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