Naomi Booth’s taxonomy of libraries: Read Regional 2017

Author Naomi Booth is currently taking part in our Read Regional campaign, touring the length and breadth of the North to discuss her novella, The Lost Art of Sinking. Here she talks about the wide range of libraries she has visited and the interesting people she has met.

The first library I visit is part Victorian museum, and part glorious new glass-house structure. It’s surrounded by the Winter Gardens and is one of the handsomest places in the city centre. This library now shares its space with museum and art collections. I give a reading and a talk in a large ceramics gallery, surrounded by beautiful pottery.

The next library I visit is in the greenest of valleys: it’s a small but perfectly formed new structure and this community collection shares its home with a café that raises funds for the local hospice. I walk my four-month-old daughter on hillside paths before the event and her grandfather picks her a bouquet of wildflowers. While I’m reading, there’s a delightfully rowdy charity raffle rattling on in the background and the audience listens to my reading with cake and tea.

Later that day, I visit another community-run library on the edge of a large town: here the bookshelves are on casters, so that they can easily be pushed away to make the space as versatile as possible. The volunteers are used to accommodating all sorts of events, and they wheel a screen into place for my visual materials. They’ll wheel it away later on: a yoga class will take place in the evening after my workshop has finished.

The library I visit the following week comprises a group of large, city-centre buildings: my talk takes place in the Children’s Library, a light and lovely space devoted to young people’s readings and to literary events. There are over 50 readers’ groups in the area and they use these buildings and their collections as a hub.

New readers who I’ve been able to share stories with have included one of the first women to work in the mines in the North East (she drew maps of the underground chambers); a worker at the environment agency who had first-hand experience of the regional flooding that my book describes; and international students living and working in northern cities, engaged and fascinated by our literary cultures.

But the biggest surprise so far has been the variety of library buildings and the people who look after them: all over the north, communities are getting together and volunteering to keep their libraries going, finding ingenious locations and interesting partners to share their space. I am left with even more admiration for our public librarians and the new community librarians who are coming forward to protect our shared access to stories.

I can’t wait to see what the next few events reveal…

For a full list of Naomi’s events and more information about The Lost Art of Sinking, click here.

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