Monday, 31 December 2012

Pulping is the new Book Burning

Swift's suggestion for solving the problem of starving children was to eat them- Manchester City Library's solution for needing more shelving space, is to pulp books.

The Nazis burnt books publicly.  Pulping, the next best thing, is happening behind the scenes in Manchester. Perhaps I am being too emotive but if you allow this sort of thing, without public consultation and no transparency, where will it lead?  Writers including Carol Ann Duffy, Jeanette Winterson and Michael Schmidt (also publisher of Carcanet) have signed a protest letter.  See

Neil MacInnes, Manchester's Head Librarian said, quoted in the Guardian: "While it is correct that some of the items which have been amassed over time will not be returning, these are obsolete items, such as outdated reference books, duplicates, such as paperbacks we have in hardback, or books in such poor condition it would not be viable to repair them. The idea that the library will be saying goodbye to valuable stock is just plain wrong."

What interests me in the above is the 'outdated' reference books, (who is to say they are of no interest to historians,  historical novelists and others) are being pulped and those 'in such poor condition' that  it is not 'viable' to repair them (who is to say they is not worth it?).

I have a grouse myself - the only copy of a Scots Gaelic edition of songs from Hiorta (St Kilda) which I know existed because I took it out a year or so ago, has now vanished from the Edinburgh City public libraries.  With the aid of a very helpful librarian we tracked down another edition in English. What has happened to the Gaelic version?  A mystery.  The librarian suggested that when books disappear it is usually because they are in such disrepair, it is not worth repairing them. It was fine when I took it out.  Besides, this book is a rare item. Ok, not rare in the sense of being worth a lot financially, only of minority interest in that Gaelic is a minority language and even more interesting in that some of the songs are in the St Kildan dialect which is distinct, and which, since the only inhabited island was evacuated in 1930 , there must be practically no one who speaks this dialect left alive, so rare and of value to linguists and Gaelic scholars and musicologists. It was a paperback copy therefore more fragile than a hardback. Surely, a torn spine, or page, or whatever the issue was, is not reason to destroy a book such as this.

There may well be a copy in Edinburgh National Library but their books are reference only. I wanted to take the copy out to play on the piano and use the language of the songs to inspire my own poetry.  No, the English version is not the same thing.

A minority interest? Yes. But isn't that the point of libraries? Otherwise, there'll be nothing there but Barbara Cartland,  and gameboys. (I kid you not. Look in some local public libraries.)

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Poetry, Song and Stories with 'Read Aloud' in Edinburgh Care Homes

It seemed a bit scary to just start reading a poem out loud to a group of people in an Edinburgh  care home.  What if it was the last thing they wanted? I certainly did not want to impose myself on them. To be fair, some looked as if they were asleep, but after turning the telly off and after a bit of chat, I  asked if anyone wanted me to read a poem?  One lady clapped her hands and her face lit up: 'Oh YES, please!'  came a chorus. I was surprised.   So I did, giving it my best performance skills, to great applause.

This is not the reception poetry gets from many adults nowadays. However, the previous volunteer visitors had prepared the way well. Or maybe my listeners had memories of being read to aloud as children and it was a happy memory.

This was part of a scheme called 'Read Aloud' run by the Scottish Poetry Library and Edinburgh City Libraries, where a team of volunteers visit care-home throughout Edinburgh, and recently this scheme is being extended to other parts of Scotland. The idea is to use poetry, song and stories inspired by a different, given theme each time to spur chat and reminiscences.  Some of the care-home residents have early onset dementia but the poems and songs jog their memories,  help keep their brain active, and the sessions are a way of being connected to other people, and most importantly, bring them great pleasure.

 Incidentally the poem I had chosen was Jackie Kay's 'Grandpa's Soup' and it went down a treat.
'I say, Grandpa, Grandpa, your soup is the best soup....' I read and several of the group finished the line with me:  'in the whole world', not that they knew the poem in advance but Jackie's lines are predictable in the best way. Haven't we all said something similar as children?

 So after that initial success, I read a few more - but not straight away. Lots of chat and came first, stories about childhood reminiscences prompted by the poem.  If I was apprehensive that it would be difficult to get them chatting, this worry was soon dispelled - it was the opposite, impossible to stop them!  We also varied the poems with songs - music hall songs proved popular.  One lady, a great character, knew all the words and it did did not take much to persuade her to sing. She confessed she'd gone to Miss Henderson's School for tap-dancing in her youth and learnt the songs there. 

And I must admit, I think I enjoyed it as much, if not more than they did: hearing reminiscences about life in the auld days in Embra, poverty-stricken childhoods in houses with no running water or indoor baths or toilets, walking to school with no shoes, (the only pair saved for kirk on Sundays) were some of the stories. I felt honoured to share their memories and how important it is for these stories not to be lost.

If you want to know more, here is a clip on You Tube, showing sessions in action with comments from volunteers and care home residents (10 mins)

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Gifted Paper Sculptures blow us away

The Scottish Poetry Library on a Saturday morning is usually rather quiet but yesterday over a 100 people had visited by 1pm when my volunteer shift ended and it looked like at least another 100, if not more,  would arrive by close of day, breaking their record. The previous day, Friday, they'd had 350 visitors, and the previous Saturday 400.  Though hard to find, tucked down a close off the Royal Mile and not very well sign-posted, it has to be admitted,  yet these hundreds tracked the SPL down. And why has a poetry library suddenly become so popular?

Yesterday (Sat) was the last day of the 'Gifted' exhibition of the ten paper sculptures (made out of cut-up texts from well-known poetry and books by Scottish authors) that have mysteriously  appeared at various libraries and museums in Edinburgh over the last year, plus a new one, delivered in a box labelled 'Do not open until Dec 7th' of a child reading a book and a tag  featuring a poem from Robert Louis Stevenson  'A Child's Garden of Verses' and another reference to new beginnings ('In my end is my beginning.'- T.S. Eliot, I presume.) - all charmingly reminding us of reading to children, or remembering being read to as a child, where the imagination is first awakened leading to a  love of books.

To My Mother

You too, my mother, read my rhymes
For love of unforgotten times,
And you may chance to hear once more
The little feet along the floor.

Robert Louis Stevenson

No one knows who the anonymous donor/artist is - although she is a she is known from emails. The palpable excitement of visitors was evident and I enjoyed chatting to everyone who came through the door. Wondering at the patience and precision needed by the artist to craft such intricate and minute, detailed work, we speculated on her need for  a jeweller's magnifying glass and scalpel.  She had to be a book-lover too.  Who could this artist/book-lover be?  Perhaps she was actually walking round the exhibition that very moment!  Wouldn't you, if you were her be there on the last day of the exhibition where all the sculptures would be together (minus the 5 new ones), eavesdropping on people's comments (all complimentary) and chuffed by the excitment and delight everyone was showing?  Why it might even be you, I said to an attractive arty looking lady with sparkling eyes in her 50s/60s.  She just laughed. So who knows?

 Half the fun has been tracing which book the texts have come from.  All of the books (not just poetry) are well-known to all Scottish readers and some probably internationally too but lines of text cut up into strips means they weren't all immediately apparent, but Lilias Fraser, a librarian at SPL, has managed to track them through the wonders of search engines on the net.

The mystery heightened last week when 5 more sculptures were announced via Scottish Book Trust with clues to trace their whereabouts, resulting in an excited hunt throughout Scotland. The 5 have now been found and you can see pictures and details of their locations here:

 ' She' has said she wants to celebrate the importance of keeping libraries, museums and art galleries free and OPEN!  It's certainly put the Scottish Poetry on the map. 
More on the first 10 sculptures and photos see my previous entry Blog 2011/11/11

Popular Posts