By Loretta Mulholland
Even though I’d always considered them a treasure trove of facts and imagination, libraries had changed a lot since the days of my childhood by the time I took my own children along to our local. No longer the silent corridors where no sweetie wrappers were allowed to unravel, my wee ones entered a world of storytelling sessions, rhymes, and singing along with library staff. They made character puppets and drew their houses, mapped out nursery tales like Little Red Riding Hood in woods as exciting as The Hundred Acre playground of Christopher Robin, and dressed up as their favourite monsters at library Hallowe’en parties.
A trip to the town library and its children’s area during last year’s Paisley Book Festival was like a leap back in time for me but youngsters had become more sophisticated; the walls were festooned with acrostic nature poems and wacky Roald Dahl rhymes composed by schoolchildren, while rows of PCs sat alongside the sea of book shelves, ready to inform and entertain in equal measures. Emerald leaves, containing children’s responses to climate change, reassured me that libraries are still the seeds that foster a lifelong love of reading and learning in future generations.
It also struck me, as I wondered around, ducking past book islands festooned with PBF flags, advertising the wealth of literary activities on offer, how many young people and adults rely on libraries for recommended book choices and for the pleasure of browsing through the librarians’ selections and old favourites to suit their moods. Not to mention the plethora of weekly Reading Groups or drop-in Writing Groups, offered by libraries, where people can share their opinions and their work over a hot cuppa in a supportive community ethos. From High School students searching for homework information to local folks looking up old newspapers or family history, local libraries truly are jewels in the literary community’s crown.
I am a member of an island library, where staff almost literally push the boat out to help you get what you want; two summer’s ago staff searched the whole of the Argyll Coast for my request for a Virginia Woolf collection, when I had an essay to write and, because of injury, couldn’t get back to my University Library. Next time I visited, memories of my own children returned when the place was filled with little witches and wizards from Hogwarts as I searched the shelves for books on the story of Bute’s real witches, coincidently, on Harry Potter Day.
In the same year, I listened in earnest as Ian Rankin and Anne Cleeves held the floor in a relaxing Bute Noir chat at Rothesay, marvelling that such incredible authors should be right there in the local library. While Rankin regaled us with his feigned outrage at being charged 40p at the local loos – they are Victorian and a “Visitor Attraction” after all – Ms Cleeves could not contain her delight at the venue and begged the audience to continue supporting libraries – for authors’ sakes as well as readers’. Library sales and distribution can make an enormous difference to the income of new, emerging and established writers, and her comments have come back to me during this Covid crisis, when many writers and artists are struggling to make a living.
Lockdown has changed our reading habits in several ways, with many of us re-reading old favourites, or discovering new genres, but what is evident is that though we miss them greatly, for personal reading, solitary space, group gatherings, and central events, libraries can still be a core part of our communities; borrowing figures are increasing and digital readers especially, are enjoying a wider choice of reading and ways to do so. Libraries are providing us with a wealth of eBook and Audiobook choices, championed by Councils like Renfrewshire, offering a bestselling range of reading treasures online, such as Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain and its ilk.
Online learning sessions are even possible for the very young, and now my children are grown, I watch as my daughter’s little one continues to enjoy singing along with his wee friends to BookBug songs and rhymes, available from the Scottish Book Trust website and easily accessed through Renfrewshire Libraries. Seeds for the future continue to grow, and as key promoters of happenings such as the Paisley Book Festival, with events for young, old and everyone in between, library services are keeping our reading community alive and well, with a host of virtual gems awaiting us in 2021.
Are you a member of Renfrewshire Libraries? You can borrow books and audiobooks by authors appearing at #PBF2021 by visiting https://renfrewshire.overdrive.com/collection/1155054, or by downloading the Overdrive or Libby app on your phone or tablet.
Not a library member? Joining the library is FREE! Simply visit bit.ly/RenfrewshireJoinOnline to join online.