We Need To Talk About Librarians

Author Lemony Snicket believes that librarians experience far too many Unfortunate Events and so together with the American Library Association has set up an annual US prize worth $3,000 “honouring a librarian who has faced adversity with integrity and dignity intact”.

The Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced With Adversity will be of particular interest to librarians in the US where they were recently challenged about books they wanted to ban. The Kids’ Right to Read Project found there had been a 53% increase in censorship between 2012 and 2013.

Snicket’s gesture is particularly noble given that in 2006, the Katy Intermediate School District in Texas classified his books as “restricted use” on grounds of excessive “violence and horror”. I’m not entirely sure how this process works in the UK but I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has any thoughts.

Librarians in the UK face many adverse situations, not least the uncertainty surrounding their future. In order for some places to remain open, hours have been cut or jobs have been lost. Then there are the inevitable restructures that leave staff feeling demotivated with solutions such as volunteer-led libraries thrown into the equation. In Bradford, visitor numbers doubled in the four volunteer-run libraries 2011/13 which is fantastic, but shouldn’t be seen as the norm. The last thing we need is yet another deskilled employee saying, ‘soz, I just work here’, when asked a question of substance.

In Nottinghamshire 28 libraries are under threat (Annesley Woodhouse, Balmoral, Bilsthorpe, Blidworth, Burton Joyce, Carlton Hill, Carlton-in-Lindrick, Clipstone, Collingham, Edgewood, Farnsfield, Gedling, Gotham, Huthwaite, Inham-Nook, Jacksdale, Ladybrook, Langold, Lowdham, Misterton, Rainworth, Selston, Skegby, Sutton Bonington, Sutton-on-Trent, Toton, Tuxford and Woodthorpe.) But we must also be very positive and proud that we have not experienced the drastic upheavals faced by other regions across the country.

All in all, then, these are very sensitive times. So I thought it appropriate to reassure the librarians of Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire of some of the aims of Dawn of the Unread.

1. Each chapter will explore a library in some shape or form. We will see the cooperative libraries of the 1830s to the first feminist and Asian libraries in the city. By looking at the past perhaps we can work out their role in the future.

2. Nottingham has not experienced closures like the rest of the country and this is something to be proud of. Therefore think of this project as a pre-emptive strike; a reminder as to their importance less anyone gets any silly ideas.

3. We launch on National Libraries’ Day because we agree with the principles of the campaign. But this is not a tub thumping project and we won’t be getting any tattoos.

4. The football transfer window closed on the 31st and my major signing was Joel Stickley, a very talented poet and also, at least for a few more months, the Literature & Reading Development Office for Nottinghamshire Libraries. Joel’s role is to help with library engagement and to advise on sensitive issues so that we don’t piss off the people we are trying to support.

5. Libraries don’t have the budget for posh revamps (although there is a £1.9m refurbishment of combined library and community centre planned in Strelley). Therefore we have to be resourceful and start flaunting our incredible literary history to lure in the readers. I won’t rest until every kid in Nottingham knows who Arthur Seaton is.

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