Loving our Libraries

A year of book borrowing rekindled my love of my local library.

Fond Memories

I have very fond memories of libraries. I loved the library at school: shelves of books and a canny librarian who could point me in the direction of the next author I’d enjoy and a book that might offer a step up in challenge. I recall being in some awe during a primary school trip to the public library in Chichester in the mid 1970s when I found a whole building devoted to reading (with not just half a shelf but a whole section devoted to sci-fi!) and such technological marvels as microfiche!

Later on I used this libraries for school work, as well as school and college libraries. At university in London I had membership cards for eight different libraries, some academic (favourite: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, with the ZSL library at Regent’s Park Zoo a close second) and some public (Favourite: Camden).

Later still, I would take my own children to libraries run by Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire County Councils, and share their delight in the magical world of books. I campaigned with others against the closure of the village library in Long Crendon, Bucks -it’s now run entirely by volunteers. Professionally I was fortunate enough to be in a position ensure my school could continue to support the development of our library in the face of worsening finances in education.

A Year of Library Loans

I suspect many people have similarly fond memories but, despite the affection in which they are often held, many libraries are having a hard time at the moment. In the face of funding cuts many local authorities have reduced library services and even closed libraries. Some schools can not afford a librarian or, in some cases, even a library.

One thing we can all do to help is to make use of our local public library (if we still have one). With that in mind, I decided last January to visit mine in Thame, Oxfordshire, at least one a month and take out a book or two. I’d fallen out of the habit of using the library, buying rather than borrowing books, and perhaps wary of racking up library fines because a busy life meant that I might not renew or return them on time.

I found that my dusted-off library card not only let me borrow books but enabled me to access my online account, search items, renew books using my phone (no fines!) and reserve and borrow ebooks and audiobooks as well as those old-fashioned paper books I love so much.

My account has also allowed me to look back over the books I borrowed in 2019 to see how well I kept to my resolution. I had read 33 books in all. This included revisiting a few old friends (such as The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John Le Carre, The Player of Games by Iain M Banks, and Chris Mullin’s A Very British Coup), continuing to read some favourite authors (such as Val McDermid, Jo Nesbo, and Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series) and making some new discoveries – most notably Donna Leon’s detective novels set in Venice featuring Commissario Brunetti.

I was also able to finally read some books I had been meaning to for years including the Island of Dr Moreau by Jules Verne, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, and Death’s End, the final book in the Three Body Problem sci-fi trilogy by Liu Cixin. This included ‘filling in the gaps’ in the bibliographies of a few of my favourite authors such as John Le Carre (The Little Drummer Girl and The Russia House), Terry Pratchett (The Long Earth, with Stephen Baxter), and some of Ben Aaronovich’s Rivers of London series (October Man, Lies Sleeping, and Foxglove Summer) which I think now makes me up to date in the unpredictable life of Detective Constable Peter Grant.

As you can see, detective fiction and science fiction featured heavily, but I also read some science fact in the form of Franz de Waal’s excellent Are we Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?, and biography with Gerald Durrell’s Encounters with Animals.

Over to you

So, if it’s been a while since you visited your local library, why not pop along? You’ll receive a warm welcome and you’ll be helping to secure their future for your whole community.

As for me, I’m very happy with how my year of library reading went. In 2020, perhaps I’ll try to extend that reading beyond the confines of crime and sci-fi, and I’ve just seen that as well as books, the library loans out micro:bits…

Images

Bookshelf: pixabay

Reading: Rodger Caseby using Bitmoji

Things to look forward to in Spring Term 2020

The alarm rings and I drag my reluctant eyelids open. It’s dark outside. Dark and raining. The tree may still be up but the Christmas and New Year seem long past. The winter weather and long dark nights may be calling me to hibernate and count the days till summer, but it’s time to go back to work.

There’s no need to despair though because there’s plenty to look forward to at the start of the first Spring term of the new decade! Here’s my list of some of the highlights of the coming school term:

Christmas isn’t over (quite) yet! In the Christian calendar Christmas isn’t just a single day, but lasts until 6th January (twelfth night). Traditionally the decorations stay up till then. If that isn’t enough for you, Orthodox Christmas Day this year isn’t until Tuesday 7 January.

Remember that from now on the days are getting longer. The Spring equinox is on Friday 20 March so from then on we’ll have more daylight than night, with the clocks going forward at 1am on Sunday 29 March for the start of British Summer Time.

January

6 January to 21 February is the annual RSPB Big Schools Bird Watch, so there is plenty of time this term to get pupils involved in some citizen science by surveying the local bird population visiting your school site. You can find out more and get class resources from the RSPB website. You’ll need to register before 2 February.

In 2020, two celebrations coincide on Saturday 25 January: Burns’ Night, when Scots the world over celebrate their national poet, Robert Burns, and Chinese New Year ushering in the Year of the Rat. Haggis Dumplings anyone?

Monday 27 January is Holocaust Memorial Day, an occasion many schools mark or build into their teaching. This year marks 75 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp with the theme Stand Together. You can find out more and order free resources from the HMDT website.

Thursday 30 January is Young Carers Awareness Day. Championing the needs of Young Carers, the theme this year focuses on the Count Me In! campaign for greater recognition of the needs of young carers in compulsory education. You can find out more from the Carers Trust website and via the #CountMeIn hashtag.

February

Tuesday 11 February is Safer Internet Day when many UK schools will focus on cyber safety with the 2020 theme Together for a Safer Internet. You can find out more on the Safer Internet Centre website.

Monday 24 February to Sunday 8 March is Fairtrade Fortnight. The focus continues on the theme of cocoa and particularly the crucial role played by women farmers. You can find out more and get school resources from the Fairtrade Foundation website.

Tuesday 25 February is Shrove Tuesday (or Pancake Day), with the next day, Ash Wednesday, marking the first day of Lent in the Christian calendar.

March

Sunday 1st March is St David’s Day, the feast day of the patron saint of Wales.

Thursday 5 March is World Book Day in the UK. This year the aim is to share a million stories. You can find out more about this day, events throughout the year, and resources for different ages from the WBD website. The £1 book tokens issued to children are valid until 29 March.

British Science week is a ten-day celebration of science, technology engineering and maths running from Friday 6 March to Sunday 15 March. The theme this year is Our Diverse Planet. You can find out more and get an activity pack from the British Science Week website.

Monday 9 March is the Hindu and Sikh festival of Holi, or ‘festival of colours’ celebrating the coming of Spring.

9 March is also the start of Sport Relief week, the biennial event which raises money for vulnerable people in the UK and abroad. Many schools will want to get pupils involved on the ‘Sport Relief Mile’ – find out more and order a Primary or Secondary activity pack on the Sport Relief website.

Tuesday 10 March is the first day of the Jewish festival of deliverance, Purim, marked by shared food and gift-giving.

This year, Mothering Sunday is on 9 March in the UK, although the international date is 12th March.

Tuesday 17th March is St Patrick’s Day, when half the world population rediscovers its Irish roots. With about a million more UK residents having an Irish passport than this time last year, the celebrations here should be bigger than ever! It’s a bank holiday in Eire and Northern Ireland.

April

Wednesday 1st April is April Fool’s Day and falls in the last week of term for most schools, so watch out for practical jokes!

For most schools, Palm Sunday (5 April), Good Friday (10 April) and Easter Sunday (12 April) will all fall within the school holiday, together with the Jewish Passover (9-16 April).

The list should contain something for everyone and plenty to look forward to. Let me know if I have missed any important dates and I’ll add them.

Whatever you are looking forward to this spring, have a Happy New Year!

Festival and event dates from http://www.timeanddate.com

Image: Rodger Caseby