Two excellent excuses to visit libraries…….. not that I really need an excuse, but it is lovely to have a reason to visit lots of new libraries in a week!

Fun Palaces

First up was Fun Palaces weekend: 6-7 October. And while there is a great Fun Palace in Chatham, I wanted to find some libraries taking part, so we headed north of the Thames to Essex. Our original plan was to try and visit 3 (in 3 different library authorities!) but the traffic thwarted us – so we’ll have to visit Chelmsford library another time.

We were successful in finding 2 library Fun Palaces though – the first in Grays library, Thurrock. We arrived early, just as people were setting up, but had a chat with a lady from the knitting group, and then spent some time making a basket from woven newspaper ‘spines’.

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Inside Grays library

The library is found inside the Thameside centre – which it shares with a museum, theatre and cafe.

Next stop was Westcliff, to visit one of Southend’s libraries. We used to visit family in Southend, but I don’t ever remember seeing this building. It is Grade II listed, I guess due to its unusual construction: masses of huge windows, very slim metal columns and an unusual ‘ridge and furrow’ roof.

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Inside Westcliff library

I love the Beano characters still in situ following the Summer Reading Challenge! In the photo above, you can just make out the first evidence of Fun Palace – some of the 8 model planes which were laid out on and around the book cases. We spoke with the model maker and learned lots about different kinds of batteries (always a trade off – more power, longer life, weight – to say nothing of cost.)

There was a craft table, another with people doing quick health checks, and another with someone I later discovered was Andy – with his raspberry pis. Out in the garden were community champions promoting recycling, in front was a cycle repair team, and in a side room was a local reptile group – who had brought a tortoise, a tarantula, and 2 snakes. I was mesmerised when holding the king python – constant movement of muscles under its skin, and the most beautiful patterns.

Libraries Week

Libraries Week runs from 8 – 13 October, and the theme this year is wellbeing. A week long opportunity to showcase the many ways in which libraries bring communities together, combat loneliness, provide a space for reading and creativity and support people with their mental health.

A very busy time for me at work – encouraging colleagues to visit their local library – then share a photo and comment, plus plans for minister to visit libraries, a series of blog posts, and lots of social media activity. Good to see #LibrariesWeek trending on twitter – there have been some amusing tweets, plus lots of lovely memories of libraries – many in response to this tweet from Radio 4.

First visit to a library today was a quick stop in Charing Cross – a long narrow building, but a bright space.

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In Charing Cross library

I’m hoping to visit as many new libraries as possible – and will try to fit in some with specific connections or memories for me. While I probably wont be able to make it to Kendal – the first library I was a member, or Brackley library where Mum  worked, or the Huw Owen at Aberystwyth University, I did travel to the end of the Metropolitan line today, and visit Uxbridge. I was a member there when I moved back to London after studying, and remember seeing Anna McCaffrey at a ‘meet the author’ evening.

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Uxbridge library

The library had a substantial refurbishment in 2014 and was bright and spacious inside.

Finally on my way back I stopped off in Ickenham – lovely small library with lots of reading and study nooks. Not a bad tally for Day 1!

Day 2

As part of my [self imposed] quest to include libraries which had some kind of personal connection to me, and, as a reminder that Libraries Week is to celebrate all kinds of libraries, on Tuesday I called in to the Institution of Civil Engineers. It is their 200th anniversary this year, and there is a wonderful exhibition in their old library, aimed at encouraging young people to think about civil engineering as a career.

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In the ICE library

The connection to me is that, as the daughter of a civil engineer, I know a lot about what contribution they make, and it was good to not only explore the ‘old’ library, but also to be invited upstairs to see what is now called the members resources area (“where the librarians work”) – a slightly smaller space, but with lovely arched ceiling and lots of study nooks.

A day of Carnegies

Day 3 was a day to represent my long time interest in charting the Carnegie legacy.  First stop was Islington Central, where the team had invited me to attend the launch  of their new collection of material related to women’s health. A perfect idea to illustrate the wellbeing theme of this year’s Libraries Week, and a good chance to hear about their plans to develop this building.

I then took the Victoria line to its end, and visited Walthamstow library. Doubly relevant to me as besides the Carnegie history, my grandfather was born in Walthamstow, so may have used this library.

I traveled home just in time to pop into Rochester library (not a Carnegie – although there used to be one in Chatham, before the council demolished it) and use the wifi to publish a blog post and check my emails!

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In Rochester library

Out East – plus Libraries Change Lives

A shift of emphasis for Day 4, as I headed to CILIP, for their AGM and ceremony to celebrate the projects shortlisted for the Libraries Change Lives 2018 award. Congratulations to Glasgow, who were announced as winners, but I recommend watching all 3 films – as the projects in Kirklees and Newcastle are equally life changing.

Back on the libraries trail, and this time I headed to the end of the District line, to visit libraries in Havering. First stop was Upminster – one of the libraries where my mum worked in the 60s (she was there when it opened).  It hasn’t changed structurally, although the huge mural on the back wall was added during a recent refurbishment.

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In front of Upminster library

A couple of stops along the District line, and I got off at Elm Park. The library there was opened in 2009, and meets all sorts of high environmental standards,  with its sedum roof, solar panels, energy efficient lighting and insulation made from recycled newspaper.

It is also a bright and welcoming library – and I picked up a brochure for the Havering Literary Festival – a hugely impressive lineup of authors and events.

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Inside Elm Park library

Oh yes, and remember I mentioned plans for ministers to visit libraries? They did: the Secretary of State went to Salisbury, and Libraries Minister Michael Ellis visited Wimbledon.

Day 5 of Libraries Week – all about library people

Back to CILIP for the conference/workshop organised by the Public and Mobile Libraries group. An interesting day, hearing about progress with the Public Libraries Skills strategy, the new ethical framework, 100% digital Leeds, and talking with colleagues from around the public library network. One session provided the perfect photo to close the week – Jo has customised ‘Guess Who?’ to show the faces of the library people who have appeared in her podcast series ‘Librarians with Lives‘.

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Guess Who? – the library version

So that was Libraries Week 2018 – exhausting, and I was really just an observer! But visiting all those libraries was an excellent reminder of  how there is no such thing as a stereotype library – rather a range from old – new, traditional – experimental, calm – lively, suiting the communities they serve. And if you search the hashtag, you will see a national, colourful picture of the diverse range of services offered and people enjoying themselves in libraries all around the country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In common with many people in the library world – and many beyond (although they clearly have their own hashtag!) the Libraries Taskforce took part in the #LibraryLife black and white challenge recently.

Not new to me – @juliac2 published ‘7 photos in 7 days, no people* no explanations’ back in July. Mine was a bit of a hybrid challenge, some days #LibraryLife, some days library related, and others just my life. And as a veteran of photo-a-day projects, my photos were taken on the day, but they absolutely don’t have to be!

So, once @LibTaskforce was challenged by @emilyjmacaulay how could we resist. And when I read the blog post from Helen McGinley about their experience, I realised it echoed exactly the response from Emily to our first tweet, so thought I too would share how we planned our 7 days. I also *explained* that the library I challenged might be a tiny hint as to where the photo was taken (recognising that this might mean services were challenged who had already done the challenge….. But hey – it’s just a bit of fun!)

I roughed out a plan and shared it with colleagues, inviting them to suggest photos which illustrated either current or past visits to libraries.

Day 1 of 7

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First photo WAS a reflection of our activity that week. In advance of a workshop in Barnsley, two of us stopped off in Rotherham, and besides a tour of the new Riverside library (opened in 2012 when the central library moved into the civic centre), we also went to Mowbray Gardens – a library which captured my attention after a passing reference in a presentation at work, and has led to some fascinating conversations about the wide range of activity which takes place there, a guest blog post on the Taskforce site (and another in the queue), plus a case study in one of the Taskforce brochures. So it was lovely to see for real.

Day 2 of 7

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Day 2 continued the theme of the team visit to Barnsley, as we held the workshop in the central library. A solid 1930s building, that was previously (I think) used as council offices, and before that was built for the Co-operative Society. Lots of activity on the day we were there – a rhymetime was in full swing downstairs as we set up in the former co-op boardroom, and I never did get a photo of the table tennis table in the children’s library, as every time I saw it, a game was in process!
There will soon be a brand new library in Barnsley – Library@Lightbox is due to open in Spring 2019.

Day 3 of 7

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Over to a colleague for this photo. Sheila visited Suffolk to see the launch of their NPO programme and used the opportunity to extend her trip to cover a weekend: to visit other friends and explore Suffolk’s libraries. She saw 7 in total, and the photo chosen was the impressive Northgate Room in Ipswich library.

Day 4 of 7

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Back to me for Sunday’s photo, and I chose one from my recent holiday in the Isle of Man. A blog post will follow on the libraries I saw there, but for now, I loved this piece of book art in one of the study bays in Onchan library. The whole library had some imaginative displays, including Mischief Making in the children’s space related to the Summer Reading Challenge, an interesting exhibition on the ancient carved celtic stones found in the area (promoting a book) and a beautiful tree and wildlife pictures in the entrance.

Day 5 of 7

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Charlotte suggested one of the photos from Middlesbrough central library – a classic galleried reference room with bespoke furniture. We visited this library a while ago, together with one of their community hubs – North Ormesby – which sticks in our mind as the building also contains a full size boxing ring!

Day 6 of 7

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Foluke attended the opening of the newly refurbished Hastings library, and was impressed with the attention to detail paid to making the best use of a historic building. She loved the artwork created by Quentin Blake, which shows the historic Stade area of town, with young readers suspended in mid-air enjoying their books.

Day 7 of 7

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And finally, one of the most beautiful modern libraries I’ve visited during my time with the Taskforce. Opened in 2016, The Word in South Shields has won awards for its architecture – and visitor numbers prove that local people love it too.

In a break from the model of the previous 6 days, I challenged 2 – both @TheWord_UK, and @DcmsLibraries. The latter to promote and share the new account set up by colleagues in the libraries policy team, who will be keeping central government’s mind on public libraries long after the task-and-finish team I’m in has closed. I look forward to seeing which libraries they choose!

And as a parting thought, I have lots of sympathy with the comment from @FlindersLib mentioned in Helen’s blog which started this piece: “Personally, much prefer a library with people. No point otherwise.” I do too – we need many more photos showing the vibrancy of activities that take place in many libraries. However, publishing and sharing photos of people can be fraught with permissions, and needing to demonstrate and store that you have obtained that permission, so very often, what we take, and have access to is photos either of unidentifiable backs of heads or hands, or photos which at least record the features and general look of a library.

* I’m amazed that no one picked my up on it, but one of my photos DID include a person – not as the main feature, he was a tiny figure on the beach, but nevertheless, I was mortified, as I only noticed when I went to publish a photo the following day!

My last post reviewed my year in relation to libraries, this one returned to another traditional annual activity – looking back at my year of photo projects.
Having just completed my 8th annual photo-a-day project (plus my third 52 in a year weekly photo challenge), I’ve had a quick trawl through the numbers.

And the totals are:

  • total views of photos chosen as photo of the day (as of 31/12/16): 63,596
  • average number of views per pic: 174
  • total favourites: 861
  • total comments: 213

Most popular/viewed?

My spreadsheet (yes, a many sheeted spreadsheet, I’m a bit obsessed with categories – but only after the act – I like looking back, and at patterns)  tells me last year’s project gained the most views so far (apart from one year where I had several photos in explore, which inflated the overall total).

My most viewed photo is a surprise – a snap inside Kibworth community library. A warm and welcoming place, but by no means the most photogenic library I’ve seen. 2510 views as I type – it is currently my 16th most viewed photo ever!

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Second place goes to another snap – “Guess the Book” – possibly influenced by a combination of the keywords ‘lego’ and ‘Game of Thrones’? 1578 views to date (and no. 32 on the all time list).

Besides pure views, interaction is interesting. The image with the most likes is one of our regular foxes – this time captured in one of his ‘mozilla’ poses. Autumnal colours has 14 likes.

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In a curious co-incidence, joint second are 2 photos of snowdrops – each with 13 likes (the 2nd one has 7 comments – and according to flickr…. (I have no idea how they calculate it,) its my 7th ‘most interesting’ – nb lavender harvest has fewer likes, comments and views, but is ‘ranked’ 6…. go figure!)

And the least viewed? Initially it was some lovely butterfly floortiles in the Grade I listed church in Ashbourne in Derbyshire, with just 32 views….. but, I realised when checking for this blog post, I’d forgotten to post them in any of the photo-a-day groups, so I remedied that, and of course this morning, it had gained a few more views! So – the ‘least viewed’ label now goes to the library in Kedleston Hall:  – another from the Derbyshire holiday, but that one was in all the right albums.

Back to the numbers

50 photos were taken in our garden. 95 were in London – not surprising I guess as I spend most daylight hours there! 43 were taken out and about in Rochester.

I did much better this year with my attempt to try and take more photos of people: 19 (compared to just 8 last year). This is still the area where I am most out of my comfort zone – but will keep practicing!

Nature wins overall, with 111 photos featuring birds (37 – including 7 of our photogenic great spotted woodpeckers), flowers (32 – including 9 orchids), animals (22 – out of which 8 starred one of our foxes) and butterflies (18) plus a couple of fungi. I also took lots of landscapes.

Other interests are well represented in the project too. I took 11 photos of unesco heritage sites, and 39 of libraries (plus 13 book or book related photos – including 3 authors). Owls feature too – besides just 1 real owl (included in the birds total above), there were also 17 other ‘owl-related’ photos – its amazing how many you still see represented in art, or generally on ‘stuff’!

I chose 15 transport related photo-a day images – including 4 trains and 4 planes, and published only 8 sunrises/sunsets. But kept up the well-known social media tradition of recording food: 23 of the photos in the project were food or drink related (lots of cakes!).

Overall numbers

As a final numbers roundup, aside from the photo-a-day images, on flickr overall I now have 10,813 photos published (some of which are restricted to family and friends only) with 1,531,182 views (according to flickr stats, which do go through wobbly patches so I’m not 100% sure how reliable they are). And out of that total, I now have 62 photos which have been viewed more than 1,000 times. They are often photos which surprise me – sometimes there might be an explanation, like flickr explore, a certain group, or social media publicity, but sometimes I have no idea.

Besides the 2 photo projects mentioned, I published a further 24 albums (more than average…. maybe it was all those library expeditions!). I tend to set up an album when there are a number of photos from a particular place or trip, but do also add photos throughout the year to a number of generic albums, such as garden birds, libraries or fungus forays.

And my personal favourite for the year? Lots of them make me smile when I look back, wonderful events, memories of fun times with family and friends, or “right place right time” photos, but I think I might choose this one of the pelicans in St James Park.

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I’ve taken their portraits many times – posing, resting or preening, but this is the first ‘action’ shot!

And remember I mentioned ‘people’ photos – well, weddings make it easy – and I do like this one of friends Ann and Dai’s wedding – a gorgeously hot mid-summer day, with lots of smiles, flowers and sparkles.

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So – now on to 2018. Happy New Year (and of course, a new year of photos).

Out of office switched on, Christmas presents wrapped, time for a look back at a year during which I’ve visited a total of 64 libraries*. Lots for work, but even more in my own time. Mostly public, but 2 academic, and one in an institute. Mostly in England, but also one in France, and one in the Maldives (OK, strictly speaking, the latter was a book exchange for visitors – but the sign on the door said library, and it was pretty large  – more than just the odd bookcase you usually find in holiday places.) Also, lots of repeat visits – and not just to the ones on my doorstep which I visit regularly as a reader.

*visited means actually gone inside, had a look around, and in most cases spoken with people who work there. If you include the ones I’ve seen on the outside – perhaps they were closed when I visited the town, or former libraries that have been replaced by new buildings, the total rises to 83!

Highlights

I know it’s a bit unfair to choose favourites, but I really loved The Word, the brand new library in South Shields. I visited for its 6 months birthday, and wish it was my local library – not just a beautiful building, but also a great programme of events.

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The Word, South Shields

We spent a wonderful couple of days in Liverpool, and while the definite highlight was the amazing central library, and the buzzing Makefest, it was also good to explore and visit a couple more Carnegie libraries.

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The entrance to Liverpool central library

And finally, a library I’ve been meaning to visit for a long time: Canada Water. The outside is space age looking – a geometric shape, leaning out over the dock – and inside is equally dramatic, with a circular central staircase, and shelves radiating in jagged lines.

As I said, invidious to choose favourites though, I enjoy every visit to the always busy Manchester central library, I love the crazy victorian decoration of Leeds central library, I’ve been surprised by the wide diversity of libraries in Kent (including one which contains a fossil mammoth tusk) and I received a very warm welcome when I popped in to Kibworth community library in a Leicestershire village (they had actually closed for the day, but as they were still setting up an exhibition, they opened the door when they saw me peering in, and were happy to talk about how things were going.)

New libraries

To counterbalance the endless newspaper stories which focus on closures, there also continues to be a lot of investment in libraries. Besides some brand new library buildings, there have been many refurbishments – often celebrated with a reopening event (an excellent way of encouraging locals to take another look!) I’ve been to 3 brand new buildings, and 2 opening ceremonies this year (and colleagues went to at least 5 others) – and am looking forward to more in 2018.

The new libraries were in Chester, Meopham and Halifax (towards the end of this album) – where I also went to the opening event (read more about that here). The new Halifax library is a modern construction that incorporates parts of an old church – and this works especially well in the local history section, where gothic windows line one wall.

Meopham is a new building on the same multi-use site as the old one. But while the former library was actually part of the school – and I struggled to find the front door! – the new one is a standalone building, which proudly has its name above the door.

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The new Meopham library

The third new library building visited was technically a refurbishment: Chester’s Storyhouse contains a theatre, tiny cinema, restaurant and library – all contained in a renovated 1930s art deco former Odeon cinema! I visited twice – once for a tour shortly after it opened, and again when they hosted a Taskforce meeting. It was good to see how it had evolved even just in 6 months – I loved the poetry on the walls!

The second ceremony I attended was the reopening of Fleet library in Hampshire. The library has a new entrance, and is bright and welcoming – but the nicest surprise was to discover that they have one of the Paddingtons from the 2014 trail. He is a real landmark in the library – and apparently has his own supporters group.

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Paddington Bear in Fleet library

Libraries in Kent

I managed to tick off 18 more libraries when exploring Kent – a huge variety, from Maidstone history and library centre, to lots of small village libraries. I was very impressed with the extended facilities at Gravesend (unrecognisable from when I last visited, in 2008!), and as mentioned, I love the new Meopham library.

A miscellany of other libraries

We took advantage of other trips to explore – and during holidays or weekends away, saw 5 libraries in Yorkshire, 4 in West Sussex and 3 in Derbyshire.

We (and that includes my nephews) enjoyed a Fun Palace in Cheltenham central library – besides having a go at silk painting, and watching 2 small boys cracking safes and programming robots, it was a wonderful surprise to bump into the author and illustrator of Luna Loves Libraries – the book that features in Libraries Week publicity.

We attended Tech Ilford in Redbridge central library – now I’ve finally found out about how 3D food printers work, and seen Pi-tops in action (a laptop-style casing for a raspberry pi computer).

I mentioned 2 academic libraries – these were: Aston University – spent several hours meeting fellow members of the PPRG committee, first working on the 2017 marketing excellence awards, then planning the conference, and the library in the University of West London. Love their reception desk!

Carnegie legacy

Last, but by no means least, my hunt for the Carnegie legacy continues. This year I continued to get my research into better shape, and added lots more entries to the website I started last year to make this easier.  There are 15 Carnegies in the list below – but still lots more to visit and research.

It was while I was visiting Long Eaton library, that it struck me how often libraries had beautiful stained glass windows. So I set up a flickr group to gather together examples – 82 photos included so far, and I’m always looking for others.

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Stained glass in Long Eaton Carnegie library

Complete list (most were actually visited, * denotes driveby/they were closed):

  1. Allington, Kent
  2. Ashbourne, Derbyshire
  3. Bath, Wiltshire
  4. Bexhill, East Sussex
  5. Birmingham: Aston University
  6. Birmingham: Library of Birmingham
  7. Bishopsgate Institute, London
  8. Canada Water, London
  9. Cambridge central
  10. Canning Town, London
  11. Chatham
  12. Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
  13. Chester: Storyhouse
  14. Chester (former)*
  15. Coldharbour, Kent
  16. Dartford, Kent
  17. Dashwood, Kent*
  18. Denholme, West Yorkshire*
  19. Ealing: University of West London
  20. East Peckham, Kent*
  21. East Preston, West Sussex
  22. Eastbourne, East Sussex
  23. Fleet, Hampshire
  24. Garston, Liverpool
  25. Goring, West Sussex
  26. Gravesend, Kent
  27. Greenhithe, Kent*
  28. Halifax, West Yorkshire
  29. Higham, Kent
  30. Hipperholme, West Yorkshire
  31. Hive House, Kent
  32. Hull, central library
  33. Hull, West Park
  34. Ilford, Redbridge
  35. Kensington, Liverpool
  36. Kibworth, Leicestershire
  37. Kings Farm, Kent
  38. Kings Norton, Birmingham
  39. Larkfield, Kent*
  40. Lenham, Kent*
  41. Lille, France: Mediatheque Jean Levy
  42. Lille, France: University library*
  43. Lille, France: Mediatheque du Vieux Lille*
  44. Littlehampton, West Sussex
  45. Liverpool central
  46. Long Eaton, Derbyshire
  47. Maidstone, Kent
  48. Manchester central
  49. Marling Cross, Kent*
  50. Meopham, Kent
  51. Morley, West Yorkshire
  52. Nailsworth, Gloucestershire
  53. Northampton central
  54. Paddock Wood, Kent*
  55. Pancras Square, London
  56. Pear Tree, Derby*
  57. Pembury, Kent*
  58. Richmond, London
  59. Riverview Park, Kent
  60. Rochester, Kent
  61. Salisbury, Wiltshire
  62. Sefton Park, Liverpool
  63. Selly Oak (new), Birmingham
  64. Selly Oak (former), Birmingham*
  65. South Shields: The Word
  66. South Shields – former library*
  67. South Woodford, Redbridge
  68. Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire*
  69. Stoke Newington, London
  70. Stroud, Gloucestershire
  71. Swan Valley, Kent
  72. Thimblemill, Smethwick
  73. Todmorden, West Yorkshire
  74. Upper Norwood, London
  75. Vakarufalhi, Maldives
  76. Vigo, Kent*
  77. Waterloo, London – former library*
  78. Wembley, London
  79. West Malling, Kent
  80. Whitechapel Idea Store, London
  81. Worcester: The Hive
  82. Worthing, West Sussex*
  83. Worthing (former library – now museum), West Sussex

Plus a mobile!

Photos of all of these can be found in my flickr album. Plus specific albums for Kent and Medway libraries.

Looking forward to exploring many more libraries in 2018 (already have plans for visits to new places in January and February!).

As this year marks a ’round’ anniversary for both of these awards, I thought it worth a post (and am hoping to encourage someone with a closer connection to the process will write something for the Libraries Taskforce too!). This annual event (full details of all books featured, on this link) is always a pure celebration of books for children – and a means of thanking authors, publishers, teachers, librarians and of course, the children for whom all this material is produced.

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The event this year was held in the gorgeous art deco surroundings of RIBA, on Portland Place. Before the official award ceremony, there was the opportunity to mingle with authors and illustrators (many of whom were pleased to sign my CKG poster – which is now a very special piece of paper!)

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The formal ceremony was expertly compered by Cerrie Burnell, familiar to lots of the children in the room (and parents). We were also treated to a song and poem from the wonderful voice of Amy Leon.

On to the awards – and first was the Amnesty-CILIP Honour – which is decided from among the 8 books on each shortlist. This year both winners were very topical: first, the Italian author and illustrator Francesca Sanna’s The Journey – which tells of a refugee family and their flight to find safety. She talked movingly about how this issue was real for her – especially as there have been so many refugees crossing the Mediterranean and landing in Italy.

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And next was The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon. Zana is from Australia and her story tells of life in a detention camp. As she said “I didn’t start out wanting to write a story with a message, I wanted to tell the stories that haven’t been told.”

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Each of these awards was followed by a short film of children talking about the books, and what they meant to them – both were very moving and emphasised how they were the audience that really mattered.

The next award was the Kate Greenaway medal – which celebrates illustration in children’s books. The winner in the award’s 60th year was There is a Tribe of Kids illustrated and written by Lane Smith. This American writer and illustrator made everyone laugh when he talked about how his career started – and when he realised that many of the illustrators he most looked up to were British.

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Lane with Cerrie, and the award judges chair: Tricia Adams

Finally, we came to the last award, the Carnegie medal, awarded to the writer of an outstanding book written in English for children and young people. The shortlist contained some fascinating titles (I’d like to read most of them), and the award went to: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys. Her story is based on a historical event that is now almost unknown: the German ship the Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk in 1945, with the loss of 9,000 lives – more than the Titanic and the Lusitania combined. Ruta is herself the daughter of a Lithuanian refugee, and talked with feeling about how history always makes sure we know the names of the villains,  but we seldom know the names of the victims. It is through stories that we can find out how things were (or are) for people, and this message was also summed up by Tricia Adams, the chair of the judges: “The books that have triumphed demonstrate the vitally important role literature and illustration play in helping children and young people to understand the world around them, be that through a historical lens or through the natural world around them.”

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My post is really just a photo essay. Others have reported the awards: the Guardian has an article too (with a much clearer photo of the winners!) and the Bookseller also published a piece. Finally, as mentioned at the start, for all the background and full information about all the books on the shortlists – take a browse through the main website.

As described in a previous post, I’m working my way around Kent’s libraries. Today we stayed relatively close to home, as we explored the Gravesend/Gravesham area, visiting 6 libraries of similar age, but each with different characters.

Higham library

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First stop was Higham, where a friend’s daughter is doing some voluntary work. As we arrived, the Saturday board games club was in full swing, with Izzy fully involved. There is a lovely courtyard garden outside the library, and evidence of local skilled craftspeople, as the library has a couple of beautifully worked wall hangings on display. The one below celebrates their connection with Dickens (whose house was at Gad’s Hill – actually closer to Higham than Rochester – who usually trumpet him as their own!)

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Coldharbour library

One of the larger ones we visited, this library is situated next to a health centre. At one end is a large children’s area, and all around there are lots of book related quotes on the walls. There is a separate section for older children, with computer, desks and comfy seats, plus a colourful stained glass window.

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Also, to the left of the library is a small building – not sure whether it is a garage for a mobile, or just a storage shed, but it has appropriate graffiti decoration – credited to the Coldharbour Crew: Free books, Free ideas!

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Dashwood library

Next stop was Dashwood library – which wins the prize for the tiniest building visited so far. It looks not much bigger than a double garage, and unfortunately didn’t open until later that afternoon, so I couldn’t go in – but there was a small window in the door so I could see that inside it is completely lined with bookshelves, brightly painted and looks welcoming. Its situated at the edge of a park, which was busy on a Saturday morning with football practice. Apparently (we heard from a library worker we spoke with later) there used to be a nursery over the road, which brought in lots of extra visitors.

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Kings Farm library

This library is on the Kings Farm estate – next to a building bearing a carved sign: ‘Estate Office’. The estate was apparently mostly built in the 1920s, but has been substantially rebuilt/refurbished over the last 20 years. If you google the estate, you only get bad news stories,  but the library was bright and welcoming inside, with a colourful children’s section, and customers using the computers

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Marling Cross library

Penultimate stop was Marling Cross library – another that unfortunately wasn’t due to open until after lunch, but through the huge glass windows, looks modern and tidy. Posters advertised a diverse number of groups meet there, from code club, to mums and toddlers, to knit and natter. It is another that was part of a row of shops, and it’s next to a doctor’s surgery.

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Riverview Park library

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Last stop for today, we called in to Riverview Park. This hexagonal library was opened in 1964. It is situated next to a row of shops, by a reasonable sized carpark – and apparently (according to a bronze plaque on the wall) on the site of the old Gravesend airfield. Inside, the shelving echoes the unusual shape and peaked roof, with wooden peaks above each bay. In the centre of the building is the old mainmast of a Thames sailing barge.

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And we did borrow some books from this library – after a slight confusion, as my Medway card should be valid, but the library manager got some slightly odd messages as she put the books through. And another thing we learned, as another borrower went to take out a book, the computer beeped and alerted her to the fact she had borrowed it before. A good tip – and she went back to choose something else. Apparently the self service machines don’t do that – something to look into perhaps?!

All the photos I’ve taken to date of libraries run by Kent County Council are in this album. Still some way to go!

 

I had to stop myself from scattering the word “inspiring” too frequently in this post, but it would be truly deserved. Today I was lucky to be invited to the event run by the Good Things Foundation, to celebrate reaching their 2 Millionth Learner.

As their website says:

“At Good Things Foundation, our aim is to improve lives through digital. And at the end of last year we reached a significant milestone – helping 2 million people gain new digital skills since 2010.

We wanted to put that milestone into context by finding some of the individuals who made up that 2 million, and following their stories.”

And just as they did when they reached their first M milestone, they used the opportunity to scan their community, reaching out to all the different partners who run courses, and seek nominations for awards.

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Helen Milner, CEO of the Good Things Foundation, kicking off the event. (I can’t remember what she had just said, but I love the shadow play and display of hands in this photo!)

The event today – which started off with lunch on the famous rotating 34th floor of the BT Tower,  aimed to celebrate all 2 million, and share some of the lives changed through learning. All the winners and their stories are shared on the website, but as I’ve come into contact with the Good Things team through work they have done with libraries, I was really pleased to find out that 2 of the winners learned their skills in programmes run in libraries.

The Learning for Health award was won by Bertram Henry. He suffered a breakdown 10 years ago, and  has gradually worked his back to health. First by learning digital skills for himself, then, when the online centre manager at Longsight library saw how much he was enjoying his learning, she suggested he become a volunteered as a digital champion. His enthusiasm shines through as he shares his skills with others – and as he says “Now I’m happy with myself. I’m not down in the dumps anymore and that’s thanks to Linda and Learn My Way“. [Learn My Way is the  online learning platform built by Good Things Foundation to make getting online easy.]

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Bertram receiving his award from a representative of MIND, with Helen on his right.

Another  award winner with a library connection is Tasleem Akhtar, who was runner up for the Inspirational Learner award. She came to England from Pakistan, was living in a refuge with her young son, and knew that to build a better life she had to get back to her studies. She did the Learn My Way courses at Newcastle library, is now at college – and is now helping others to follow her same journey.  “I was very, very excited to be able to study again. I know if I can learn, I can make my life better. I did not know much about digital before. I could use my phone to make a call but nothing else! Now I know much, much more. You need to know this to be part of society.

I found out that I can volunteer at the library at the same time as learning. So I have something for myself now, but even better I can show other people how to have that too. That has made a big difference to me. I can tell other people ‘I was there too’. You must be strong. You must keep trying to find a way to do what you want to do.”

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Tasleem with Helen, and her certificate.

While I was talking with one of the winners, Jenny Bayliss, runner up in the Learning for Work award, who had been introduced as learning her digital skills via Citizens Advice East Staffordshire, leaned over and said that she too now ran sessions in her local library, in Burton. Apparently when the CAB had to move out of their offices, they looked around for available space in the town, and found the library was just right for their needs.

I urge you to read some of the other inspirational stories on the website: Paul – who was left with serious brain injury after a car crash; Bob – who actually suffered a stroke during his digital skills class, but didn’t let that stop him – and was straight back to classes after his stay in hospital, using the internet to find out more about his condition; and Margaret, who used the opportunity to learn digital skills as she fought addiction and depression. One thing they all had in common, was that they said they didn’t think what they had achieved was anything special, but as Helen wrote in the event programme: “I  hope this ceremony helps them realise how special their very different journeys and achievements are”.

In the words of the final winner, the truly inspirational Olwyn Popplewell (who just a couple of years ago was sleeping rough – but now has his own flat and a job, and still finds time to volunteer at Evolve, the shelter organisation who helped him, and whose facility includes an online centre) – I wouldn’t be where I am now, I wouldn’t have done even a quarter of it ….. without someone helping me, being so positive, believing in me …. I’ve come from sleeping on park benches to my own place. I’m accepting this award on behalf of all those who want to make their lives better.