Empathy Day

Research shows that only ten percent of empathy is genetic, the rest is learned as we move through the world interacting with others, either in person or through the written word which allows us to literally experience the world as another person. One of the wonders of the library, is all the people you can become. Choose one book and you are an explorer, charting new territories, another and you are a servant in the household of the Bennett sisters. Although you do not feel the peril, the fear, the day-to-day life as if you were living it, researchers at The University of Toronto have discovered that there is some correlation in reading and experience; the parts of your brain related to running wakes up when you read about someone running, just as your grasping reflex turns on when you read of a character reaching for a light.

Empathy Day, founded in 2017, aims to promote empathy through reading. Though the day is mainly aimed at children and young adult readers (with excellent lists where authors recommend books which promote empathy) in Central Library we have widened the remit, with staff looking at adult fiction, non-fiction and children’s books which have increased their empathy, teaching them what it is like to be someone else.

Doris, Library Advisor at Central Lending and Children’s recommends All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Focusing on the themes of loss, bravery, resilience and kindness, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel tells the story of Marie-Laure, a blind girl who lives with her father and great uncle in Nazi occupied France. The other main character is Werner, a German boy who has grown up in an orphanage with his sister Jutta. Werner is a genius with electricals who attracts the attention of the Hitler Youth.

Frederick, “a reedy boy, thin as a blade of grass, skin as pale as cream”, is another character that readers will empathise with. The fact that he feels he has no agency in his life is heartbreaking. His friendship with Werner is tenderly written and there’s the constant fear that something terrible will happen at their military school.

All the Light We Cannot See is full of haunting three-dimensional characters, with many trying to do good in a terrifying world.

All the Light We Cannot See is available to borrow in print, ebook, audiobook or as a talking book.

Ania, Library Advisor at Central Lending and Children’s selects two books: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and Oscar and the Lady in Pink by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
Oscar and the Lady in Pink is told from the perspective of a 10-year-old Oscar through his letters to God. He is only ten years old and dying of leukaemia. He has been living in a hospital for a very long time feeling lonely, isolated, and unhappy. His parents, who bring him gifts and surely love him, are uncomfortable during their infrequent visits and have a very little connection with their dying son. They feel hopeless and distant as they avoid the subject of his imminent death.

Things change when Granny Rose, a hospital volunteer, enters Oscar’s life. She brings honesty, warmth and comfort to his life and is the only person willing to listen to Oscar’s questions about death.

My other choice, The Little Prince, I believe, is teaching us the secret of what is really important in life. One of the most significant sentences of the book: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye” summarises the main message of the story. The importance of looking beneath the surface to find the real truth and meaning.  

The author, rightly, argues that we often see more clearly if we look with empathy (the heart) than if we look with the eye.

The Little Prince is available to borrow as a picture book, print, ebook, audiobook and DVD.

Hope, Library Advisor at Central Lending and Children’s chooses Hard Pushed, a Midwife’s Story by Leah Hazard
The astounding thing about medical memoirs is how practising doctors, nurses and midwifes find the time to write them. Leah Hazard left her career as a journalist to study midwifery after the traumatic birth of her first child, and the less traumatic birth of her second. Throughout the first it was the kindness of midwifes and doctors which made all the difference as she “failed to progress in labour” ending up with an emergency Caesarean.

In Hard Pushed, Hazard tells of the huge and tiny ways she seeks to make a difference to a patient, from cleaning a wound and listening to a woman’s struggles, to identifying full blown sepsis during a routine antenatal appointment.

Leah doesn’t skirt around the terrible pressures on the NHS, the staff shortages, the relentless shifts, the terror when the unit is full and there are only so many midwives on shift, and yet she relates these with empathy, and even good humour.

As someone who’s soon to give birth it’s terrifying reading, but it’s also good to know that midwives like Leah exist, and I am likely to have someone like that looking after me; someone warm, kind, human, who listens and relates.

Hard Pushed is available to borrow in print or talking book on CD

Emily, Library Advisor at Central Lending and Children’s selects The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom gave me a new outlook on life. It tells the story of the life and death of the main character, who is sent to Heaven, and meets five individuals who significantly impacted the life he had. This book is inspiring as it invites you to open up to the possibility that so many individuals, who you either know or don’t know, have an impact on the life you live. By reading this book, it definitely made me more thoughtful and empathetic to others, because just as so many people can have an impact on your life, you also may impact so many others’ lives; by treating people with kindness and exploring empathy, this impact you have can be positive. 

The Five People You Meet in Heaven is available to borrow in print

What book would you recommend for Empathy Day?

Central Library staff pledge to Keep Their Heids this Mental Health Awareness Week

Keep The Heid is a campaign encouraging people to read for six minutes on the eleventh of May. It’s been proven by MindLab that just six minutes reading every day can reduce stress and improve sleep  – more so even than going for a walk or holding a steaming cup of tea.

I guess it’s not a surprise; reading takes you away from your anxieties, and for those six minutes you can be immersed in a world completely other than your own. Researchers are keen to emphasise that reading any book for pleasure will have the same effect.

Below our Library Advisors, Supervisors and Development Leaders share their #KeepTheHeid pledges, telling us which books they plan to immerse themselves in this week.

Bronwen, Art and Design and Music Library Development Leader, has pledged to read All Among the Barley by Melissa Harrison as part of #KeeptheHeid
The book I’m pledging to read is ‘All Among the Barley’ by Melissa Harrison which I’m reading just now with my book group.

I’m taking it slowly which is a deliberate choice to relish the book’s wonderfully descriptive portrayal of rural England in the autumn of 1933. Told through the character of Edie, then a teenager growing up on a family farm and with the Great War still casting a shadow over everyone’s lives, themes of class, folklore, changing rural traditions and patriarchy are explored. I’ll be reading my six minutes on the bus to work, I find it helps to distract me from thinking about the challenges of the day ahead and to bring me some stillness and peace despite the busyness around me.

All Among the Barley is available to borrow both as hardback, large print, talking book and ebook.

Joanna, Library Advisor in Art and Design and Music Libraries has chosen Children of Our Era, a poem by Wislawa Szymborska as her six minute read
I have chosen this poem because of its ideas about society, citizenship, and peoples’ and communities’ involvement in political subjects. Some people told me: ‘I’m not voting. I’m not interested in politics.’ Which is obviously a wrong decision. There is a saying: ‘you maybe have no interest in politics, but the politics easily becomes interested in you’.

Miracle Fair by Wislawa Szymborska is available to borrow and we also have several other collections of her poetry.

Natasha, Art and Design and Music Library Supervisor is reading Last Order at the Liars’ Bar: The Story of the Beautiful South
I came across this book whilst searching for items in our Music Library annexe. The Beautiful South have long been favourites of mine, so I was intrigued to find out a little more behind the catchy melodies and Paul Heaton’s sharp lyrics. The band’s music has been very beneficial to my mental health over the years so I thought it would be fitting to read this book for my pledge.

Last Order at the Liars’ Bar is available to reserve from the Central Music Store.

Ania, Library Advisor in Central Lending and Children’s Library has chosen to read Akin by Emma Donoghue
‘Akin’ is a tale of love, loss and family, in which a retired New York professor’s life is thrown into chaos when he takes his great-nephew to the French Riviera, in hopes of uncovering his own mother’s wartime secrets.

I very much enjoy reading it, taking part in their journey through beautiful Nice, its restaurants, cafes, galleries, watching them clash, fight but also learn from each other. ‘Akin’ is a quietly moving novel that shows us how little we know one another, but how little, perhaps, we need to know in order to care.

It has two things I love in a novel: a beautiful city you can imagine being in with the main characters and a complicated, deep but also fascinating relation between people who are so different from one another and yet manage to gain some mutual trust and respect towards each other.

Akin is available in paperback, hardback, large print, talking book on CD and audiobook.

Zoe, Library Advisor at Central Lending and Children’s is reading The Young Team by Graeme Armstrong
I’m reading ‘The Young Team’ by Graeme Armstrong, a book published in 2020 which tells the candid tale of a young man and his pals growing up in the housing schemes of Airdrie. I’m enjoying this book so much and can’t wait to find out what the wise and brave protagonist will do next. This is Armstrong’s first book, yet he writes with such unwavering confidence  – definitely one to watch. 

The Young Team is available in Edinburgh Libraries as hardback, paperback and talking book on CD.

Jeanette, Central Lending and Children’s Library Adviser is reading Thin Places by Kerri Ni Dochartaigh which was shortlisted for The Wainwright Prize
Getting out into nature, no matter how bad I feel, almost always lifts my spirits, and I am curious about the impact of nature on others. ‘Thin Places’ by Kerri Ni Dochartaigh is a mix of memoir, history and nature writing. Born in Derry, Ireland at the height of the Troubles, the author’s childhood was shocking and traumatic. Her account of how nature; moths, foxes, birds and ‘thin places’, contribute to her gradual recovery is magical. Nature is healing but so is reading, and this book has had me absorbed from the first page. Highly recommended.

Thin Places is available to reserve in hardback or paper back.

Emily, Library Advisor in Central Lending and Children’s has pledged to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun for #KeeptheHeid
For my pledged six minutes of reading for Keep the Heid, I will be reading ‘Klara and the Sun’ by Kazuo Ishiguro. This book is classed as a dystopian science fiction novel, and explores themes of faith, rationality, and love through the eyes of artificial intelligence. I’ve chosen to read this book as part of my pledge because I’ve only heard good reviews for it since it was published in 2021, and I have high hopes that it will challenge my thoughts and views on the themes seen throughout. 

Klara and the Sun is available to borrow as hardback, paperback, talking book on CD and ebook.

Hope, Library Advisor in Central Lending and Children’s is reading Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
The Swan Inn is known for storytelling. People come from miles around to hear tales told by Joe Bliss, the innkeeper’s husband. One winter night (the longest of the year) just as Joe says, ‘Once Upon a Time…’, an unknown and injured man stumbles through the door holding a child in his arms. The man collapses. The child is drowned, or is she?

It is a story of stories, of maybe ghosts and longing, of the river which feeds the land and its people, yet can take them as well. I’m loving this strange and twisting novel.

Once Upon a River is available to borrow as paperback, hardback, ebook and audiobook.

Doris, Library Advisor at Central Lending and Children’s, is reading Taste by Stanley Tucci
Having recently finished Ruth Ozeki’s second novel The Book of Form and Emptiness, I was in the mood for something lighter.
I immediately picked up Stanley Tucci’s new book Taste. I’ve been avidly watching his TV programme and was looking forward to tucking into his memoir, which has a similarly reminiscent and urbane style. Something light yet with substance and a book to be savoured.

Taste is available to reserve as a hardback.

Dawn, Library Advisor at Central Lending and Children’s, chooses Edinburgh – Jarrold Short Walks
I was posted to Portobello library during Central’s ‘glow up’ and there found a bountiful book of walks in and around the Edinburgh area and this has lead to some new-to-me areas of the Pentlands. These explorations in the wilderness are crucial to maintaining my mental health which, in truth, like so many of us, has taken a severe bashing over the last two years.  If I had to choose one of these it would be Edinburgh – Jarrold Short Walks.

Edinburgh – Jarrold Short Walks is a little yellow paperback, available in four of our libraries

Vesna,  Central Lending and Children’s Library Development Leader pledges Burning Questions, Margaret Atwood’s third collection of essays and occasional pieces, covering 2004 – 2021
This choice was the result of practising the art of serendipity: a book voucher gift from a friend with an instruction to let the book chose me! I’ll be reading my six minutes during my lunch break, and if the weather is fair, outside in the park.

I am not sure which piece’s siren call will be the strongest today.  Perhaps a call to courage in ‘We Hang by the Thread’ (2016)? Or the wonderfully punctuated, firmly titled piece from 2019 Just.Tell.The.Truth. The most burning question of them all: How to Change the World (2013)? There are tempting pieces about other writers too: Doris Lessing, Alice Munro, Marie Clair-Blais. Whichever piece it is, I know that Atwood’s masterful writing, with generous sprinkle of wicked fun, will bring me back to the joy of reading. I’ll walk back to the library a little wiser, calmer, readier to carry on!

Burning Questions is available to reserve as an audiobook or hardback.

What will you read today to Keep the Heid and Read?

What libraries mean to me with Silé Edwards

Silé Edwards is a top London literary agent at Mushens Entertainment. Here she tells us about the impact libraries have had on her life and her choice to become an agent. She is open to submissions from passionate new writers!

Silé Edwards

What do libraries mean to you?
They mean so much to me, but mainly they are a special place where books are at their most accessible. They mean adventure, fun and sanctuary. I love that they are open to all and so welcoming.

What is your earliest memory of a library?
I think my earliest memory is quite hazy because I was very young, I remember lots of plastic covered books, and a sense of joy and wonder at the amount of books around. There was also a guy who dressed like a pirate running the café, which was so cool and just made the experience magical for me.  

Did libraries influence your ambition to become a literary agent?
My favourite early memory though is going into my local library and ordering in a copy of the latest Lemony Snicket Book (I think it was book 11 in the Series of Unfortunate Events). I was so happy because I would not have been able to buy it myself but was desperate to read it after devouring the last ten. The librarian was so helpful, and it was my first time reserving a book which made it super special. She was there when I went to pick it up too, and asked me to write her a review on it for the wall, which got me thinking not just about whether I liked it, but why and also how I would convince others to read it too – the foundations of being a Literary Agent.

Did you struggle without a library in lockdown?
It was really difficult, as the library is one of my favourite places to go when I work from home or need a book (as we don’t have many bookshops in our local area). I really missed the sense of community you find in libraries and was so pleased when it reopened after lockdown.

How do you think libraries can grow and connect and thrive in the post lockdown world?
I think that if libraries keep the community they serve at the centre of their functions, they will continue to be a place for people to learn, grow and discover books in the post lockdown world.

With huge thanks to Silé for sharing with us what libraries mean to her.

Writers of Edinburgh

Our latest story on Our Town Stories highlights authors who have helped put Edinburgh on the literary map through their own connections to the city or because the city plays a central role in their stories.

We feature Jenni Fagan, Quintin Jardine, Doug Johnstone, Alanna Knight, Alexander McCall Smith, Ambrose Parry, Aileen Paterson, Ian Rankin, J.K. Rowling, Sara Sheridan, Muriel Spark and Irvine Welsh. 

The changing face of the city is captured in its various guises from the dark Victorian streets of Inspector Jeremy Faro to the genteel private school of Miss Jean Brodie to the stark realities of Renton’s 1980s Edinburgh.

Advocates Close by Alexander Adam Inglis, c1890

So, if you’d like to know a wee bit more about the people who created these books and characters closely connected with the city, and perhaps discover some reading gems you’re not so familiar with, take a look at Writers of Edinburgh on Our Town Stories.

The story is part of a wider project with the Living Knowledge Network Libraries for Breaking the News. Look out for other activities, exhibitions and events happening across our Libraries soon.

What does it mean to be a reader today?

Library Advisors Hope Whitmore, Fiamma Curti and Dawn Gibson share what they think it means.

eBooks, graphic novels, blogs, audio and eaudiobooks, traditional printed books, fiction, non-fiction, and that genre that falls somewhere in between the two; there are many ways to be a reader in 2022, which is why the theme of World Book Day, You Are The Reader, is great – opening, as it does, a discussion of all the ways we can be readers now.

Illustration copyright: World Book Day

As a child, I struggled to read, the weird symbols on the page that didn’t make sense until I was seven when suddenly they did. Until this miracle of clarity, I was read to by my parents, by my siblings, or cross-legged on the bumpy carpet at primary school story-time. Even then, before the symbols made sense, I was a reader. I was hungry for stories. The worlds of Narnia, The Children’s Odyssey and Mordor were all wonderfully, terrifyingly real. I fought to learn to read, not because I had to, but because I needed to, needed to experience these stories myself, without the limit of one chapter a night (though I would often plead for more.)

I guess my point here is, that even though I wasn’t reading, I was engaging with the text in a real and vivid way. Reading wasn’t simply about knowing and deciphering the letters, it was about how books placed me in the world of someone else, someone in whom I was deeply invested, someone I shared adventures with and could not bare to see left in peril. The symbols were the means, a gateway, but the real experience of reading was far bigger than they could convey.

When I see children in the library being read to, even tiny babies, I see their engagement as their parent turns the pages, their excitement and anticipation. What will the next page reveal? These tiny infants are also readers. They engage, and engage so deeply, in such a real way, that seeing them, I think, yes, this is what reading is.

I love that there are so many ways to be a reader, as a child and as an adult, so many ways to immerse yourself in a good book. While I love to prop myself up on a stack of pillows with a traditional printed book, feeling the paper in my hands as I turn page after page, I see the appeal of ereaders, their lightness and portability (a whole library in 300grams.) Audiobooks are also great. During a period of agoraphobia, I would listen with one headphone in, one out, to audiobooks as I walked to and from work – the story somehow making the real world less scary, making the walk possible.

Others see reading differently: it’s the only solitary, slow activity in a world where everything is about instant communication and speed, says one friend. I don’t see it like this, but I love that opinions and experiences of reading differ so widely.

Fellow library adviser Dawn Gibson speaks about how reading for her has always been a sanctuary:
“It’s somewhere to go when real life gets too much and I always used to choose fiction and get lost in the inventions and sagas of lives of people I would never meet. More recently I need to know facts, which in part is probably a reaction to the snippets of information that are drip fed through social media. Working amongst the wonderful collection housed within Central Library is almost like having a superpower. I know that if I want to learn about something, this could be helping my daughter to start coding, or how to bake a Swedish Bundt, I can turn to the pages of a book and discover and keep discovering. Since having children it has become almost impossible to read a book cover to cover (I have a very precarious pile of half-read books on my bedside table) but even if I manage a few pages, it still provides a quiet moment, and the opportunity to escape somewhere else for a while.”

While library adviser Fiamma Curti emphasises the fellowship of reading, the connections it forges between one person and another: 
“Sometimes reading can be a group experience, through book clubs or by forcing all your loved ones to read that one book you can’t stop thinking about. Solitary readers still sharing the experience through the story. Or you can just read around people who are reading something else, everyone lost in their own world of fiction, but all connected by the same activity. And even more, you can read and be read to, through an audiobook put on during a long car journey, by reading to someone over the phone, in person before bed. Reading is a wonderful way of connecting not just with the great authors of past and present, with their character and their world, but also with those around you, creating beautiful communities with strangers and strengthening connections with friends.”

There can seem, at times, to be a division within reading, between what is real reading, and what isn’t, but I think that our varied experiences show this not to be real. I’ve been guilty of seeing some books as having a veneer of dust, similar to that on a butterfly’s wings – dust that is not to be disturbed by someone like me, but this too is a fallacy.

Fiamma agrees and goes further:
“Sometimes people preclude themselves from wonderful reading experiences because they don’t think they are going to get it. I see that happening a lot with one of my favourite things in the world: poetry. I often hear ‘I don’t get it,’ or ‘I’m not smart enough for it,’ and to that I reply: there is nothing to get. The beauty of reading is that you shape the book as much as the writer did when creating it. Once the book is in your hands what you get out of it is always right, because it is about your connection with it. Sometimes with poetry all I “get” is the rhythm of the words, sometimes it’s just one image that sticks with me, other times I get nothing until I re-read the poems months later. It’s all valid, it’s all good. As long as engaging with the text makes me feel something, then I’m reading it right.”

She continues,
“Reading is so wonderful because there is no wrong way of doing it. If you want to read a series out of order, no one can stop you. Skip a whole chapter if you’d like. Read the dialogue first and then go back for the description. Skim the page, skip a paragraph, go back to it at the end of the chapter. Leave a book half read and never look back. You, the reader, are the master of your own reading experience. I love to read the last line of any novel before I even start them. It usually makes no sense, sometimes it’s a massive spoiler, but it’s my way of reading and therefore it’s right for me.”

One of the reasons Central Library is so excellent, is the variety of books. As a staff member you can step from the hustle of the library floor with the red new stock trolleys, into the hush of the annex, where the old books live and breathe their dust. There is a magic about stepping from one to another, just as there is in moving from non-fiction to general fiction, to graphic novels and science fiction. There is space afforded to all these, as well as large print, books in various languages, ebooks and eaudiobooks. The latter gained massive popularity in lockdown on our Libby, BorrowBox and uLIBRARY apps, when we couldn’t be open as a physical building. They have maintained this popularity afterwards – which is brilliant. eBooks and downloadable audiobooks are a great extension to our library offer, as well as reaching out to people who might want a book and yet are not able to come into the library.

The inclusiveness of our collections, that we do not – will never – gatekeep, that we have something for everyone, is part of the magic of Edinburgh Libraries, and this is what I think it means to celebrate, you, the reader.

Illustration copyright: World Book Day

World Book Day is coming!

World Book Day celebrates its 25th year on 3rd March this year with the theme – ‘you are a reader’. Libraries across Edinburgh and our school libraries are putting together a range of events. Don’t forget to check out your local library Facebook page for further details.

Some of our highlights are listed below:
Community Libraries

Blackhall Library
Blackhall have 10 class visits slots planned and a host of fun activities for the children to enjoy. At the end of their visit, the children will receive a note from the ‘Bank of Blackhall’ and will take home a book.

Central Library
Central Library and Central Children’s will both have special World Book Day displays.

Currie Library
Currie Library –  will be running a Bookbug as usual in the morning, followed by two storytimes (one for 3-6’s and one for 7-10’s) and two drop-in crafts. They will also be asking children to find ‘Wally’ to win stickers.

Fountainbridge and Balgreen Libraries
Fountainbridge and Balgreen Libraries are working together with classes and local community groups to create a very special video which will be revealed on World Book Day on their social media pages.
Fountainbridge also has a storytelling session on World Book Day for 7 to 11 years old, from 3.45 to 4.15pm.

Moredun Library
Moredun Library are having a World Book Day party on Thursday 3 March from 3.30 to 4.30pm. There will be a book treasure hunt, quizzes, a book cover competition, word games and activities. (Spaces are limited and will be allocated on a first come, first served basis.)

Morningside Library
Morningside will have an adult’s staff favourites, an adult’s book quiz and three books read in a foreign language, French, Greek and Africaans. Follow the fun on their Facebook page.
They’ll also be running a picture book cover quiz for children on Facebook.

Muirhouse Library
Muirhouse Library are pairing up with their local nursery for a range of stories and crafts.

Oxgangs Library
Oxgangs – will be hosting library sessions in the local primary school.

Portobello Library
Portobello Library will be having a World Book Day books treasure hunt, a picture book quiz for toddlers and their parents/carers, a colour in competition for 3-5 years and another for 6+ years.

Ratho Library
Ratho – will be hosting library sessions in the local primary school.

Sighthill Library
Sighthill – will be hosting library sessions in the local primary school.

Wester Hailes Library
Wester Hailes are reaching out to local primary schools for class visits to the library around World Book Day.
They’ll have some children’s resources (quiz & craft packs) available to pick up from the library too.

School Library Activities

Forrester’s High School
Forrester’s High School have Blackwell’s Bookshop supplying the £1 books and will have various activities (bookmark making / word searches / origami) going on over the whole week. All S1-3 classes can take part and their feature competition this year is a staff masked reader.

Wester Hailes High School
For World Book Day, Ms Prince is doing a presentation for S1 – 3 classes during their reading periods to highlight the fantastic ebook and audiobook resources available via Libby. She has vouchers and a handful of the WBD £1 books to give out as well.

James Gillespie’s High School
James Gillespie’s High School will celebrate with book themed competitions and a display of reader recommendations.

Holy Rood High School
Holy Rood High School will be running competitions across the school during the whole week, and we have a Book Sale courtesy of Blackwell’s Book Shop plus 300 of the £1 books to hand out to S1 and S2 pupils and enough £1 vouchers for everyone else!

Boroughmuir High School
S1 will be celebrating their reading journey and joining in with a book themed bingo.

Gracemount High School
Over the course of the day, Mrs Babbs will be hosting Book Pictionary – to highlight new stock, book tasting – S1 & P7’s, book displays – launch of displays by Nat 5 retail pupils and the £1 World Book Day Book Giveaway.

Liberton High School
Mrs Browne has lots of events planned including Masked Reader, staff dress up – fiction character, Read Or Be Read To, along with the launch of a football themed reading challenge.
Liberton and Gracemount will also both be running a silver themed book hunt to celebrate 25 years of World Book Day.

Winter wellbeing

January is a time of renewal, reflection, and looking forward to brighter days. Winter invites us to slow down and take stock. So, as we head into this new year, Library Resource Management have curated four Health and Wellbeing collections that will be available at Stockbridge, Morningside, Portobello, and Wester Hailes Libraries.

Whether you want to learn practical tips, take a more mindful approach to yourself and your wellbeing, or if you want to keep up with your new year’s resolutions, here is just a glimpse into some of the titles available…

Learn about the workings of the mind
This Too Shall Pass by Julia Samuel – Samuel is a psychotherapist and grief specialist. Her book is comprised of intimate portraits of the people she’s worked with. Charting their progress as each client goes through a hard but transformative period in their lives.

The Orchid and the Dandelion by W Thomas Boyce – This book describes how four fifths of children are ‘dandelions,’ and able to succeed in most environments, whilst one fifth fall into the category of ‘orchids.’ Orchids are more sensitive to the world and have a higher biological stress response, but if they’re nurtured sensitively then they have the potential for great success.

I’m Not Crazy I’m Just not You by Roger R. Pearman and Sarah C Albritton – Most of us know if we’re introverted or extroverted, but are you thinking or feeling? Judging or perceiving? Understand yourself on a deeper level by learning all about your specific personality type – from Myers Briggs to Carl Jung. Our personalities shape our values, how we move around in the world, and underpin all our relationships.

Learn practical tips
Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers – In this popular book Jeffers urges us to take risks, take responsibility, and realise that whichever direction life turns, ‘you can handle it.’

When Likes Aren’t Enough by Tim Bono – It’s been proven that with increased social media usage our happiness decreases. This book offers tips on ‘attention training’ and ‘time management’ to improve our overall happiness.

Why We Get Mad: how to use your anger for positive change by Dr. Ryan Martin – What is anger? And who is allowed to get angry? Everyone gets angry sometimes, yet anger remains an often misunderstood and stigmatised emotion. This book includes techniques and tools to help manage anger in a positive way.

Rest and be mindful
Niksen: Embracing the Dutch art of doing nothing by Olga Mecking – This is perfect if you’re a fan of The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. Let go of worried thoughts and watch the clouds go by! The Dutch have proven that taking time out to do nothing at all helps with overall concentration and wellbeing.

The Art of Rest by Claudia Hammond – Hammond explores the top ten ‘most restful’ activities, from reading to watching TV to having a bath. Spoiler: Reading rates very highly…

Get out into nature
Wintering by Katherine May – If you find this time of year hard, learn to embrace the velvety darkness of winter with this book. A meditation on the quiet joys that winter brings and the importance of a season of rest and reflection.

By the Sea: The therapeutic benefits of being in, on and by the water by Dr Deborah Cracknell – Have you been for a dip yet this year? Many of us know the sea to have a replenishing, calming and even spiritual effect. Dive into this title and explore the emotional and physical benefits of being close to water.

Eat well
The dopamine diet by Tom Kerridge – Kerridge is a Michelin star chef, in this book he focuses on ingredients that are known to release dopamine (the happiness hormone) in your brain. Eating healthily doesn’t mean giving up the joy of food.

Broke Vegan by Saskia Sidey – Fancy trying Veganuary? Whether you’re a vegan or not, eating one or two vegan meals a week is proven to be beneficial for the environment. Sidey has compiled over 100 plant-based recipes for vegans on a budget.

Pop into one of the four libraries for the full selection or reserve a title online and pick up at your nearest reopened library.

Czytaj PL!

Join readers across Poland, and read polish language titles from the Woblink e-book platform.

Poster of 12 Polish Language ebooks

You can download these 12 bestsellers from 2-30 November 2021 and enjoy them for free using this QR code.

QR code to access 12 downloadable Polish Language books

1. Kornel Filipowicz „Formikarium”

2. Anna Kańtoch „Wiosna zaginionych

3. Tomasz Lem „Awantura na tle powszechnego ciążenia”

4. Stanisław Lem „Fantastyczny Lem. Antologia opowiadań według czytelników”

5. Aleksandra Lipczak „Lajla znaczy noc”

6. Robert Małecki „Żałobnica”

7. Tomasz Michniewicz „Chwilowa anomalia”

8. Marcin Mortka „Nie ma tego złego”

9. Dionisios Sturis „Gorzkie pomarańcze”)

10. Beata Szady „Dziobak literatury. Reportaże latynoamerykańskie”

11. Robert J. Szmidt „Per aspera ad astra”

12. Magdalena Witkiewicz „Srebrna łyżeczka”

ReadPL! is a strategic project as part of the Krakow UNESCO City of Literature program, aimed to address low rates of reading in Poland and among Polish communities abroad, and the issue of reaching new and younger readers, who increasingly use technology.

Visit the Czytaj PL website for more information.

What libraries mean to me with Heidi James

In our latest library Q & A session, we ask writer Heidi James, what libraries mean to her.

Heidi James is the author of novels, Wounding, So the Doves and The Sound Mirror and the novella, The Mesmerist’s Daughter. She has had poetry published in many journals and has a PHD in English Literature.

Portrait of Heidi James
Heidi James

What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as a reader and as an author? Are the meanings different? 
The library was, and I mean this without exaggeration, a life saver for me. My teenage single mum was skint, I was book-mad from an early age (I was reading from age 3) and our weekly visit to the library after we’d done the shop was magic for us. The luxury of lingering in the warm safe quiet, savouring the sweet dusty scent while choosing books couldn’t be beat. It’s staggering that they are under threat considering that they provide so much more than books for the community that is absolutely essential.  

My relationship with libraries has changed throughout my life. I used to hide out in the library and read all day when I was teenager bunking off school, learning more than my lessons could convey. As a student, they contained the vital and mysterious sources of knowledge I was desperate for and felt I would never be able to understand or discuss. As a writer and someone who spends a lot of time alone, libraries maintain a contact point with others, they are a beneficent host, offering a feast of thought and connection.  

What is your earliest library memory? 
With my mum (see above) holding a book in the queue to check it out, staring out the huge floor to ceiling windows at the river Medway. It was raining, and I remember not wanting to leave.  

Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?
I’m very lucky that I have access to books and the peace and space to read them, so I’m not struggling. I know my local library [Crawley in West Sussex] is closed for in-person browsing but you can browse the catalogue online, reserve and then collect, which is great. They also have digital copies available. I think what’s so difficult for many at the moment is not having the peace/time/space to read what with many families being together all the time and of course, the library provides so much more than books. I wouldn’t presume to offer advice, but Twitter can be great for book lovers, lots of us are on there talking about books we love, sharing recommendations and support. 

A lot of people are struggling to read books right now. They have time, but they find their attention span shattered by the strange and frightening situation we’re in. What are you reading at the moment? What books would you recommend to those struggling to read?
I completely relate to this, and I find myself feeling frustrated and angry with myself for ‘wasting’ time, but I’ve realised that’s pointless and that being unable to focus is entirely justified. What’s helped me is reading lots of short stories (many great ones available online too); particular favourites are by Wendy Erskine, Maria Fernanda Ampuero and Kathryn Scanlan. The Common Breath, Visual Verse and 3:AM all have great stories online.  

I’ve also been reading lots of books about nature and listening to podcasts. That’s really helped. 

Are you able to write at the moment? Would you recommend writing as a way to get through this time? What are some gentle easy writing exercises that people can give themselves at this time?
I am, but the lack of attention and sense of unease isn’t helping! It’s slow going to be honest, but it is what it is! I would keep a journal, and be patient with yourself. Just writing short passages describing what you can see from your window or on your walk, writing down thoughts and worries, your response to something on the TV or a conversation is all good work. It’s exercising the writing muscle and you may find you uncover a rich seam of ideas and if not, it doesn’t matter. 

How can we connect, as librarians, borrowers, readers and writers when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement, or do we need more? How powerful is the written word right now? 
Social media is proving to be really vital at the moment, and while it can’t replace that connection we have in real life, it’s at least maintaining those links. I wouldn’t want to put more pressure on anyone at the moment – we’re all doing our best (well, most people are!). I can’t imagine a world without books, without stories; as humans we understand ourselves, others and the world we are in through stories we tell or are told.  

With huge thanks to Heidi for talking to us about what libraries mean to her.

You can borrow her novels, Wounding and So the doves as ebooks via Overdrive/Libby app.

A fantastical Big Library Read

Join millions of others around the world in reading a fantastic young adult fantasy novel during the Big Library Read, the world’s largest digital book club. From 2-16 November, readers can borrow and read Tim Ryan La Sala’s wildly imaginative ebook or audiobook  Reverie from our OverDrive service. Travel to other worlds with your library card and no waiting lists, with the Libby app or by visiting our OverDrive website. You can even discuss the book online.

Find out what happens when the secret worlds people hide within themselves come to light. All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember anything since an accident robbed him of his memories a few weeks ago. And the world feels different—reality itself seems different.

So when three of his classmates claim to be his friends and the only people who can tell him what’s truly going on, he doesn’t know what to believe or who he can trust. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere, Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident, and only he can stop their world from unraveling.

The book will be available on the home page of the Libby/OverDrive apps and the OverDrive website from the 2 November and with unlimited downloads is perfect for discussing with your friends and family. Full instructions for using OverDrive can be found on our Your Library website.

The joy of rereading

Today’s blogpost is by Central Library’s Hope Whitmore, where she explores the joys and need to re-read beloved books.

“When I was a child, led into Kendal Library, holding my father’s hand, I looked up from my three foot something height at the shelves around me, and declared, grandly, ‘I will read all the books and then I will know everything in the world!’ 

Working in Edinburgh Central Library I would remember this, the wonder of so many books, and the way it seemed possible, to a five-year-old me, that these could be devoured. As a librarian I would see new books every day, not only the New new books, which went on the red trolley (unpacking and receipting these was one of my favourite tasks) but also new-to-me-books, the ones which had somehow (how?) remained hidden, even as I shelved trolleys and book checked. The main library was full of new discoveries to be made, slim little paperbacks, not previously noted, or huge tomes, somehow previously overlooked.

But, however much excitement I feel on discovering a new book, however thrilling it is to go down to the basement, cut open the boxes, remove the padding and reveal a box of gorgeous just published hardbacks, I am not staying true to my five-year-old self, rather, I have found myself lately going back to old familiar books, those I loved as a child, or in my early twenties, or even more recently than that.

Before lockdown I took out several books, and throughout lockdown have bought many others, but most of them remain unread, put to one side, in favour of the familiar novels I know and love, the rhythms of which I can follow, the beats of the story like the next note in a well-loved song.

Why, when surrounded by choice, do I do this? What happened to the child, who wanted to know all the things? And why do others reread books, particularly at times when things are hard. I set out to find out.

I put out a call on Social Media asking people why do you reread. Many cited familiarity as a reason to return to old books – the comfort of a story you know, the control of knowing what will happen, the pleasure of anticipation, the joy of remembering something suddenly, or pre-empting what is on the next page, with all the uncertainty and fallibility which comes with human memory (which way did this chapter lead, is this path how I remember it?) One friend, said ‘rereading gives comfort akin to rosary beads.’ Another friend wrote, ‘there is reassurance in knowing how something will end.’

There is also, however, the element of having changed, and therefore the book – seemingly once so beautiful, so strange, so romantic – having a different texture. ‘I first read Lolita when I was Lolita’s age,’ said one friend, ‘it reads totally differently reading it at the age of the character Humbert Humbert.’ 

At different ages, our life experience gives us different lenses. My favourite series of all time, The Cazalet Chronicles, follows a family with characters of all ages. You get to be so many different people, from the stubborn Louise who longs to play Hamlet, the beautiful but unhappy Zoe, to the lonely, lovely, dowdy Miss Milliment with stains on her clothes, and her glasses always hazy from the food she drops on them. Whichever stage of life you are at, you can ‘get’ the characters. 

In one of The Cazalet Books, I believe it is marking time, Clary, the imaginative little girl with always bitten nails begins to grow up, and speaks about reading for the sake of ‘meeting old friends again.’ This comes at a time when Clary feels lost. Her father, Rupert, is lost in France following the Normandy landings, presumed dead. She therefore seeks refuge in books, and the familiar friendship of these characters whose stories she knows, and who she can turn to again and again. These people are flawed, complex, human, and beloved, but on the page they don’t change, even as we do.

Perhaps this is what leads us to reread. Many people cite familiarity, in a world where things are looking far from familiar, with a lens, which is coloured by current events and different than any lens through which we have read before. Maybe, when we are so altered, so unsure, so lost, even, we need to reach for these old friends, to open their books, and greet them once again, ready to run the familiar, wild, overgrown paths, and hear their stories told anew.”

Join in with the Big Library Read

Join millions of others around the world in reading a historical fiction thriller during the Big Library Read, the world’s largest digital book club. From 3-17 August, readers can borrow and read Tim Mason’s “intellectually stimulating and viscerally exciting” ebook or audiobook The Darwin Affair from our OverDrive service. Solve the mystery from home – with your library card and no waiting lists, with the Libby app or by visiting our OverDrive website. You can even discuss the book online.

Historical fiction novel The Darwin Affair takes place in London during June 1860. When an assassination attempt is made on Queen Victoria, and a petty thief is gruesomely murdered moments later, Detective Inspector Charles Field quickly surmises that these crimes are connected to an even more sinister plot. Soon, Field’s investigation exposes a shocking conspiracy in which the publication of Charles Darwin’s controversial On the Origin of Species sets off a string of murders, arson, kidnapping, and the pursuit of a madman named the Chorister. As he edges closer to the Chorister, Field uncovers dark secrets that were meant to remain forever hidden. Tim Mason has created a rousing page-turner that both Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would relish!

The book will be available on the home page of the Libby/OverDrive apps and the OverDrive website from the 3 August and with unlimited downloads is perfect for discussing with your friends and family. If you use #biglibraryread on social media you’ll be entered into a draw to win a Samsung Galaxy Tablet!  Full instructions for using OverDrive can be found on our Your Library website.

What books are staff reading to help them through the lockdown?

We asked staff at Central Library to tell us a bit about the books they’ve been reading that have helped them through lockdown.

It turns out we’ve got a bit of a Marian Keyes fan club with a number of us reading her books that so engagingly tackle complex and difficult subjects with humour. Depression, alcoholism, bulimia, being broke, being unlucky in love … you name it … why are we reading about all these topics just now?

Fiona who’s been reading The Mystery of Mercy Close says `the reason it helps is basically because of the humour in it even though the main character suffers from depression’. Lesley is just starting on The Break, Joanna is reading Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married and Bronwen’s reading Grown Ups and says `I can be in someone else’s life while I’m reading; I love the characters and even though the book portrays real personal suffering, I’m laughing out loud one minute and crying the next’.  So thank you Marian Keyes – your writing is clearly helping us pull through. All of the Marian Keyes books noted are available from Edinburgh City Libraries’ RBdigital audiobook service.

Some books we read help us put our troubles in perspective. Doris’ last two are American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins and Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara.

Doris says “Both reminded me that as challenging as things are with lockdown –  the situation could be so much worse! Djinn Patrol deals with poverty and the slums in India and is heartbreaking yet is told with a deft sense of humour by the main character Jai. I loved the first 100 pages of American Dirt but must admit, I found it a bit implausible, as misery upon misery was heaped on the protagonists as the book progressed.”

Sometimes we want to read old favourites. Joanna has gone back to re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld stories. She says they are a “total escape from everyday problems and a lot of fun”. Discworld is a parallel time and place which might sound and smell like our own but looks completely different. Start with The Colour of Magic.

Historical stories set in difficult times can provide a sense of perspective on today. After reading a magazine article about the history of Agony Aunt columns, Clare found a suggested read, Dear Mrs Bird by A.J. Pearce on Overdrive. “Set during the London Blitz, it doesn’t avoid the hardships and destruction experienced on the home front, yet manages to be light-hearted and optimistic in tone. The  characters have setbacks but refuse to be beaten by events. Every day routine, worries, friendships and romances carry on. It was the perfect, easy, uplifting book I needed right now.”

A bit of time can also see you getting round to a book you’ve thought about reading. Jeanette says:
“During lockdown, I read a book I’ve meant to get to for ages, which is This Is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay. I might be the one of the few people in the country to not to have read this book since it was written in 2017 to great acclaim. It’s a collection of Kay’s secret diary entries which he wrote whilst working as a junior doctor. As a woman of a certain age, experiencing hot flushes and insomnia, I started to read it at 3am one dark morning, hoping it would help me drift back to sleep. I could not have been more wrong. It is both hilarious and shocking from the offset, filled with the author’s experiences of working on the front line of the NHS. By the time I had reached page 22, an account involving objects stuck in orifices, the book had to be put down as I was unable to stifle the laughter any longer and was in danger of waking my sleeping partner up!

This is not a book for the faint hearted or easily offended: strong language is used throughout, there are details of gruesome injuries that made me cringe, truly heartbreaking stories about births and deaths, and “a constant tsunami of bodily fluids” throughout. That said, it is an important book for all of us and especially now, as it is an eye opener, and insight into our essential yet underfunded and overstretched NHS.

After the first 22 pages, I took the book downstairs where it became my day time read. I could laugh out loud all I wanted to it, and also shed a tear as it is genuinely devastating in parts. I’ve finished the book now, but have gone back to it and from time to time read the funny bits to my partner and son which always raises a laugh. I have come to ‘This Is Going to Hurt’ late but I’m glad I did because it’s been a fantastic and uplifting addition to my time in lockdown.”
This is going to hurt is available to borrow as an audiobook and ebook.

Tell us what you’ve been reading in lockdown and how it’s helped.


Friday book quiz: round 3 (the answers)

The answers to the third round in the Friday book quiz from the Library Resource Management Team are below.

1. From which language is the novel “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” translated?
a) French
b) Czech
c) Italian

2. With which title did Salman Rushdie win the Booker prize?
a) Moor’s Last Sigh
b) Satanic verses
c) Midnight’s Children

3. In what publication was Wilkie Collins’ novel “The Woman in White” first serialised?
a) All the Year Round 
b) Bentley’s Miscellany
c) Household Words


4. What is the profession of C.J. Sansom’s character Shardlake?
a) Doctor
b) Lawyer
c) Soldier

5. Olive Kitteridge is married to a
a) Pharmacist
b) Teacher
c) Piano player


6. Complete the title of Sue Black’s book “All that remains”
a) A life in death
b) Life after death
c) Death is not the end

7. What is the name of the Labrador in Kate Atkinson’s novel “Big Sky”
a) Hercules
b) Barney
c) Dido

8. Who features in “Elizabeth is Missing”?
a) Maud
b) Eleanor
c) Sybil

9. In “His Bloody Project” by Graeme Macrae Burnet from what village is Roderick Macrae?
a) Cullen
b) Culbokie
c) Culduie

10. In which novel by Jane Austen does the following quote appear?
“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid”.
a) Persuasion
b) Northanger Abbey
c) Sense and Sensibility

Friday book quiz: round 2 (the answers)

The answers to round two of the Friday book quiz are revealed below. Come back on Friday for round three.

1. Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South – in which novel?
a) Where the crawdads sing
b) Queenie
c) An American marriage 

2. Which creature features in the title of this Maja Lunde’s novel?
The history of people
b) The history of bees
c) The history of unicorns

3. “A natural” deals with the struggles of a young footballer, the author is?
a) Ross Raisin
b) Andy Apple
c) Fraser Fish

4. “Stories of the law and how it’s broken” is the subtitle of which novel?
Crime and punishment
b) The cases of Taggart
c) The secret barrister 

5. Which novel deals with the disappearance of three pupils from Appleyard College and the aftermath from this?
Ghost wall
b) The Van Apfel girls are gone
c) Picnic at hanging rock 

6. The “Salt path” by Raynor Winn follows the coastal path from where in the UK?
a) Somerset to Dorset 
b) Kent to Hampshire
c) Lincolnshire to Northumbria

7. Witold Pilecki is the subject of which award winning book by Jack Fairweather?
a) The survivor
b) The volunteer 
c) The hero

8. Which of the following is the title of a novel by Charlie Mackesy
The boy, the fox, the badger and the horse
b) The boy, the goldfish, the fox and the horse
c) The boy, the mole, the fox and the horse 

9. Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are the main characters in which novel by Hallie Rubenhold?
The girls
b) The five 
c) The circle

10. Which workplace features in the title of this Joanne Ramos novel?
a) The farm
b) The office
c) The factory

Hundreds of books delivered to vulnerable Edinburgh families in isolation

Families with vulnerable children who are shielding at home in Edinburgh are to have hundreds of books delivered to their doorsteps thanks to a new charity partnership.

Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity (ECHC) – which supports the Royal Hospital for Sick Children – has teamed up with Edinburgh Libraries to help children and their siblings feed their imaginations while shielding for 12 weeks.

Edinburgh Libraries’ Book Bus

With libraries currently closed, Edinburgh Libraries has made available a Book Bus filled with around 1800 books for children and young people to ECHC. The bus will be stationed at the charity’s office, where volunteer delivery drivers will collect book packages and deliver them to local families who are known to the Sick Kids hospital on a regular basis. Through the book deliveries, the charity aims to bring fun and distraction to children and to help improve their mental wellbeing during lockdown.

The book delivery service has also been made possible thanks to generous sponsorship from Baillie Gifford.

Caroline Leishman has been shielding her family of three boys for eight weeks as her youngest son is on active treatment for Leukaemia.

She said: “Coming up with new and exciting ways to keep everyone occupied and distracted while also looking after a clinically vulnerable child becomes a little bit harder as each week goes by.

“It was such a relief when the book parcel from ECHC arrived on our doorstep. The kids were so excited to open it and discover all the new books they had to read which gave us some much needed breathing space!

“Books are such a wonderful resource for children who are shielding. They let their imaginations run wild so they can go on all sorts of fantastic adventures without ever leaving the safety of home.”

Book bags ready to be delivered

Roslyn Neely, CEO of ECHC, said: “We know from our work in the hospital that taking part in fun and creative activities that feed the imagination is the best way to take away children’s fear and feelings of isolation when they are unwell.

“It must be unimaginably tough for children and their siblings having to shield at home when they already face significant health challenges. We know the power of storytelling and the benefits that brings to children in hospital so we’re positive it will have the same effect in the home.

“We believe that nothing should get in the way of being a child. Even though they can’t physically be out and about in the world right now, children have a huge appetite for adventure and there’s a whole world of creativity and magic in their imaginations.

“Bringing books to their doorsteps through this wonderful partnership with Edinburgh Libraries is a great way to ensure they still have access to that. We’re also so grateful to Baillie Gifford for their sponsorship and to all our volunteer drivers for making this possible.”

City of Edinburgh Council Leader Adam McVey said: “We’re delighted we can help families known to the Sick Kids and thanks to our library team who have been superb. One of our mobile libraries is filled with about 1,800 children’s books so what better way of putting these books to good use.

“Books are a wonderful resource and will really help families having to self-isolate in their homes for 12 weeks. Reading as a family is a joy and can help to improve well-being – a recent study found that six minutes of reading can reduce stress levels by 60%. This is a great example showing how working together with partners in the city can respond to the needs of our communities.”

Book deliveries are one of a number of things that ECHC is doing to support children and families during the pandemic, all of which are being delivered safely in line with government restrictions during this time. All books that are returned to the Book Bus will be held on board for 72 hours for infection control before being recirculated.

Staff preparing the Book bus and bags

The charity is also distributing Emergency Care Packs of food and essential supplies, toiletries and arts and activity items. Families known to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children who would like any of the emergency care packs on offer are asked to contact Leigh at ECHC on 0131 668 4949 or leigh.drake@echcharity.org.

If you wish, you can make a donation to ECHC’s Emergency COVID-19 Appeal online.

What libraries mean to me with Val McDermid

Crime writer Val McDermid is a perpetual favourite with Edinburgh Library borrowers. Her books, with their atmospheric covers and poetic titles, tell stories of crime, justice and retribution in Scotland. She has also written an updated Jane Austen novel, set during the Edinburgh Festival, Northanger Abbey, and picture book My Granny is a Pirate.

A long term champion of books and libraries, here McDermid tells us what libraries mean to her, and why the written word is what will ultimately carry us through.

Val McDermid, photograph by KT Bruce

What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as a reader, and as a writer? Are the meanings different?
When I go in to the library with my borrower’s card, I feel like Little Jack Horner with his pudding and pie – I stick in my thumb and pull out a plum! There’s always a moment where I encounter something new, and that’s half of the pleasure of reading.

As a writer, libraries have been a huge part of learning my craft. Not just by experiencing the work of other writers and stealing their tricks, but also as a place for research. I started publishing back in the days before Google, when research meant physically searching reference sections, calling up books from the stacks and inter-library loans. And there are still times when only a library will do. Newspaper archives, for example, are a nightmare to search online. The indices of historical biographies lead to all sorts of interesting paths! So I still see them as a valuable resource.

What is your earliest library memory?
When I was a toddler in Kirkcaldy, my mum used to push me across our sprawling council estate to the Templehall Library where she would read me picture books and nursery rhymes.

Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?
I’m frustrated because I’ve got an idea for something new and I need the National Library of Scotland’s archives to help me develop it.

For regular library users, I’d recommend discovering what digital resources your library offers – audio books, ebooks etc. Find an online book group that shares your tastes, or challenge yourself with one that doesn’t!

The hard thing is finding something to compensate for the social life of the library. These days, libraries offer so much more than access to books!

A lot of people are struggling to read books right now. They have time, but they find their attention span shattered by the strange and frightening situation we’re in. What are you reading at the moment? What books would you recommend to those struggling to read?
Even the First Minister, a devotee of fiction, is admitting to finding it a struggle right now. I’m doing a mix of old favourites and the new books that still keep arriving through my letter box. What always works when all else fails are short stories. You’ll find all sorts of treats here. Favourite authors often have collections of short stories, and I return to Ali Smith, Katherine Mansfield, Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Isaac Asimov and PG Wodehouse regularly, among several others. And perhaps the perfect book for right now is James Robertson’s 365 – a story a day for a year, each one exactly 365 words long!

This question is from Bronwen who runs the Art and Design Library, and is connected to the question above. Is it better to read a challenging book or a comforting one at this time?
It’s a matter for personal choice. Read what you fancy, is my motto. And if a book hasn’t grabbed you by page 20, swap it for something that does! I’m enjoying a mix of comfort and challenge right now, and unusually for me, I’ve got a couple of books on the go at once. One of which is always either an old friend or a new book from an author I know I can trust!

Are you able to write at the moment? Would you recommend writing as a way to get through this time? What are some gentle easy writing exercises that people can give themselves at this time?
I am writing – this is the time of year when I always write the current book. But I am making slower progress than usual. It’s harder to concentrate for long periods, I find. At this time of year, I do very few events normally so I can concentrate on writing. But paradoxically, this year I have had more calls on my time than ever before!

Most of us are taking advantage of the daily outside exercise where we can. I find I’m noticing things I’d not picked up on before. A writing exercise I’d suggest is composing a few paragraphs – or a poem, if that’s what you prefer – about something you’ve noticed on your walk, run or bike ride. If you can’t get outdoors, spend some time looking out of the window, paying attention to what or who you see. Writing about something outside yourself offers more resources – and it can also be a useful way of reflecting your thoughts and feelings.

How can we connect, as librarians, borrowers, readers and writers when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement, or do we need more? How powerful is the written word right now?
Social media is doing a great job of making us feel connected, and of forming new connections. But it’s not a replacement for human company and contact. Screen time is also, strangely, more tiring than face-to-face encounters. However, making the most of what it can do will carry us through this. And when it’s all over, we will appreciate old – and new – friends so much more.

In the meantime, the written word can be our comfort and our companion.

With huge thanks to Val McDermid and to Hope our #stayathome interviewer from Central Lending Library.

Friday book quiz – round 1

Just for fun, our Library Resource Management Team have set you a quick book quiz!

The answers will be revealed on Monday’s blog. And come back next Friday for another round of questions.

1. Which of the following is a book by David Peace, author of “The damned united”?
a) Patient X
Ground zero
Guinea pig

2. “The house by the loch” is a title by which Scottish personality?
Sarah Smith
b) Kirsty Wark
c) Chris Hoy

3. Which of the following is a title by Elif Shafak?
a) 10 minutes 38 seconds in this strange world
b) 10 minutes 39 seconds in this strange world
c) 10 minutes 40 seconds in this strange world

4. What is the missing word from the title of this Doug Johnstone book, “A dark “?
b) Chocolate
c) Matter 

5. According to Oyinkan Braithewaite who is a serial killer?
a) My brother
b) My sister
c) My mother

6. What colour of coat does the man have in the recent title by Julian Barnes?
b) Blue
c) Red

7. According to Manda Scott, what do you call a group of spies?
a) A cloak of spies
b) A treachery of spies
A zone of spies

8. From which scandinavian country does Thomas Erikson, the author of “surrounded by idiots”, come from?
a) Sweden
b) Denmark
c) Norway

9. Which Adrian Tchaikovsky novel is described here: “Beneath its baneful light, Shadrapar, last of all cities, harbours fewer than 100,000 human souls. Built on the ruins of countless civilisations, Shadrapar is a museum, an asylum, a prison on a world that is ever more alien to humanity. Bearing witness to the desperate struggle for existence between life old and new is Stefan Advani: rebel, outlaw, survivor”?
a) Cage of souls
b) Children of ruin
c) Walking to Aldebaran

10. Jean McConville is the subject of which book by Patrick Keefe?
a) Do nothing
b) Say nothing
c) Hear nothing

What libraries mean to me with Douglas Wright

In our latest Q & A session we talk to Douglas Wright, library adviser in the Music and Art and Design team at Central Library.

Douglas Wright from the Music and Art and Design team.

What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as a music lover, musician and reader?
It is a bit of a cliche to say that a library gives you a world of choice or enables you to chose from the world, but it does. You can choose to be with old friends or make new ones. The old friends are the novels and classics that we all return to, to read or listen to, time and again or the new friends like the Sean O’Boyle’s Concerto for Digeridoo found on Naxos.

We use Naxos streaming service at work and I also use it at home. What I have noticed that I have in common with my colleagues in the Music Department is, when we switch on Naxos I the morning we go to the ‘Recently Added’ page and just choose anything from there. Often they are great treats like the Digeradoo Concerto but sometimes we are forced to think again. Like a Beatles /Bach Mash up which didn’t make it to my playlist.

As a music lover I have been part of a team who have been able to promote live music making in the library. We have also had many author talks by musicians or on musical topics, all of which have been a thrill to be part of. The team’s involvement in Make Music Day 2019 was a highlight, I think, for us all. Make Music Day 2019 was also the first time I had played my Ukulele in public and the first time in a long time I had done anything as a musician.

It was nice to dip my toe.

The biggest thing the library has done for me is introduce me to ebooks and I am a huge convert. For the past five years my wife and I have kept a list of our reading for the year. I have always tried to source all my books from my library but I look first to see if we have a copy of the book I wish to read on Overdrive, our ebook service, so I can have it on my phone and effectively have it with me all the time. I have just made myself aware that I have my music, my ebooks and my audiobooks on my phone so I carry the library or a library with me all the time, I think I need to question my own reliance on my phone, but that’s for another day.

What is your earliest library memory?
I was born and lived in Park Road, Kelvinbridge in Glasgow till I was eighteen. Kelvinbridge which is in between St. George’s Cross, Hillhead and Maryhill. On Saturday mornings, we, my Mum, Dad and brother would walk the short distance to St. George’s Cross in Glasgow where we would shop, pay bills, pay some money to my dad’s tailor account and then go to Woodside Library which was beside Jimmy Logan’s Metropole Theatre. My Mum and Dad would leave us in the children’s section and go and choose their selection for the week. I seem to remember that we had three tickets so we would make our small selection which at that time, for me, were books like Paddington, The Wombles and The Famous Five. From then on, I have a sketchy relationship with libraries.

Drifting in and out of love with them, spending years never going near one and then at other times never being out of them.

My relationship with Central Library really started when I had children and started using the Children’s Library. My children are now 26 and 22 so that was a little while ago. Often, if we were all at the library I would sneak downstairs to the Music Library and then as the children got older, we would all sneak downstairs, to chose our music.

Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?
There are many things I am struggling with and without at the moment. I have to say until asked that question, the Library or a library was not one of them. Now thinking about it, I think it is the thing I have been trying not to think about, I have been for the past few weeks distracting myself with things, tasks and ‘shiny objects’. Trying not to think about that bit of my day that’s missing, my ‘normal’. I have gone down a bit of a road there and to try now and get back to the things, tasks and shiny objects.

I have not been reading as much as I did but I have discovered the joy of audiobooks. I installed the BorrowBox and uLIBRARY apps and have listened to a number of books, which allows me to potter about our flat, as Bing Crosby says, “busy doing nothing working the whole day through, trying to find lots of things not to do”. So the advice would be, always listen to Bing, he will know what to do. I try not to throw advice about, there are people worth listening to, and that’s not me. Seriously, Bing, listen to him.

I am not a great fan of the 21st century, despite my increasing reliance on my phone, and it is not great for me – as a Library adviser who is there to look after and ready our physical collection for our membership to borrow – it is not great for me to say that we have a wonderful set of services online with a lot of those services able to answer to your needs 24 hours a day. We do, and for a lot of people, they have never been more important.

Having said all that, one thing that is said to us, the Music and Art and Design team, most often, is how much people, our membership, enjoy dealing with a person, in the library. That is of no solace at this time and if we are struggling without our library, the only real consolation we can have is that this will end, and hopefully for most of us it will end peacefully and will return to something nearer to a kind of normal.

A lot of people are struggling just now – music has the capacity to soothe by reflecting our emotions but also to challenge – what do you recommend as a music lover to those that are struggling?
One person’s soothing balm is another’s annoyance, So recommending something comes with dangers. My go-to favourites might not be to other people’s liking. I might pick Shostakovich who offers beautiful tunes within edgy, prickly, early 20th century Russian angst, but that is not everybody’s taste. I am also quite stuck with classical music, well, classical music from the romantic era. I once heard John Amis, music critic and broadcaster, talking about music and putting forward the thought that, as one ages music lovers gravitate more to Mozart and leave the youthful romantics in their past. I am about to enter my 59th year and I am still waiting to appreciate Mozart.

The great classical/Romantic composer of my choice would be that lovable cranky, cantankerous, angry, curmudgeon Beethoven. All things I aspire to be – cranky, cantankerous, curmudgeonly and angry – I look forward to all of those traits in my unapologetic dotage.

I have also been pushing myself to other genres, I have tried and enjoyed some of the works of Miles Davis, jazz trumpet legend and I have, strangely, for the past few months, been listening to country music. Recently, I watched a major BBC 4 documentary series on country music and I listened to some of the artists featured in that. That could, of course, be a throwback to my father’s record collection, which included country and western, folk and some dodgy sectarian accordion bands.

On Radio 4, there is a segment of a show called ‘Inheritance Tracks’ in which people describe a piece of music which has been handed down to them and which they hand on to someone they love. I am pleased to say that I have already achieved that with a song by Johnny Cash, the great country and western singer/songwriter, called “A Boy Named SUE” which I got from my father. I played this to my son years ago and he loved it and thought it funny, and it is still on one of his play lists.

Whichever way you inherit your music there are pieces of music which are given to you, which you connect with, somebody or something or an event or a time, place when you were happy, sad, anxious. A song which evokes a memory of a loved one or a beloved thing or in my case I song I sang whilst nappy changing.

Music tinged with emotions which perhaps might be too strong to be dealt with at this time. Can I say the best piece of advice I was ever given was, never listen to advice. Although, that was said about child rearing, but apply it to your music choices. Go to our Naxos website and chose the first CD cover that jumps out at you not because you have heard of the composer or artist but because the CD cover is yellow like the sun or it has your favourite word in the title.

I am reluctant to suggest anything except, try anything, and if you don’t like it, try something else and keep trying till you find the things, book, songs, symphonies, opera which will be your new or old friends.

Are you listening to music just now? What are you listening to? What would you recommend as a way through?
This is now going to be a large cop out, I am listening to music at the moment but I realised I haven’t actually chosen anything. I have been listening to BBC Radio 3 or to Classic FM, so, letting others choose for me and it has been wonderful. I have listened to a programme about building your CD library, one which was focused on the wonderful Symphony of Psalms by Stravinsky, a work I had forgotten I had studied years ago for my Higher Music and I was amazed how much I remembered. I listened to a strange production of an Opera by Cherubini. Lunchtime concerts of string music and operas in the afternoon. At this very moment the Bavarian Radio Chorus are singing Alfred Schnittke’s Three Sacred Hymns, which I would never have chosen but are sublime. Morning request programmes with music from classics to Romantics to American Minimalists.

How can we connect as librarians, borrowers, readers and musicians just now when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement or do we need more? How can music help to overcome this?
There are parts of this question to which I really don’t know the answer, if there is an answer.

I think, we continue to be a part of the things that are already happening, online groups, concerts, being part of doing things collectively but separately.

Music always unifies in some way and will find a way to be part of the healing we will all go through.

It seems, everything which is happening at the moment requires some kind of social media, it concerns me there are people without access to all that is going on, for whatever reason and their isolation may be even greater. For me, social media is only ever a tool, a little bit of all the things we do. I have been trying and failing, to write something about all the things that social media is and isn’t, all the things it does and the things it doesn’t do. I have ranted and railed, agreed and disagreed. Scrubbed out and started again. All I have come up with is, what it doesn’t do, is let me pick up my granddaughter when she falls over in her back yard, me, like millions of other grandparents in the world, but it does allow us to see her and hear her and sing with her. Until we are all together again, it will have to do.

With many thanks to Douglas for sharing his thoughts on what libraries and music mean to him. 

What libraries mean to me with Helen Martin

In today’s library Q & A session, we ask Music library borrower, Helen Martin what libraries mean to her.

Helen Martin

As librarian and singer with the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, my job is to source music for every concert.  As soon as I am told what music is required, my first stop is the Music Library at Central Library. I’ve been librarian for three years now, and am becoming more knowledgeable as I progress, but the Music Library staff have been such a great help, a source of information, and very patient with the mistakes that I have made along the way.  I have to ensure that the edition is correct, and sometimes there are other considerations – the Music Library helps out every time.  They have also been a great help on the rare occasions when they have been unable to source something for me, in pointing me in the right direction.

Edinburgh Royal Choral Union practising

What do libraries mean to you as a music lover and reader?
I have always been a supporter of libraries, and love the easy access to books and music that the libraries provide.  I also enjoy the atmosphere in libraries, the bustle and hum of people reading, looking at books, etc.  I do a number of activities that require access to song books, and again, the Music Library has been a great help and source of what I require.

What is your earliest library memory?
As a child and a teenager, it was always wonderful to have a constant source of books at my disposal.  I was an avid reader, and without libraries, this would have been impossible to do, without access to libraries.  There wasn’t extra money in our household to buy books.

Are you struggling to cope without a library?
I am missing access to the library, but happily over the years have built up a reasonable collection of books, so I have enough reading material to keep me going.  It is also a good opportunity to reread some of the classics, or indeed catch up with some that have passed me by.  People are being inventive at this challenging time – there is a book exchange going on in a street near me, with books being put out in the garden for people to take.  I haven’t used it, but I’m sure it is a help to people struggling.

A lot of people are struggling just now – music has the capacity to sooth ….
Are you listening to music just now?
Edinburgh Royal Choral Union (ERCU) has set up a ERCU Facebook page where as well as posting messages, people are putting links to various concerts, YouTube videos, etc.  The Royal Scottish National Orchestra have been streaming concerts on their Friday Night Club, on YouTube, and I greatly enjoyed, amongst other things, Saint-Saens Symphony No.3 Organ, featuring our Chorus Director, Michael Bawtree playing the organ.  I also enjoyed their Brahms German Requiem, which we sang a few years ago.

We have been watching the nightly streamed opera from The Met, which has been fantastic.

There are lots of opportunities to watch different performances online at the moment, which definitely help during these difficult times.  I’m greatly missing my choir, but social media, and these different events are a comfort.

How can we connect when the Library is closed? Can social media be a replacement?
I don’t think social media can be a replacement for the wonderful work done by libraries, although it can be a help.  Perhaps, like the ERCU Facebook page, there can be recommendations and links put out by the Music Library of things they think their readers might enjoy.  But we miss you, and look forward to seeing you again, when things finally get back to normal.

Many thanks again for all that you do.

With huge thanks to Helen for talking to us about what libraries mean to her.