Happy International Book Giving Day!

You might already have been wished Happy Valentines Day, but maybe I am the first to wish you a Happy International Book Giving Day! This takes place on 14th February each year and aims to get books into the hands of as many children as possible. If you’d like to help celebrate you could give a book to a friend or family member, leave a book in a waiting room for children to read, or donate a used book, in good condition, to a local library, hospital or shelter. If you don’t have a suitable book to hand, there are many charities such as Book Aid International which would welcome your support.

I’ve also just found out today about a Crowdfunder to set up an international Directory of Independent Publishers. The founders want to make it possible for readers to discover exciting new titles, for writers to discover publishers that align with their interests, and for publishers to reach them.

I’ve enjoyed the gift of reading all my life and I want to pass it on. These two initiatives are a great way to do that.

The Chandelier of Lost Earrings

Installing the chandelier
Installing the chandelier

This striking sculpture by Lauren Sagar and Sharon Campbell is made from over 3,000 single earrings donated by owners who have lost the other half of the pair. The women who contributed items to the project also shared, via letters, the stories attached to them and these have become part of the artwork’s legacy. It’s on display at Glasgow Women’s Library until the end of the year. I love it!

Do you end up with a collection of lost earrings, and what do you do with them if so? I know I do – but never enough to create my own sculpture. I have discovered, however, that some charities collect odd earrings and pieces of broken jewellery and can make money recycling them. If you’re in the UK, here are two:

Alzheimer’s Society

Friends of the Earth

Right – I’m off to have a rummage in my jewellery box!

Skye the Puffling and other stories

Picture Kelpies Book Launch
Picture Kelpies Book Launch

I was invited to a book launch last week by my friend Lynne Rickards. She’s a picture book author and her publisher, Floris, was holding an event at the Lauriston Hall in Edinburgh for four of its Picture Kelpies authors. That’s Lynne in the turquoise scarf above, being introduced with the other authors who flank Chair Lindsey Fraser in the centre.

I can’t remember if I met Lynne on Twitter and then bought her books for the library I worked in, or if it was the other way round. Whatever, we soon discovered that we lived quite close to each other and have met several times since. Her current book is Skye the Puffling, and she had brought Skye along with two other characters, puffins Lewis and Harris, who featured in earlier stories. If you know anything about Scottish geography, you will be spotting a trend in the names there.

Lynne and the other authors answered questions from Lindsey, and all the books look lovely. They are: My first Scottish animals and My first Scottish numbers by Kate McLelland (dark hair), The secret of the kelpie by Lari Don (fair hair), and Thistle games by Mike Nicholson (needs no explanation). If you want some Scottish-themed books for children I suggest you check the Kelpies site as well as Lynne’s website and blog.

My photographer, aka husband, and I also enjoyed wine and nibbles in the splendid surroundings of Lauriston Hall, then rounded off the evening with beer and pizza in the excellent Made in Italy in the Grassmarket before heading for the train back to Glasgow. Thanks for the invitation, Lynne! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

International Book Giving Day

IBGDWhat is International Book Giving Day? It takes place on 14th February each year and aims to get books into the hands of as many children as possible. Some facts:

  • Most children in developing countries do not own books.
  • In the United Kingdom, one-third of children do not own books.
  • In the United States, two-thirds of children living in poverty do not own books.

To support the day, you could give a book to a friend or family member, leave a book in a waiting room for children to read, or donate a used book, in good condition, to a local library, hospital or shelter. You can download book-plates from the site to include in your gift.

There are also numerous charities that work year round to give books to children. Ones I like are:

In the past I’ve sold an old banger and donated the (meagre) proceeds to Book Aid, collected books for Brownies, and taken part in an international book swap. This year, I’m supporting the Norfolk Children’s Book Centre which is acting as a focal point for sending books to the refugee camp in Dunkirk.

Happy Book Giving!

National Libraries Day

National Libraries Day

Libraries in the UK are loved, valued and were visited an astonishing 265 million times last year! Libraries are a vitally important public service which can be celebrated on National Libraries Day, this Saturday 6 February 2016. The NLD website has suggestions for activities, downloadable resources and an event map – or check out what your own local library is doing. Mine, Glasgow’s Mitchell, is revealing the Top 10 Burns poems and songs as voted for by its users, with a recital of the Top 5 and a display of Burns Treasures.

Why should you support libraries? Did you know that every week two libraries in the UK close their doors for good? If you don’t use them yourself, is it because you can afford to buy books and pay for a good broadband connection? But what if you couldn’t? As Nick Poole says in a recent Mirror article “It’s hard to understand the impact of these cuts when you’re well-off, have easy access to the internet and can buy the books you want. But for millions of poor families, jobseekers and people with disabilities a library is a lifeline.”

CILIP (Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) is running a campaign called My Library By Right. Follow the link if you’d like to know more, and please, please sign their petition along with (so far) almost 12,000 other people, including famous authors such as Joanna Trollope and Andrew Motion. Signing it would be a great way to celebrate National Libraries Day.

PS I hope regular readers aren’t too bemused by the sudden appearance of a library-themed post. I used to blog semi-regularly at Adventures of a Retired Librarian but I’ve decided to let that lapse and concentrate my efforts here, so you’ll be seeing occasional posts about libraries and books.

Gallus Glasgow M: The Mitchell

Mitchell Library. Image credit: Andeggs, via Wikimedia. Public domain.
Mitchell Library. Image credit: Andeggs, via Wikimedia. Public domain.

The magnificent dome of the Mitchell Library is one of Glasgow’s most distinctive landmarks. The building opened in 1911, but the library itself dates from the 1870s (based on a bequest by wealthy tobacco merchant Stephen Mitchell).

I can tell you exactly when I first set foot in the Mitchell – long before I lived in Glasgow. It was Easter 1980, and my library school class (from Sheffield, England) was on a field trip visiting Scottish libraries. An extension (opened 1981) was in its final stages and we were taken through it – no shelves or books, but the carpets were already laid. Oh those carpets! They were very proud of them and told us how much they had cost – I can’t remember, but I know it was a lot. They were VERY colourful – and what’s more, they are still there. Bring your shades! (Those of you who were paying attention yesterday – sit up at the back there! – should recognise the symbols in the carpet at the top right.)

Whether you like the carpets or not (and they have many fans and their own Facebook gallery) it’s undeniable that the Mitchell is a huge asset to the city. It’s one of Europe’s largest public libraries with over one million items of stock and the hub of a city-wide information service. It also includes a theatre, a conference space and the Herald Café Bar. I’m a frequent visitor.

N tomorrow – it involves bagpipes!

A weekend with kelpies and old books

Another lovely weekend in Central Scotland meant I could cross off two more items on my summer “must visit” list. The Kelpies are the latest large-scale public art installations by sculptor Andy Scott. Sitting next to the Forth and Clyde Canal in Helix Park, Falkirk, the two horses’ heads tower over 26 metres high – they’re not just art, they represent a massive engineering achievement too. If you’re wondering what a kelpie is, it’s a mythical water-being inhabiting the lochs and pools of Scotland which usually appears as a horse, but is able to adopt human form. Scott modelled his sculptures on two real-life Clydesdales in honour of the horses which used to pull the barges along the canal, so they might be mythical, but they’re also very real.

We chose to take a tour which meant we were able to go inside one of the heads (Duke, the one looking down, the other is Baron) and learn more about how they were made. They have 928 plates which took 130 days to construct on site using over 300 tons of steel. Awesome!

A word of warning about Helix Park itself – the facilities are awful. We got there just after 11am and were able to park, but from then on there was a constant queue of cars looking unsuccessfully for spaces. The advice given is to use overflow parking at the Falkirk Stadium, but that’s at least a 20 minute walk from the Kelpies, so if you’ve booked a tour you might well miss it – and if there’s a football match there, presumably you can’t use it anyway. The café is also about 15 minutes away, and when we got there just after 1pm they had no lunch left, just crisps and snacks. This is a fairly new attraction, so maybe they will get their act together soon, and I guess it’s good news in one way if more people than they expected turn up. A Visitor Centre is under construction and I assume it will have extra catering, but they need to sort the parking problems too.

Saturday was our last chance to catch Dunblane’s Leighton Library – it’s only open during the summer and we don’t have another weekend free before it closes at the end of September. This is the oldest purpose-built private library in Scotland, opening in 1687 as the result of a bequest by Robert Leighton. He had been Bishop of Dunblane from 1661 to 1670 and wanted to leave his books for the benefit of the clergy of the diocese. His own collection of around 1400 volumes eventually grew to over 4000 – all are held on the first floor, with the lower storey originally being living quarters for the librarian. From 1734 to about 1840 it functioned as a lending library, until the growth of public libraries rendered it obsolete. Despite the worthy nature of most of the tomes, the most borrowed book was a novel – Zeluco (1789) by Scottish author John Moore, which relates the vicious deeds of the eponymous anti-hero, the evil Italian nobleman Zeluco. Another novel, The cottagers of Glenburnie by Stirling author Elizabeth Hamilton, was so popular that it went missing. Now why does that sound a familiar tale? It happened regularly in every library I’ve ever worked in, that’s why!

Dunblane Museum is also worth a look – it too only opens summer hours and was closed on our last visit in December. For more on the town and its year-round attractions, such as the Cathedral, see my previous post Scottish snapshots: Dunblane.

Following in the footsteps of literary heroines

Green Gables
Green Gables

Last summer, I fulfilled a long-held ambition to visit Prince Edward Island, setting for one of my favourite childhood books, Anne of Green Gables. I wrote about it here, and was then inspired to re-read the whole Anne series. (If you’re interested, you can read what I’ve said about the books on my children’s literature blog. My opinions have changed over the years.) This got me thinking about other places that I have been inspired to visit by books.

Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt is also a children’s book, although I read it as an adult, and the heroine, Dicey Tillerman, is every bit as strong a character as Anne. At the beginning of the story, she and her younger brothers and sister are waiting for their mother in a mall parking lot. She never comes back, and thirteen year old Dicey has to decide what to do. She has $10, a road map and the last known address of Aunt Cilla, the relative they were supposed to be driving to see. Scared to ask for help in case the family is separated, she takes them on a long trek in search of Cilla, which requires all her ingenuity.  You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next – and if you get hooked, there are several sequels. I can feel another re-reading project coming on myself.

So where did Dicey inspire me to go? Although the story opens in Connecticut, the family’s home is in Provincetown at the very tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. The description of the sand dunes and the sea reeled me in, and for my very first visit to the US that was where I wanted to visit. I like to think I am somewhere near Dicey’s cabin on the dunes in these pictures – yes, that young woman in the pink top is me in Provincetown in 1992. I’m not sure I can quite believe that, although the other beach picture from our second visit in 1997 is much more recognisably “me”. How did that happen in just five years?


Lyme Regis
Lyme Regis

Another place I longed to see was Lyme Regis in Dorset. Jane Austen fans will remember that this is where Louisa Musgrove fell from the Cobb (harbour wall) in Persuasion. However, a stronger pull was that the Cobb is also where Sarah Woodruff stands staring out to sea in John Fowles’ brilliant and complex French Lieutenant’s Woman, a Victorian novel written from a twentieth century perspective. So a few years ago I too walked the Cobb (avoiding the fall) and the coast where Charles Smithson, Fowles’ hero, searches for fossils. I read the book again and, as with the Anne books, found my opinions had changed with the passage of time – not about its quality, I enjoyed it just as much, but about the ending. Fowles provides alternatives. When I was 21, the romantic ending seemed the most attractive but in later years I wondered whether the more independent life Sarah has forged in the second ending would not be better. Again, read it for yourself and decide!

Which places have other people visited because they read about them in novels?

Glasgow Women’s Library

On Wednesday, I visited Glasgow Women’s Library with the group of librarians I have met through Twitter. I took notes during the talk by librarian Wendy Kirk, meaning to write it up, but Cathy has already written an excellent piece about that on the CILIPS blog, so read that for more information or visit the library’s own excellent website.

In keeping with the library’s Twitter name, @GWLkettle, we were greeted by a cup of tea and the magnificent spread below.


Afterwards, we looked round the library – not just books, but old knitting patterns and magazines and much more. I regret now that in a recent clear out I threw away some patterns, which used to belong to a great aunt, very similar to the Patons booklet shown below. I was also interested in the Greenham Common magazine. I visited there once to circle the base – it could even have been the day in the photograph, though I couldn’t spot myself.


Here’s a wider view of the library with some of the participants looking around and chatting.


Afterwards, about half of the 20 who were there went round the corner to the Bon Accord, a well known real-ale pub, where we were met by a few more librarians for #GLTU2 – Glasgow Library Tweet Up 2. If you are interested in joining future #GLTU events, leave a comment or tweet me @AnabelMarsh. #GLTU3 is very soon, Sunday 25th March, and is sponsored by Credo Reference. Please do get in touch for details.

Innerpeffray Library & the Knock of Crieff


I’ve wanted to visit Innerpeffray Library for years. Last weekend, when we stayed in Perth, I planned to visit on our way home but overlooked the fact that the library is not open on Mondays or Tuesdays. This weekend, we decided to go before the notion left us again. This was the plan: arrive in Crieff in time for a pub lunch, quickly visit the library when they opened for the afternoon at 2pm, then go for a long walk to work off lunch.

We had lunch in the Caledonian Bar in the centre of Crieff: one fish and chips, one mushroom stroganoff and two halves of Speckled Hen. All very good and served efficiently and with a smile and a chat. We then arrived at Innerpeffray just after 2pm, but the short visit lasted almost two hours! It was absolutely fascinating. Innerpeffray is the oldest free public lending library in Scotland. It was founded in 1680 in the church next door by David Drummond, 3rd Lord Madertie, but the dedicated library building “only” dates from 1762. This makes 2012 its 250th anniversary and so the books in the display cases date from around that time – a time when 75% of adults in Scotland could read and write, compared to only 53% in England. Why would that be? Because by 1750 almost every Scottish town of any size had a lending library. This obviously resonates today when so many public libraries are under threat.

The reason our visit took so long is that, unlike other historic libraries we have visited such as Pepys’ Library in Cambridge, you can actually handle the books, not just look at the displays. Lara, the Library Manager, and the two volunteers on duty were absolutely excellent and so friendly. They chatted to us to find out our interests and then quickly found books that they thought we would like, even though (anathema to my librarian’s soul!) they were not in classified order. We spent ages browsing and reading, sometimes with books nearly 400 years old. You can also view the borrowers’ register from 1747 until lending ceased in the 1960s, and lists of 18th century desiderata. I strongly recommend that you check the link above to find out more about the library and then visit it. It costs £5 per person – excellent value. The pictures below show internal and external views – the church can also be visited, but is not open till April.



(Update 1: 29/04/12 – for a good post on Innerpeffray, see the Georgian Gentleman blog.)

(Update 2: 10/05/12 – another blog Echoes from the Vault about a visit by Rare Books Librarians.)

(Update 3: 26/08/13 – read about my second visit, when the chapel was open. Also, check out author Helen Grant’s blog – she often writes about Innerpeffray.)

After a quick refreshment in the splendid café at Crieff Hydro, we went off for a shorter walk than planned. I found it hard to believe I had never been there before, but certainly have the Hydro marked down as a suitable place for a future weekend away.


From the Hydro, we walked up to the Knock, a view-point above the hotel. It was dusk when we returned and the sky was lovely.





As we walked back down through the hotel grounds, we got stuck behind a group of 10-12 young women, all beautifully dressed for a night out. The only trouble was, their shoes were so high that they were hirpling along like a gaggle of old grannies (hope that’s not too ageist), holding onto each other and the railings. They were happy to joke though – I offered to lend one my walking boots to get down the hill, and when we finally strode past them, another asked for a lift. Two of the more footsure can just be seen in this picture.


I hope they had a lovely evening. And that they’re not crippled by the time they are 40. (Suppresses memory of 18-year-old self attempting a country walk in four-inch platforms.)