Lost in a good book

exhibitionWhen Mavis started work as a library assistant in central library a few years back one of the tasks she was given was to check returned books for pencil marks and other damage.

While doing this though she came across all sorts of items readers had used as bookmarks and forgot to remove: photographs, business cards, flyers, children’s drawings, train timetables, postcards, wedding invitations….

Mavis asked what to do with these objects. She was told they should be binned. Which she did. For about a week.

“As the rule made no sense to me I ignored it and started to collect them”, Mavis says .

“I didn’t have any sort of plan but something told me that maybe one day even one person could be reunited with a treasured photograph or perhaps a keepsake they thought was lost forever”.

Today is that day.

Many of the items Mavis held onto are the focal point of an exhibition ‘Lost in a good book’, currently on display in Central Library, until 11th June.exhibition 2

Will you see something that looks familiar?

Portobello’s award-winning teenage book group

Congratulations to Portobello Teenage Book Group for their 2015 Adult Learners’ Achievement Award in the Young Adults Category.

The award ceremony was held in the City Chambers on Wednesday May 20th and thanks to Alex and Skye for attending to accept the award on the groups’ behalf.


The judges for the award said “The quotes from the learners about the impact of their learning were particularly powerful and the panel were very impressed”

Portobello Teenage Book group was founded in 2003 and is one of the longest running book groups in Edinburgh City Libraries. There are currently 14 members in S5 and S6 and they meet monthly during term time.

Although the focus of the group is around books, it’s also been a very effective forum to discuss and debate a wide range of social topics in an informal and non judgemental atmosphere. The members of the group choose the books for discussion which range from popular young adult fiction through to literary classics.

Instructions for library staff – a trip back in time

All workplaces have their rules and procedures for staff, and libraries are no different.

We’ve been doing lots of research about the library service for our 125th birthday and we came across some very strange instructions for staff.

How about this for starters:


Our procedures for new members of staff have changed over the years as well:


And woe betide you if your essay was written in a slovenly hand:


That would be me shelving books then…  though I’d have to treat the dusty ones properly and not be ‘foolish':


Look out for more historic staff instructions soon, including guidance on dealing with young people. And ‘foreigners’.

Overcoming a reluctance to read. Part 2 of 6

by a dyslexic library member

This is the second in a series of six blog posts. In it, I would like to show you four ways that using more than one format helps me to engage with books.

1. Reading only some books in print and making informed book choices

I used to think of books as reading print.  But now I realise that print is just one format and that books come in other formats too e.g. audio, graphic novel and film.

Taking this wider view has opened up the world of books for me because it means I now engage with books not just through print but also through listening and images.

Listening to a book and looking at pictures are much more effective ways for me to take in a book’s content than print.

One helpful outcome of this multi-sensory approach to books is that of all the books I engage with, there are only some that I read in print. This gives me the flexibility to use different formats for different purposes. For example, I use:

  • print format for short stories and self-help books;
  • graphic novels for history; and
  • audio for full-length novels.

2Using a more accessible format for topics I find difficult in print

I find some topics difficult to read about in print because of my dyslexic difficulties.

For example, in a print book on some period of history, there is generally too much detail and content for my short-term memory to cope with.   Instead, if I use a book that tells the history in a way that is somehow accessible for me, for example through perspective, format or style, it enables me to assimilate the content.  For example, the graphic novel ‘Sally Heathcote Suffragette’.

For more graphic novels that can help reluctant readers of a variety of ages to engage with history, see:  Graphic novels that impart history in a dyslexia-friendly way.

3. Motivation and enjoyment

Using different formats means I am far more likely to continue reading rather than get discouraged to the point of giving up.  This is because:

  • the material I read is realistic for me in quantity and difficulty; and
  • reading is just one part of an enjoyable, multi-sensory experience with books. This means if I have limited success with reading, I know that I still enjoy books overall.  In other words, reading print is not the be-all and end-all for me, and this takes the pressure off me when I do read.

4. Using more than one format for the same book

This ‘scaffolds’ (=supports) my reading of print. For example, I listened to a self-help book in its entirety before starting to read it.  Having the ‘gist’ of a book before starting to read it helps dyslexics.

Next Friday we will look at booklists for reluctant readers.

Edinburgh Reads: Sue Lawrence and Maggie Ritchie

Our latest Edinburgh Reads events featured two journalists turned historical novelists: Maggie Ritchie and Sue Lawrence.

Maggie Ritchie is the author of Paris Kiss, a retelling of the scandalous love affair between the great sculptor Auguste Rodin and his 19-year-old protégée Camille Claudel, seen through the eyes Camille’s young English friend Jessie Lipscomb.

Maggie explained how the seed of the idea for the book was sown while on honeymoon in Paris. But it was only ten years later, whilst undertaking a creative writing course at Glasgow University, that the love story that had been, as she put it, ‘percolating’ finally began to take shape.

As Maggie explored the real life story behind her novel, she came to realise that Rodin had stronger links with Scotland, and especially Glasgow, than she had first realised – links that were mainly down to Alexander Reid (subject of a previous Edinburgh Reads event).

Over the course several atmospheric readings, Maggie brought her characters to life, prompting questions about the research that she did on her characters.

Obviously there is plenty of biographical information on Rodin himself and to a lesser extent Camille but, as Maggie explained, the comparative lack of material on the character she chose to make her narrator, Jessie Lipscomb, was liberating in that it meant she had more freedom to shape the character. So it’s through the eyes of a newcomer that we see nineteenth century Paris.

Also, this gave Maggie an exciting a new angle to a story that had been told before, most recently in the film Camille Claudel 1915.

Further readings from Paris Kiss gave us a real feeling for the camaraderie between Camille and Jessie in what was a very macho environment. We also got a flavour of belle époque nightlife during a reading which featured a brilliant payoff line.

Maggie’s readings were really superb, and funnily enough in response to a question from a member of the audience she said that she felt she had more in common with an actor than a journalist, in the way as a novelist she had to get inside the mind of a character.

Maggie finished off by talking about two novels she’s currently working on: one is about a love affair with cataclysmic consequences a set in post-colonial southern Africa, the other is a return to the art world of the nineteenth century but instead of Paris this time we’re in Scotland and China.

Needless to say we would be delighted for Maggie to come back and tell us all about them!

Last Thursday’s guest author was former Masterchef Sue Lawrence, whose debut novel ‘Fields of Blue Flax‘ is currently riding high in the Scottish fiction charts.

DSC_6460As well as reading excerpts from the book Sue answered questions from BBC Scotland’s Serena Field about how she came to be a writer and the particular challenges of writing her genealogical mystery with a dual narrative structure.

Part of the novel is set in nineteenth century Dundee so Sue also had to think hard about the use of dialect in the novel and talked about the historical research she had to undertake, and some of the quirks that research throws up – for example hymns that we tend to think of as ‘traditional’ had in fact only just been written.

As usual our Edinburgh Reads audience had come prepared with questions, and Sue answered queries about her favourite authors, how she felt upon finishing the book, whether there will be a follow-up, and which came first: the character or the plot.

Thanks to both authors, our chairs (Maggie’s was her husband Mike) and of course our audiences.  Details and booking for upcoming events here.

125 years of Edinburgh Libraries


“We trust that this Library is to grow in usefulness year after year, and prove one of the most potent agencies for the good of the people for all time to come” – Andrew Carnegie, Edinburgh, 1890.

This year sees the 125th anniversary of Edinburgh’s public library service, and we’re celebrating by looking forward as well as back.

Book now for Future Libraries – the next 125 years  – a panel discussion with National Librarian John Scally, the Scottish Book Trust’s Philippa Cochrane, Professor Hazel Hall of Napier University and Duncan Wright, Librarian at Stewart’s Melville College.

Look out too, for more posts over the next couple of weeks telling the story of Edinburgh’s Libraries. We’ve got some cracking discoveries to share with you.