This is the first of a more personal series of blog posts reflecting on librarianship, archives, and the power of words.
My PhD was about the lives of refugees in their adopted countries. I learned a thing or two about libraries then – visiting national libraries, sending a mate to rummage around in the Library of Congress, visiting the archives of a working German mental hospital, and spending days in the perverse and pungent must of London’s Senate House, where you could still find a corner to sit untroubled on the sixth floor on a November afternoon, walled in on three sides by shelves, books spread across your desk – only half of them really relevant to your topic, the others picked up on impulse or passing interest, looking down on a gloriously cold and lonely darkening winter London.
Senate House, London – The inspiration for Orwell’s Ministry of Truth, allegedly earmarked as Hitler’s headquarters in the event of a Nazi invasion of Britain…
That intense sensory experience, synonymous with loneliness and hard work for me, is a memory so strong that for all its ambivalence it has taken on the quality of beauty. I can smell the vile rows of shelving which Senate House devoted to Hansard as I write this…and I kind of miss it. Read more
A hongi with the Rebel Alliance
Librarians in Auckland ventured into comic book stores to celebrate Star Wars Day and Free Comic Book Day by issuing memberships and loaning items from their collections. More soon, but in the meantime here’s Twitter coverage via Storify.
[View the story "Auckland Libraries goes mobile for Star Wars Day/Free Comic Book Day" on Storify]
A local politician in Marlborough, New Zealand, has suggested ditching the district’s libraries in favour of distributing e-readers to residents.
The Kiwi TV show Breakfast on One reported this news in a piece titled “The final chapter for libraries?”
Although Kiwi librarians are attempting to push back with the Twitter hashtag #morethanbooks, responses have tended to focus on the fact that libraries use e-books too, and include other items like music in their collections as well.
The simple truth is, libraries aren’t about books on shelves, or compact discs, or even e-readers. Those are tools, mere means to an end.
Libraries are about helping the public to explore the world of knowledge and culture on their own terms. That might mean performance art in British libraries, bringing books to life through gaming in Toronto, or holding teen zombie battles in Auckland.
A library isn’t just a storage space for books on shelves – it’s also a place where musicians perform; where computer software is written; where teens get to wrestle a zombie-bitten police officer to the ground while debating the ethics of surviving a disaster scenario.
Yet one local politician has said “Why not replace libraries with e-readers?” and Kiwi librarians are on the defensive, letting their enemies set the terms of the debate. Read more
Auckland Libraries’ Anne Dickson led teen zombie hordes against a group of survivors in Tupu Youth Library
Last Friday in Tupu Youth Library, South Auckland, I ran an interactive live-action zombie event for teens on their school holidays.
The ‘survivors’, aged from 12 to 18, found themselves besieged in a meeting room while zombies feasted on hapless victims outside. Teens made barricades from furniture, used library resources to plan their escape from South Auckland, and faced special challenges including detecting potential zombie victims and even wrestling with a zombified police officer!
See the Tupu Zombies on New Zealand’s TV3 News and find more coverage at New Zealand’s Stuff.co.nz website.
A guest post by urban planner turned librarian Jessica Begley. What can libraries do to help users make the most of their spaces?
“Desire lines” – unofficial footpaths created by human behaviour
Like the Pixies, I believe in Space.
I have been fascinated by how and why people use space, and how subtle design can influence behaviour, for as long as I can remember.
As a teen, I merged this interest in social geography with psychology and came up with a degree in Urban Planning and Design. I was going to change the world. Improve open spaces. Create spaces people felt happy in. The reality I found was far from my planned dream. Rows of brickwork, overshadowing, trellis screens, and complaints all dominated my day. Not even I liked the spaces I was approving. Approving, not designing.
Fast-forward fifteen years. I am still an urban planner, but only in my mind. I have been trained to look at spaces, movement of people, land use, all in a certain way. I can no longer look at a space like an ordinary person. Taking my kids to the shops, the park, the library, I analyse the flow of movement through space. When I see conflicting uses, I see a design-based solution. When I see desire lines – the unplanned paths naturally taken by people in any setting – I read them.
Central City Library, Auckland
So, a big announcement has been in the works for some time: from 25th February I begin a six-month contract as adviser to Auckland Libraries, the largest public library network in the southern hemisphere. The mission is to extend and enhance Auckland’s already superlative library offerings for children and young people with creative, challenging, and sustainable activities for the future.
I feel confident that we’re entering an era of swashbuckling literacy adventure Down Under. Auckland is the city where kids play a Kiwi-themed version of Angry Birds in their libraries; the city whose librarians already talked Bryan Lee O’Malley into letting them use Scott Pilgrim as the face of their comic book events and wooed Amanda Palmer into giving an impromptu Get Loud In Libraries-style guerilla gig.
Before Auckland beckons, I’ve been looking at the latest developments in the UK and US. The Future Foyles workshop held on Monday of this week brought together publishing, retail, and literacy professionals seeking a vision for London’s next great flagship bookstore – you’ll see me quoted in The Bookseller’s report of the event - and finding much food for thought from a wider community outreach perspective.
As my regular readers will know, Friday 9th November saw a very special event in Tullamore, New South Wales. Australasian libraries have run a lot of innovative youth activities in recent years – but I think this was the first time that they had gone so far as to summon the living dead in the name of literacy…
A selection of photographs from some of my recent workshops for children and young people in New South Wales.
These school holiday sessions in libraries offered high quality speaking and listening opportunities alongside exciting and unusual hands-on experience, with attendees also producing a range of narrative and non-fiction writing amid the fruit smashing and tower building!
You can see more images from the spooky mining themed workshop “Mysteries Underground” at my Tumblr page.