Dublin: taking literature to the streets

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If there was such thing as the ‘Fantasy Writing League’, Dublin would win. Okay, Edinburgh would be a very close runner up — it would probably go to penalties — but you can’t really lose with ‘marquee’ writers like Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, WB Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Seamus Heaney, Bram Stoker, Anne Enright and Roddy Doyle. You could probably keep Maeve Binchy and Sebastian Barry on the bench.

Dublin was awarded UNESCO City of Literature status in 2010 in recognition of its rich literary heritage. It was the fourth city receive the designation.

I visited Dublin’s City of Literature Office in the Pearse Street Library where I spoke to Jane Alger, Director of Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and Brendan Teeling, Deputy City Librarian. Jane told me about her City of Literature work; Brendan spoke about the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and their plans for an exciting new cultural quarter just north of the River Liffey.

How does the City of Literature work with Dublin’s Libraries?

The City of Literature office in Dublin essentially is the libraries; the office is embedded in the library service. Jane is a librarian herself, former chief buyer and reader development specialist for Dublin City Public Libraries.

The libraries and the City of Literature office are both funded by Dublin City Council. Dublin Council supply funding for projects, with some input from the national Arts Council. Library reader events and programs are branded with the City of Literature logo and the office has a remit to always include libraries in its programming.

Dublin’s libraries look after smaller events and book clubs; Dublin City of Literature office takes care of bigger events, such as the Dublin Book Festival and the One City, One Book program.

The Dublin City of Literature branding is used on just about everything the libraries do. The libraries keenly promote the Dublin’s City of Literature status.

What are the main City of Literature programs delivered via the libraries?

1. One City, One Book has been going from strength to strength since 2006. The program aims to bring Dublin’s literature to a wider audience by encouraging everyone in the city to talk about the same book in the month of April. 2015’s book was Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown trilogy. Some of the books previously featured are Dracula Bram Stoker and The Dubliners James Joyce.

Many people perceive that events in libraries are not for them. To counter this,  One City, One Book events are held in unexpected places, such as historic buildings, pubs and music venues.

2. A version of One City, One Book for primary school aged children, the Citywide Reading Campaign, runs from January to March. The books chosen not are not literary prize winners but page turners, written in an fun, accessible way. This year’s book, Danger is everywhere David O’Doherty had the added benefit of appealing to special needs children.

In tandem with the Citywide Reading Campaign, a reader-in-residence is employed to work with inner city schools and kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. She brings classes to libraries. Part of budget is to buy books that the children can keep; many of them don’t have books in their homes.

3. Words on the Street is a program that puts literature out beyond the library walls. On World Literature Night, May 2015, works from 12 countries were read by Irish celebrities in 12 unusual venues across the city. The venues chosen are those that Dubliners may never have gone into otherwise.

4. Other programs combine other aspects Dublin’s rich cultural heritage with literature. These include Resonance, pairing books and music, and Writers in the Castle, bringing together history and writing.

5. The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, established in 1995, celebrates writing from all over the world. Books are nominated for the shortlist by 400 library systems across the globe. The awards are administered by Dublin City Public Libraries.

Future projects

An exciting new cultural quarter is planned for Parnell Square, north of the river. This will be the site of a new City Library and the new home for the City of Literature office. Parnell Square is an urban renewal project to reinvigorate the community. The south of the city is always seen as the posh part, with the north often seen as more disadvantaged.

Possible collaboration with Melbourne

1.  A program to engage Melbourne’s book clubs with the IMPAC award could work well. The book clubs could ‘shadow’ the prize, read the shortlist and decide on their favourite. As the awards are announced at 12 noon in Dublin in June, we could have a live streaming of the ceremony in Melbourne at 9PM.

2. The timing of the new Dublin City Library in Parnell Square coincides beautifully with the timing of the development of Melbourne’s new City Library. Both buildings are due to open in 2020. It would be great if we could follow each other’s progress, possibly collaborating on community engagement projects.

Which Dublin books you would recommend to Melbourne readers?

The snapper Roddy Doyle
Dubliners 100
(15 new short stories by prominent Irish writers, inspired by the original)
Tara Road Maeve Binchy
The green road Anne Enright
A long long way Sebastian Barry
Declan Hughes’ crime series, featuring detective Ed Loy
Strumpet City James Plunkett

And a hint from Jane: the best way to get into James Joyce’s Ulysses is to read it out loud.



The Reading Journey

The inspiring Reading Agency programming team

The inspiring Reading Agency programming team

The Reading Agency’s main goal is to inspire more people to read more. In recognition of the difference that reading makes to people’s lives, their mission statement is:

Because everything changes when we read

I attended a team meeting on Wednesday 8 July at TRA’s London office with Sue Wilkinson MBE, Chief Executive; Debbie Hicks, Creative Director; and the programming team. We discussed TRA’s programs that develop and support readers of all ages.

Work of The Reading Agency

The Reading Agency’s work is divided into three target audience groups:

1. Children – the Summer Reading Challenge and Chatterbooks children’s book clubs
2. Youth – Reading Activists, set to become the new Reading Hacks program later this year
3. Adults – Reading Ahead, Reading Well, Reading Groups for Everyone and World Book Night.

TRA have adopted a new business plan this year. Their strategy is to adopt a more joined up approach by looking at an individual’s Reading Journey — from when they are born, right through to when they are seniors.

TRA is also putting a strong focus on the evaluation of their work. They are developing an outcomes framework on the benefits of reading, looking at aspects such as relationships and well being.

After the Conservatives won the 2015 election, Sue valiantly read their manifesto to see how the work of the TRA could fit in with the government’s vision. The main area of best fit was with volunteering for young people. The TRA’s Reading Activist program provides a meaningful volunteer experience for teenagers who are sometimes limited in what they are allowed to do in work places.

Possibilities to collaborate with Melbourne and other Australian libraries in the future

The Reading Agency are investigating offering licences to administer some of their key reader engagement programs such as Chatterbooks, Six Book Challenge (now Reading Ahead) and Books on Prescription. Licences to administer these programs will be offered to libraries in Australia.

London books the TRA staff would recommend to Melbourne readers

For adults:
The diary of Samuel Pepys
One day in December Sebastian Faulks
Saturday Ian McEwan
Londoners: the days and nights of London now — as told by those who love it, hate it, live it, left it and long for it Craig Taylor
Oliver Twist Charles Dickens
The London compendium Ed Glinert
Don’t Mr Disraeli! Caryl Brahms
King rat China Mieville

And Poems on the Underground have been inspiring commuters, residents and visitors to love poetry since 1986.

For children:
Gangster granny David Walliams
The A-Z of England
The Ladybird book of London



City of Literature for all


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The Norfolk Library and Information Service is funded by Norfolk County Council. It has 47 library buildings and 12 mobile libraries. The Forum is a Millennium building in Norwich hosting exhibitions, events and activities. It is the home of the Norfolk’s biggest branch, the Norwich and Norfolk Millennium Library, the recipient of the title ‘UK’s most popular public library’ for seven consecutive years.

I was taken on a special guided tour of the magnificent Norwich and Norfolk Millennium Library by its manager, Kath Griffiths and then spent some time with Jan Holden, Assistant Head of Service. Jan told me about the libraries’ relationship with the Norwich City of Literature office and the way the libraries engage readers of all ages and backgrounds.

Why is your work with the Norwich City of Literature office so important?

The libraries aim to make Norwich’s City of Literature status relevant to everyone in Norfolk. They promote the status of reading in the community and the importance of reading for pleasure.

As Norfolk is in the bottom national quarter in the indexes that measure school readiness, family literacy and learning is at the heart of what the libraries do. They target those with low levels of literacy. As Jan puts it, ‘There is no engagement with literature if you can’t read.’

As a representative of Norfolk libraries, Jan was one of the key people in the UNESCO City of Literature bid. Their contribution was about reader and audience development. She was keen for City of Literature to build on the libraries’ existing good practice.

The City of Literature relationship the libraries have is with the Writers’ Centre Norwich, WCN. The main advantage of this partnership is that it gives the libraries greater opportunities for joint projects with other libraries and literary organisations.

Some examples of Norfolk Libraries’ programs for readers

1. Brave New Reads, developed by the WNC, is delivered through all of Norfolk’s libraries this summer. Participation in the program has helped to build capacity of the library staff. They have had the chance to organise events, set up reading groups and engage with readers on a range of difficult subjects. The program has allowed libraries to connect with those in the remotest communities.

2. Each year, Norfolk Libraries take part in the Summer Reading Challenge, developed by The Reading Agency. In 2014, 13,000 primary school aged children in Norfolk participated.

3. Following on from the successful engagement of 5-11 year olds in the Summer Reading Challenge, in 2014 Norfolk Libraries created their own reading program for teenagers, Imagination. It was developed and mostly run by teenagers in the east of England. The program received two-year funding by the Arts Council.

4. The libraries mentor youth reading volunteers over the summer. The young people work with primary school children to encourage them to read. The program has been so successful that many young people have stayed on as reading ambassadors for the whole year.

5. In a Pets as Therapy project, primary school aged children have the opportunity to drop into the library after school and read to a dog. The dogs have been trained to work with people with dementia and are very patient listeners.

6. Norfolk’s Great Big Read is a three-month adult reading program in Spring, launched on World Book Night in March. Previous themes have been Book-to-Film and Norfolk books. In 2015, readers were asked to come up with a book they would like to recommend to someone else.

7. Norfolk Libraries participate in the The Six Book Challenge, administered by The Reading Agency. They have had the most success with this in prisons. Norfolk is commissioned by the government to run three prison libraries. In consultation with the prisoners, they have adapted The Six Book challenge and have instigated a three tier system of bronze, silver and gold level readers.

8. Norfolk Libraries have also delivered The Six Book Challenge through work places such as cleaning companies or gardening firms. They also work closely with the Trade Unions.

9. Norfolk library staff have been trained to deliver shared reading programs by The Reader Organisation. These have been the most successful with the elderly, isolated, those with common mental health problems (depression, anxiety) and dementia.

Possibilities to collaborate with Melbourne in the future

1. Norfolk Libraries support 750 reading groups across the county. There are possibility of linking our readers via our book clubs, perhaps through Brave New Reads.

2. The libraries work closely with the British Centre for Literature in translation. They have run programs to demonstrate the art of literary translations. We could replicate these programs in Melbourne

Name some Norwich/Norfolk books you would recommend to Melbourne readers

The crossing places Elly Griffiths
Elizabeth is missing Emma Healey
Waterland Graham Smith


Norwich: a tale of two cities

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Norwich was awarded UNESCO City of Literature status in 2012 in recognition of the city’s 1000 year writing heritage. It is the only City of Literature in England. The Norwich City of Literature office is based in the Writers’ Centre Norwich, WCN. Its magnificent new home is in Dragon Hall, a medieval building in the city centre.

The WCN joins up literary activities across Norwich. They are currently making a bid to become The National Centre for Writing.

Their work is divided into three main areas:

1. National and international work. This includes partnerships with other UNESCO cities of literature and creative cities.
2. Talent development for writers, including a mentoring program for literary translators.
3. Engagement and learning programs, run in partnerships with schools and libraries.

I spoke to Jonathan Morley, Programme Director, Alice Kent, Comms Director, and Melanie Kidd, Programme Coordinator for Brave New Reads. We discussed the work that the WNC does with readers and libraries, including their impressive summer reading program for adults, Brave New Reads.

Work with readers in the community

Many literary luminaries hail from Norwich, including Ian McEwan, Rose Tremain, Kazuo Ishiguro and Ali Smith. The prestigious writers’ school at the University of East Anglia is one of the best regarded in the country. However, Norwich also has areas of distinct disadvantage and is, overall, a low wage economy. It is definitely a ‘Tale of Two Cities’.

As a creative response to the city’s literary and migrant heritage, WCN established Norwich as the UK’s first City of Refuge. People in the city shelter asylum seekers in their own homes. WCN are working with PEN and the International Cities of Refuge Network, ICORN, to offer writing internships to refugees. This is a cause that has been championed by Anna Funder.

The county of Norfolk, of which Norwich is the capital, is predominantly rural. The WCN works with the Norfolk’s libraries and schools as outposts in the community to counter what is sometimes referred to as ‘rurality’. Health outcomes – physical and mental – tend to be poorer outside major cities. Rural areas are isolated and young people often leave because they are disengaged and have low job prospects.

WCN’s main work with schools is to provide creative writing programs through writers-in-residence. Their main work with Norfolk’s libraries is to deliver their programs for readers.

Brave New Reads

Brave New Reads, BNR, is a summer reading program for adults. Summer reading promotions traditionally focus on page-turning, lighter beach reads. BNR promotes lesser known books that offer a challenging, original and stimulating reading experience. It’s all about getting people out of their reading comfort zone.

The ‘Reader’s Circle’ – a community of almost 100 readers from the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire – selected the six books that appear on the BNR reading list. The books were chosen over the course of six months from a longlist of 150 books.

Once the books were selected, the libraries across the three counties planned an extensive program of creative BNR reader-centred activities from May to August 2015. These include launches, pop-up book clubs, tea parties, quizzes and radio shows.

The program is administered by Melanie Kidd, based at WCN, and is funded by a three-year grant from the Arts Council. Of the program, Melanie said, ‘An unexpected outcome is that the librarians themselves are starting to think differently about their own reading. The books on the BNR list are outside their usual reading comfort zone but they’ve worked their way through the lists and are encouraging people in their communities to give them a try.’

BNR is true reader development at work.

Possibilities to collaborate with Melbourne in the future

The Brave New Reads program is a transferrable model. I can see this working well in Victoria. It could be delivered via the Public Libraries Victoria network across the state to reach even our remotest communities. The WCN enthusiastically offered to share the program model with us.

Name five Norwich/Norfolk books you would recommend to Melbourne readers

In no particular order:

The Rings of Saturn WG Sebald
Revelations of divine love Julian of Norwich
(Written in 14th century. The first book written in English by a woman.)
Ritual murder ST Haymon
Restoration Rose Tremain
After me comes the flood Sarah Perry

And a couple of classics for children… or adults:
Black beauty Anna Sewell
Coot club Arthur Ransome


More famous than The Beatles?

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The city of Liverpool is renowned worldwide for its soccer team, Liverpool FC, the ferry across the Mersey and The Beatles. A project launched in 2014 sets out to make Liverpool famous for something else entirely. Liverpool: a city of readers aims to transform Liverpool into the UK’s foremost reading city.

I chatted about Liverpool: a city of readers with Councillor Lana Orr, Liverpool City Council, and shared reading legend Jane Davis, Director of the Reader Organisation. Later in the morning, Jane took me on a guided tour of the Reader Organisation’s headquarters in Calderstone’s Park, Liverpool.

Liverpool: a city of readers

The program aims to inspire the current generation of children to have a lifelong love of reading. It is a partnership between Liverpool City Council, The Reader Organisation and Liverpool Learning – an organisation representing the schools in Liverpool. Mayor Joe Anderson set up an education commission to look at education standards in Liverpool. He was looking for a new, creative approach. One of the main things the commission emphasised was that children who read for pleasure are much more likely to have success in later life.

The Mayor’s endorsement means that Liverpool: a city of readers is high on the city’s political agenda. The project works well because of the three key partners. Lana’s role is key critical. She brings the partners together and keeps their eyes on the common goal of fostering a love of reading in the city’s children.

When the project was first proposed, there was talk of having a Year of Reading for Liverpool. Jane strongly advised against this. She believes that if you have one year of reading, when it’s over politicians move on to the next thing. Encouraging a love of books should happen every year. Evaluation of each stage of the program is ongoing.

Jane also believes that encouraging reading should be city-wide and, rather than being a separate program, it should be integrated into other cultural events and social services. At each step of the program, children and parents are encouraged to join their local library.

Some key successes so far

1. A ‘Readerthon’ kick-started the project. People sent in videos of themselves reading aloud their favourite book extract or poem. These were upload to the Liverpool: a city of readers YouTube channel.

2. Give us 5 for reading. Participants are encouraged to contribute in fives: read aloud for 5 minutes every day; donate £5; record yourself reading aloud for 5 minutes; donate 5 books.

3. The Liverpool schools Love to read project involved schools from all over the city. Mosspits School created cosy reading spots in their building and playground; St Gregory’s Primary now have a special ‘Read all about it’ newsletter, detailing the school’s fun reading activities across each term.

4. Family support services work with volunteers who go into homes to read aloud to children. The volunteer leaves a rucksack of books in the home and encourages all members of the family to read the books and act as ‘reading role models’ for the children.

5. As part of the Giant Spectacular festival last year, giant puppets were put to bed in a park. The giants had a bedtime storytime and free copies of the BFG by Roald Dahl were handed out to families.

The Reader Organisation

Jane Davis took me on a special tour of The Reader Organisation’s new home in Calderstone’s Mansion, a former stately home. The property consists of a beautiful park, stables (currently the admin offices) and a cafe. The shared reading groups are held in the mansion house. A ‘Story Barn’ will open later in the British summer, a new home for children’s activities based on books and reading.

Jane is the founder of The Reader Organisation. Its main role is to run the ‘Read to Lead’ program that trains shared reading facilitators. Jane pioneered the practice of shared reading in the late 90s. It involves people coming together for weekly sessions to listen to literary stories and poems read aloud by a facilitator. The philosophy is that anyone can relate to literature in a shared reading context.

I spoke to Chris and Megg who run the volunteer program, a three-year Big Lottery funded project. Volunteers are closely mentored through the ‘Read to Lead’ training and then they run shared reading programs, either in elderly care homes or in housebound people’s homes.

The Reader Organisation currently has 120 volunteers. It runs four volunteer training programs a year, training 12 people at a time. Megg told me that the volunteer program’s benefits are two-fold: the people in carehomes experience the benefits of bibliotherapy and the volunteers – often vulnerable adults themselves – grow in confidence and self-esteem.

As I was about to leave Calderstone’s, a shared reading group was wrapping up. Beth, the group facilitator, said that members of the group usually continue chatting about their book in the cafe long after the session has concluded. Beth works in communications for The Reader Organisation but every Monday morning she facilitates an open shared reading group for anyone in the community who wants to drop in.

Beth told me, with great enthusiasm, ‘It’s the perfect start to my week.’

Can you think of possibilities to collaborate with Melbourne in the future?

1. Video link ups, connecting shared reading groups in Melbourne and Liverpool
2. Liverpool has already worked closely with the train network and the ferries. They have given away free quick reads for commuters. A reading program to link Liverpool’s and Melbourne’s commuters could work very well.
3. Liverpool has a significant Somali migrant population. We could link up Somali families in Melbourne with those in Liverpool, via shared reading.
4. This would require considerable funding:
In 2010, in collaboration with the State Library of Victoria, The Reader Organisation ran a Read to Lead program for a select few Victorian library staff. The Reader Organisation now have highly-developed train-the-trainer and volunteer programs. If they were to come to Melbourne again, they could run these sessions for Victorians.

Name five Liverpool books you would recommend to Melbourne readers

The ragged trousered philanthropists Robert Tressell
The unforgotten coat Frank Cotterell Boyce (for children)
Redburn Herman Melville
Tuppence to cross the Mersey Helen Forrester
The Beatles lyrics: the songs of Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr


Not just for those ‘of the toon’

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Edinburgh City Libraries and Information Services is comprised of 28 libraries, from branches in the city centre to those in seaside suburbs and in areas of distinct disadvantage. They also offer a mobile library service.

I chatted with Martina McChrystal, Acting Libraries and Information Services Manager, about the way their libraries work with the Edinburgh City of Literature Office and how they engage their diverse communities with books and reading. Martina also took me on a guided tour of the Central Library and one of their newer community hub libraries in Craigmillar.

Strategic work with other Scottish Libraries

Martina was excited about the launch, in June 2015, of their new strategy, Ambition and Opportunity. It is an aspirational strategy looking at where they want to be in the future. It includes case studies from all over Scotland, even from the most remote Highlands and islands. Edinburgh Libraries also participate in Bookbug, a national program to engage preschoolers and their families.

Why is your work with the Edinburgh CoL so important?

Ali Bowden, Director of Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust, is a great advocate for public libraries. She keeps libraries on the everyone’s radar, making sure they are always included in major programs. When Edinburgh’s refreshing new cultural strategy, Desire Lines, was being developed, Ali made sure that libraries were part of it.

How have you engaged diverse groups in Edinburgh through books and reading?

• Edinburgh’s Central Library has a dedicated children’s library, with its own entrance, in a separate part of the building. This has given families a space of their own. When I went into the children’s library, it was busy and vibrant. The overwhelming sense was one of great joy.

• In 2012, new community hub libraries were built in two disadvantaged areas of the city: Drumbrae in the west and Craigmillar in the east. As well as the libraries, the hubs contain council services such as Housing, Community Safety and Early Intervention. This makes for a vital joined up service.

• Edinburgh has a strong focus on reluctant teen readers. This is in response to the fact that 79% of teenagers from deprived backgrounds were not reaching expected literacy levels by the age of 16. The boys’ program, Level-UP, sets out to gamify reading. They move up a level of the game by reading. The girls’ program, Glitz-Lit, focuses on their love of celebrity. It has backing from soap stars and Ashton Kutcher.

• A program called Edinburgh Reads takes high-profile authors of the likes of Jeffrey Deaver, Tess Gerritson and Val McDermid into Edinburgh’s pubic libraries. For many, author events are, in an expression often used by Irvine Welsh, ‘of the toon’ (toon is a Scots word for town). A saying that sums up the perception that some things are only for the posh people in the city. Edinburgh Reads stages author events in public libraries – non-intimidating spaces in the heart of communities.

• Edinburgh’s Journey for Learning program fosters a love of reading in adults with low literacy levels.

• One of the biggest migrant groups in Edinburgh are from Poland. Many of Edinburgh’s libraries now hold storytimes in Polish and house Polish collections.

• Edinburgh Libraries’ award-winning website is exclusively for their online offer. This has engaged the under-30s and those who are fond of their mobile devices.

Craigmillar Library

I was lucky enough to meet some of awe-inspiring Craigmillar staff: George Mackenzie, Rehan Yousuf and Lee Clark. They told me about their award-winning program for the vision impaired. A vision impaired man teaches others how to use an iMac. The library also have several VIP (Vision Impaired) reading groups.

I was given a tour of Craigmillar Library’s backyard space that contains community gardens, outdoor table tennis and chess. A fabulous space for the community to come together.

Can you think of possibilities to collaborate with Melbourne in the future to link readers in our Cities of Literature?

The Craigmillar team were highly enthusiastic about linking their readers to those in Melbourne. Here are some of their ideas.

• A program to digitally link up our book clubs. This could include linking those with visual impairments in Melbourne with the VIP book club members.
• Link up Level-Up and Glitz Lit club members with teen readers in Melbourne.
• Some kind of penpal postcard club to help kids in the two cities understand each other’s cultures.

Name five Edinburgh books you would recommend to Melbourne readers

In no particular order:

Katie Morag’s island stories Mairi Hedderwick (picture book)
Maisie comes to Morningside Aileen Paterson (picture book)
The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (graphic novel version) Robert Louis Stevenson, Alan Grant, Cam Kennedy
One good turn Kate Atkinson
Waverley Walter Scott





Literary bumblebee


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The National Library of Scotland, NLS, is the world’s leading centre for the study of Scotland and the Scots. Lois Wolffe, Head of Development, and Jac Miller, Marketing, spoke to me about the way the NLS work within Edinburgh, City of Literature.

How do you work with the City of Literature office? Why is working with the office so important?
Lois is on the board of trustees of the City of Literature office, representing the NLS. She made the beautiful analogy of the City of Literature office being like a bumblebee ‘flying’ between the different literary agencies and cross-pollinating to assist them to work together. This makes for a more joined-up service when it comes to all things literature.
Jac gave a great example of how the City of Literature office advocates for literature having a high profile in Edinburgh. She spoke of plans for pop-up gardens outside the NLS. The City of Literature office strongly recommended that they should be literary-themed. The plan is for the gardens to have waterproof bookshelves to house withdrawn books.

What exciting projects are you working on?
Robert Louis Stevenson Day had fantastic online presence and it engaged those who might not think about coming to the library. As part of the program, the NLS held an exhibition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s original sketches and writing from their collections. The City of Literature office produced the evaluation report for RLS Day, compiled from all agencies involved
• Future temporary pop-up literary gardens. One for adults, one for kids, on the Royal Mile.
• A projection of a poem about the Glen Coe massacre onto an external mural of the battle was highly successful. It took poetry to the streets.

Can you think of possibilities to collaborate with Melbourne in the future, to link our Cities of Literature?
• Our Writers’ Festivals happen at the same time. We have done live links in the past. It would be good to build on this.
• The NLS is about to appoint Scotland’s first scriever (a Scots word for writer) as a writer-in-residence. Scotland has three languages – English, Scots and Gaelic. Scots was never traditionally written down. This two-year post will be based at the NLS. The City of Melbourne has plans to appoint a writer-in-residence at Boyd. Perhaps the two writers could collaborate virtually on a project for our cities to create a story generated by our communities
• Lois was keen on cultural exchanges between Edinburgh and Melbourne or, as she so perfectly called them, ‘swapsies’.

Name five* Edinburgh books you would recommend to Melbourne readers

In no particular order:

Trainspotting Irvine Welsh
Grey Friars Bobby Eleanor Atkinson
Burke and Hare Owen Dudley Edwards
The prime of Miss Jean Brodie Muriel Spark
One good turn Kate Atkinson
Dear Francesca Mary Conti

*They were allowed six books because there were two people.



Libraries: the heart of the literary network

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Had a lovely morning at the Scottish Storytelling Centre with the awesome Ali Bowden, Director of Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust. The Trust is an independent body with a Board of Trustees. It works with a Collaborative Group made up of key literature organisations in Scotland, such as Edinburgh International Book Festival and the Scottish Book Trust. The Board develop the vision; the collaborative group works on the business plan.

The current vision for Edinburgh, City of Literature, is ‘Literature to the Streets’.

I asked Ali the following questions.

How does the City of Literature office work with public libraries in Edinburgh?

Public libraries are the only community outreach posts the office has across the city. Libraries pump the blood (books) out to the community. They are the ‘heart’ of the literary network. They are fundamental; without them the literary network would die. Ali describes librarians as ‘super heroes of the literary world’

The office works with libraries in three ways:
1. Strategically. The libraries – both national and public – have representatives on the City of Literature board. They are also members of the collaborative group. Libraries are always involved in the consultation process.

2. Advocacy. The City of Literature Office works as ‘cheerleaders’ for the libraries. When Edinburgh City Council were going to cut funding to school libraries, the office lobbied on their behalf. They asked Ian Rankin to tweet about the proposed cuts and this made the council nervous. Their advocacy is one of main reasons that Edinburgh’s libraries haven’t suffered the cuts experienced by other Scottish libraries.

3. On major programs. All the main reading campaigns are delivered through libraries.

What exciting projects are you working on?

1. Robert Louis Stevenson Day on 13 November, his birthday. 2015 will be the third year. Last year, they held a ‘Tash Mob’ where everyone read their favourite passage from a RLS book, wearing a moustache.
2. The ‘Great Scott’ campaign, celebrating 10 years of Edinburgh being a City of Literature. It has Walter Scott’s quotes throughout Edinburgh’s Waverley train station – the only railway station in the world to be named after a book. There has been a fantastic response from the public.
3. Projects in the ‘Literature to the streets’ strategy, including plans for creation of a pedestrianised literary precinct on the Royal Mile and a literary hotel, complete with literary butlers who deliver your reading needs to your room.
4. Literary tourism. The office has made sure that City of Literature is included in Edinburgh’s 2020 tourism strategy.

Can you think of any ways to collaborate with Melbourne in the future?
On a new project, City of Literature TV. Online channel that has authors from all cities of literature in conversation and reading extracts from their work. Programs will be subtitled and therefore accessible by people whom speak different languages.

Name your Top Five Edinburgh books for Melbourne readers
A work of beauty Alexander McCall Smith. Photos and memoir. How Edinburgh has been his muse.
Noughts and crosses Ian Rankin. A reworking of Jekyll and Hyde.
Picturesque notes Robert Louis Stevenson. A love letter to Edinburgh and complaints about the weather. Great insight into the city and him as a person. Explains why he went to live in the South Pacific.
Fleshmarket Nicola Morgan For YA readers.
The literary traveller in Edinburgh: a booklover’s guide to the world’s first city of literature Allan Foster. Contains details about all the Edinburgh books you’ll ever need.








Start with the audience


The formidable Opening the Book team

The formidable Opening the Book team

My first visit in my Cities of Literature travels was to the swish new Opening the Book office in Ponefract, Yorkshire. I had a lively and inspiring discussion about audience development for literature with Opening the Book’s Director Rachel Van Riel, Anne Downes and Fiona Edwards. Opening the Book are pioneers in reader development and have extensive knowledge and experience in this area.

Rachel, Anne and Fiona believe that the essence of audience development for literature, or any art form, is to start with the audience. Sounds obvious but so often audience development is done by people planning events and programs rather than the audience themselves.

The key aspects we discussed were:

• Audience development can be widening (engaging new audiences) or deepening (enriching the experience for existing audiences)
The arc of audience engagement. This concept is used more in theatre but can also be applied to audiences for literary events. It is the way audiences interact with a production each step of the way to enhance their experience. Libraries are well placed to do this because of their special relationship with their readers.
• Targeting. By being broad and general, you end up appealing to no one in particular. Start small rather than big. Begin with an audience sector (e.g. 18-25 year olds, a cultural group) and plan a program based on their needs.
• Many writers don’t think of their audience when writing but, when they do get the chance to engage with readers, they gain fascinating insights. What makes the reader read on? At which point did they put down a book?
• Public libraries are well-placed to be the ultimate art form developer. We can offer audiences exposure to lesser-known work such as writing in translation or self published writing… all at no cost.

We also discussed reader engagement ideas that could work well in Melbourne. These included:
• A program to link readers in cities of literature all over the world. Readers choose books set in their cities to recommend to others. They come up with a one line ‘zinger’ about why the book captures the essence of where they live.
• Programs that link Melbourne’s food culture to reading. Books that are spicy, sweet, sour, bitter. A tasting menu of books to offer an introduction to different cultures. As Rachel said, “A good reader is willing to try new flavours; a good writer makes anything palatable.”
• Engage new migrants by going out and talking to existing groups about books that could interest them. Follow this up with a VIP tour of the library, especially for them.
• For every 100 people that live in the City of Melbourne, 700 come into the city each day to work, study or play. A reader program to engage commuters could help alleviate the daily tedium of the journey to or from work.

Finally, I asked Rachel, Anne and Fiona to recommend their favourite books, set in Yorkshire, to Melbourne readers. In no particular order, they are:
All points north and Walking home: travels with a troubadour on the Pennine way Simon Armitage
God’s own country Ross Raisin
Talking myself home Ian Mcmillan
Behind the scenes at the museum Kate Atkinson
Beastings Benjamin Myers
Classic: The life and opinions of Tristram Shandy, gentleman Laurence Sterne

Other favourite Yorkshire writers:
Joanne Harris
Helen Fielding
Alan Bennett
Ted Hughes
Sylvia Plath (honorary, buried in Yorkshire)
Margaret Drabble
AS Byatt
Winifred Holtby
WH Auden

Which of the programs to engage readers do you think would work best in Melbourne?