Monday musings on Australian literature: National Libraries Day (UK)

Caroline of Book Word blog has written a wonderful post about National Libraries Day in the UK, which took place just this last weekend, on Saturday, 6th February. Caroline provides three witnesses to argue for the value of libraries:

  • Peter Balaba, Head Librarian, Nakaseke Community Library, Uganda, who talks about the outreach programs they provide in a book-poor region.
  • novelist Zadie Smith who tried, but failed, to save Kensal Rise Library in London and who notes the government’s shameful behaviour, saying that “it’s always difficult to explain to people with money what it’s like to have very little”.
  • novelist Ali Smith who last year published Public library and other stories, which is so titled not because there’s a story titled “Public library” (there isn’t) but because interspersed through it are “comments from other bookish people about the importance of libraries”. Love this.

ALIA Library Lovers Day 2016 GraphicYou’re probably wondering why I’m telling this story in my Monday musings on Australian literature post series. Well, firstly it’s because I thought it was a great initiative and wondered whether we have anything like this here in Australia.  I found that we do have something similar: ALIA (Australian Library and Information Association)’s nomination of Valentine’s Day as ALIA Library Lovers Day. They suggest a bunch of activities that libraries can use to promote library love (including using the social media hashtag #librarylove) and they have merchandise for sale. There’s a 2015 wrap up page which suggests that only a few assorted libraries around Australia took up the idea but those which did seemed to have got into the swing of it. What I didn’t find on their site is any sort of overall statement about the day – its genesis and history, its goals, its long term plans. Clearly it is about encouraging people to use their libraries, but is there a stronger, more coordinated political agenda?

I searched a little more and found an online article on a site called Infotoday. The article, written in 2011 it seems, says this:

As with many great ideas, the genesis of LLD is lost in time, but here in NSW we launched our first LLD in 2006, claiming Feb. 14 for library lovers and renaming it in honor of their passion. To celebrate, public libraries across NSW gave away more than 50,000 “love libraries” wristbands in green, blue, and orange and invited their clients to wear their hearts on their wrists. In 2007, the campaign went national under the auspices of the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) and Public Libraries Australia (PLA) as their first combined advocacy event. (Today Australia, tomorrow the world!)

So it sounds like it’s been going for around 10 years now. The article describes some of the activities that have happened over the years, and concludes that LLD has been

an enduring and unqualified success story for NSW public libraries. Staff members love to get involved by dressing in red and pink, decorating their libraries, baking, and choosing and reviewing books. And the community members welcome the opportunity to thank library staff, enjoy a chocolate or two, and share their love of books and reading.

Again, it doesn’t say how they define or measure success of the program, but it sounds pretty localised and low key (not to mention rather female oriented. Aren’t there any male librarians? Not that men can’t enjoy baking or dressing in red and pink, but …!) Still, I’m glad there’s something promotional happening.

My other reason for writing this post is that it gives me an opportunity to share a couple of quotes from Steve Toltz’s Quicksand, which I reviewed last week. Here’s our anti-hero looking for a book:

The salesgirl at the third bookstore I tried suggested the local branch of the public library. I know what you’re thinking bailiffs: What is this, 1996? I raced through the streets as if through a time tunnel, to the bland underwhelming brick building behind the train station. My heart sank when I came across an island desk with twenty computer terminals, leather couches and espresso machines, but upon asking the librarian directed me to the appropriate shelf. It was there …

Not very positive really, but the second reference is worse:

After half an hour drive, the van halted and the door opened onto an abandoned-looking prison courtyard reminiscent of a library on Sunday.

Hmm … I guess it’s a good thing that Toltz notices libraries enough to satirise them, but if his is a common attitude it’s a worry.

Are you aware of a library promotion “day” in your neck of the woods? And, if so, do you take part?

16 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: National Libraries Day (UK)

  1. I used to celebrate International School Library Day each year through the Bookmark Project. My school would be partnered with a school in some other country (see for the countries we teamed with) and the kids would make bookmarks about their favourite books and send them to the other school. They also had to do a mini project about the other school’s country which was great fun when we partnered with Hong Kong and the school’s website was in Chinese. I always used to send an Aussie picture book as well (Possum Magic was a favourite) and some years I also sent a recording of me reading it in my best approximation of an Australian accent.
    I made a point of either making an announcement about it at assembly or writing something for the school newspaper so that I had an opportunity to spruik the value of libraries, but I really didn’t need to: the kids and their families loved the library. As you say, it’s people who don’t have much who really value libraries…

    • Thanks Lisa. That’s great to hear that there’s an International School Library Day – and of course you’d do wonderful activities for it!

      Possum Magic is a great choice. My other favourite for overseas schools is Wombat Stew.

  2. The public library system is such an “easy” target for local authorities who have to make painful cuts that there is a crisis of library provision set to get worse. I do think there is enough public support for libraries to make fighting for services realistic. Yes, that Tolz quote a rather worrying sign of a perception of public libraries different from the (sometimes) vibrant reality.

    • Agree Ian that they can be easy targets, but they do, as you say, tend to have a lot of support that gets going pretty quickly if they are threatened (though they don’t always win, as Atkinson found out – and as we’ve had here).

  3. The places that I have lived, Nunawading Vic and Belmont WA, have had excellent libraries and I imagine that is true of most metropolitan councils. On the other hand my cousin is librarian at a TAFE College and she complains she is now expected to do with 3 people what she once did with 10. I’ll send her a link to this post and see what she says.

    • Do report back Bill. I loved libraries in my childhood and youth, but I don’t visit them so much now. I tend to buy what I want to read (if I haven’t received them by other means – gifts and review copies and loans).

      • I have been an ALIA member since the 70″s – a very valuable professional organization for librarians & technicians; and worked for 30 years in a large regional public library, that was always incredibly busy and well patronized. I have been in a TAFE Library for 10 years and as staff numbers have been slashed and hence corresponding services we can provide with now only 2.5 staff. Library Lovers Day was turned into an Institute wide event with Library staff providing morning tea to all Institute Staff,decorating the library and dressing up in the theme for the year – a great fun way to lift the profile of the library and get people in the door. This year we are trying the Pop Up Library concept and will take the books to the Students on our Trade Campus.

        • Wow thanks Kay. That’s wonderful to hear. Do you plan to or will you send a report for ALIA’S Wrap up. It may be that more libraries do things than they show. I was a member of it, under its old name, in the 70s too, but it stopped being relevant when I moved into audiovisual archiving so I ceased membership. It was sad for me.

  4. I’m not aware of such a day here but I’m going to ask.
    I’ve never heard of a library closing in France. In my town it’s a lively place, they do a lot for books and art in general.
    Most of bibliothèques (libraries) have become médiathèques in the 1990s. You can borrow books, CDs and DVDs. It helps attracting young people.

    • Thanks Emma. That’s great about libraries in France. Yes public libraries here have become médiathèques too. This is changing again … Or the media is … With our increasingly digital world.

  5. I so wish something like that was observed here. There is a dearth of libraries in Chennai (India). The entire city has just about four big libraries, I suppose. The biggest of them is one of the biggest libraries in Asia, and their collection too is so-so. I am still planning to visit it next week. The local libraries offer mainstream books only. And schools and colleges are yet to underscore the importance of reading. I am hoping that day would arrive soon. 🙂

    • What an interesting insight into your world Deepika. I’m loving that people from places whose library history I don’t know at all are responding. That’s a shame that your public libraries don’t carry more diverse books. Sounds like they see their role a little differently to our libraries here which tend to have an aspirational side re their readers as well as give them what they want. There are lively debates about this.

  6. In the US we go big, we have a library WEEK 🙂 My law library does not participate but the undergrad library does all sorts of activities and the public library holds events around town at the various branches.

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