It’s July, and I’m thrilled and relieved to announce that Malane, who designs and maintains this website for me, is back at the helm after a few months break. She and I recently attended Canada Water Library to hear author Lionel Shriver talk about her new novel, The Mandibles. And a very good talk it was, too, with Lionel reading out passages and interspersing them with explanations and observations bursting with her gentle, acerbic wit.
Had we wished to see her speak at the Adlburgh Literary Festival—held at the wonderfully-named Snape Maltings—tickets would have set us back £11 each, but this event—as with most literary events held at Southwark’s various libraries—was free. Yes, FREE! And it came hot on the heels of a talk by another author, Dorothy Koomson, which was equally as enjoyable. As regular attendees at the Canada Water events, we have in fact seen both authors speak there before.
With access to world-class writers virtually on our doorstep (we’ve also seen Deborah Moggarch and Stella Duffy, to name but a few) it’s easy to forget that over the past few years, in response to governmental budget cuts and restrictions, the rest of London’s boroughs are closing library branches, or cutting opening hours, or handing their running over to volunteers. Most recently I heard of one being turned into a gym. Yet during this time Southwark Council has opened two new libraries, one at Canada Water Library in 2011, the other at Camberwell in 2015. As a small indication of Canada Water’s success, it currently ranks as the second busiest public library in London, and the sixteenth busiest nationally.
So what makes Southwark Council so different from all the other boroughs’ councils? I think they understand how important local libraries are to local communities, and when they design them, they design them to be community hubs, not just places where people come to check out books. At Canada Water, you can get a coffee and a snack, read newspapers, learn how to use the internet, go online, borrow the latest films, attend a reading group. There’s always a class from a local primary school having a story read to them. But none of this would happen without two important things: the council’s resolute vision and a dedicated and talented staff.
While I’m on the subject of libraries, there is another library I’m beginning to fall in love with: the British Library. At the end of last year I was shocked to discover that they’d gone into the business of publishing, and over the past few months the Canada Water Crime & Thrillers Book Club I attend has been devouring some of the rare and out-of-print titles they’ve resurrected as British Library Crime Classics from the Golden Age of Crime Writing. Trust me, the covers alone are worth a look. The cover to your right, however, does not belong to this particular series (though isn’t it just fantastic!!!). It is just one of over a million images that the British Library, in an act of supreme generosity, has digitised and uploaded to Flickr from publications where the copyright has now expired. Anyone can use them free, gratis. Click here to find links to the various categories on offer.
The third thing I discovered, though, has to be the wackiest of the lot. For many decades the British Library has been a repository for sound recordings of everyday British life. Until recently you had to travel to the library to consult these recordings, but now they are available online. The one I came across just happens to be about food, and how people who have worked in the food industry have seen changes to the way our food is made, sold, and eaten. Listen to Radio 4’s Food Programme, where presenter Sheila Dillon discusses these archives with British Library archivists Polly Russell and Barley Blyton, or visit the National Life Stories Food Collection to explore it for yourself.
Finally, as a small token of my thanks for taking the trouble to find this page, I’d like to offer you a copy of my book Why the Victorians Saw Ghosts – An Illustrated Guide to 19th Century Spiritualism. Download it for free from Smashwords.com. When it comes time to pay, just use coupon code: TD22X. A word of warning: opt for the ePub version if that happens to be a format you can use; for technical reasons beyond my control it is vastly superior to the MOBI on offer.
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