropriate that Iain is working on the building of the Library of Birmingham, as he is in fact an avid library user himself.
Iain said: “So far the library has helped me to get online, find employment find accommodation and update my CV.”
The native of Falkirk, Scotland is also now using the library to help further his own creative endeavours. A keen reader of philosophy and poetry, Iain is looking to publish his own collection of poetry, and is using the library’s Business Insight department to get help in doing so. Who knows, maybe Iain’s books could one day adorn the shelves of the Library he helped to build!
Carol Pemberton started her library journey as a child to develop her lifelong love of reading. As one of ten children, Carol’s books often came from jumble sales meaning there would often be pages missing, affecting her enjoyment of the stories. Therefore, Carol’s library usage as a child gave her a chance to not only read books in their entirety, but to enjoy some peace and quiet!
Later in life Carol diversified her usage of the library to indulge in her passion for music, and often used the music library to listen to rare LPs of key singers she was influenced by.
23 years ago, Carol founded Black Voices, a vocal harmony group which draws on the oral tradition of Africa, exploring themes of black history. This has frequently led Carol into Birmingham Libraries’ archive and heritage department, with the comprehensive collections related to black history, including local information to help chart her parents’ generation, helping Carol to shape and inspire Black Voices’ programmes.
Carol’s work with Black Voices takes her to various venues across the country, and she said of the Library of Birmingham: “I’ve performed at many libraries around the country doing workshops with Black Voices. What I’m looking forward to most about the Library of Birmingham is the performance space, which I think will be a great attraction. It’s an exciting design.”
A passionate reader, Ellise is a member of five libraries, and is keen to visit the local library wherever she goes. Ellise visits a library at least twice a week and, at the age of 11, is starting to explore beyond the realms of children’s literature with classic literature such as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre.
Ellise will be a teenager when the Library opens its doors in 2013, and therefore is particularly excited about the new areas in the library for Young People which will provide an ideal location for teenagers to study, meet and socialise.
She said: “I’m excited about the new library as it will be bigger, and it will have all sorts of different stages from childrens, to teenagers and adults, and I’ll be going through all of them.”
On why young people should explore what their libraries have to offer, she continued: “You can get loads more out of books than you can from TVs and Playstations. But there’s more things to the library than books, there’s interactive activities, computers, DVDs, CDs, and loads more too.”
Jayn first used Central Library in Birmingham whilst studying in 6th form as a venue to meet friends for study. At the age of 18, Jayn left the city to pursue a career as a dancer, before embarking on a career in performance and teaching.
However, throughout her life, Jayn has maintained an interest in history which manifested itself when she visited the village of Abbots Bromley and discovered the Abbots Bromley horn dance, a yearly ritual in which residents take to the streets to perform dances whilst brandishing antlers kept in the village church.
Intrigued by the origins of the peculiar tradition, Jayn set out to research the dance and found herself back in Birmingham Central Library once again where she was amazed at the information she was able to find.
Upon unravelling the stories behind the ritual, Jayn was inspired to write her first novel, ‘Emily & Jen Dance for Deeron’ – with the story even featuring ‘The History of the Antiquities of Staffordshire’, the book used by Jayn to research the novel.
Jayn has now moved to the Midlands, and drawing on her joint passions for Dance, History and Literature, has already delivered exciting interactive workshops to visitors of the children’s library.
On her experience of researching her first novel in the Library, Jayn said: “Heritage can be used as a stimulus. It’s not just something in history books, it’s something we can use creatively to make something modern.” With much improved access to the archive and heritage collections in the Library of Birmingham, doing just that will be easier than ever in 2013.
A passionate advocate of everything artistic, Andre Hesson is involved in various creative forms from performance poetry and spoken word expression through his own ‘Artistic Souls’ open mic night, to painting, photography and even performing in productions by Birmingham Opera Company.
Through his various creative endeavours, Andre, 22, is no stranger to libraries and is a keen advocate of their ability to enhance lives and encourage learning. It’s a philosophy his is keen to impose on his one-year-old daughter Imarni, whom he has already introduced to the library.
He says: “I believe it’s important to bring children into the library at an early age because they learn so much. I want to teach Imarni as much as I can before she goes into education so she will have a head start, and so that I can help her more when she’s at home.”
Fatherhood is obviously a subject close to Andre’s heart, and he’s keen to encourage other fathers to play a full role in the development of their children. He said: “Sometimes fathers don’t engage, but at a younger age you can do more stuff like art, painting and reading. I don’t want to be one of those dads who’s working all the time and missing school plays and things like that.”
Passionate about all things creative, Andre lives by the slogan “We’re artistic, life’s poetic, we all have souls so don’t neglect it”, and it’s that philosophy that he aims to instil in Imarni as she begins her Library of Birmingham journey.