As part of the Make It Count campaign, Edinburgh City of Literature Trust wanted to get a glimpse of Edinburgh’s local libraries through the eyes of those who’ve spent time working in them on ‘the other side’ as it were – our librarians, library advisors, writers in residence, reading champions – encouraging them to share their behind the scenes insights into these fantastic spaces.

Here is what they had to say:

 

 

Craigmillar Library surprises people. You can stand and watch first-time visitors walk into the space, and see their eyes get wide as they look around. You can watch them physically readjust as they realise that this library is not like the library in their heads – hemmed in by shelves, and silent but for the sound of turning pages. As a writer and library geek, I know, of course, that there is no such thing as a stereotypical or even a typical library. But if there were, Craigmillar Library would not be it.

“It’s huge!” is usually the first thing people say. And yes, it’s a massive, beautiful barn of a place, filled with natural light from the glass walls on each side. Stand at one end and there are colourful book stands and shelves and displays stretching almost as far as the eye can see. Halfway down, you’ll see the bright green dividing line which, if you step over it, shows you’re venturing into the section for kids, teens and young people. You’ll be able to smell coffee from the café inside the library… because who doesn’t want a cup of something when settling down with a book?

I loved watching people’s eyes widen as they looked at the space, and then at me, as if to say, “really? This is my library?” And yes, I’d say, it is. It’s for you. Come on in.

“It’s terribly lively,” is the next thing people say. Lively is a polite synonym for not quiet. And it’s true: Craigmillar is a library where you will never be shushed. The staff at Craigmillar believe that reading doesn’t start or stop at silently turning pages. Reading is reciting a story to your toddler while doing funny voices. Reading is geeking out with one of the library assistants about the same book you both loved. Reading is as much about chatting over a story with your mates after you’ve read it than it is sitting in silent contemplation. And the Craigmillar library staff also know that reading is only one part of what libraries are about. They’re about meeting, talking, gathering information – having a free-to-access, local, friendly space to come and have an important chat with someone, for example.

Having a place you can nip into to ask about local services. Having a regular group or event you can rely on – Books for Babies or the Library Link group or Game Club for teenagers. None of these activities are quiet. Quietness isn’t overrated, though, and nor is it overlooked at Craigmillar – there are quiet spaces provided, and the staff will happily direct you to them. But personally, I became extremely proud to be working in a huge and lively library during my time at Craigmillar. I loved watching people’s eyes widen as they looked at the space, and then at me, as if to say, “really? This is my library?” And yes, I’d say, it is. It’s for you. Come on in.

Claire Askew was the Scottish Book Trust Reading Champion at Craigmillar Library from March 2016 to March 2017. She’s now the Education Resources Development Manager at the Scottish Poetry Library. Find her on Twitter @onenightstanzas.

 

Simon K Brown was born and raised in the Highlands but now lives in Edinburgh.

Currently working on his third novel, he has received a number of awards and has been published in several magazines such as 404 Ink.

He received a New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust in 2017, and has also been selected to read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as part of Story Shop 2017.

Simon can also be found working for the city libraries. You can find him on Twitter @SKBwrites.

 

 

It would be really easy to quote some facts and figures about Fountainbridge Library, about the average visitors per day, the number of books issued each week, or how many events we put on every month. But to reduce any library to a series of statistics only serves to strip it of its most important part: its humanity.

Those figures won’t tell you about the single mum who’d never be able to afford all the books her daughter reads. Nor will they tell you about the quiet teenage girl who comes in to get peace from the bullying she endures, or about the separated parents who need a neutral space where they can spend time with their son.

Then there’s retired plumber who paints forgeries, the woman obsessed with killing seagulls, the old man who chases after our cleaner and accuses her of trying to poison him: they’re all just one extra number on our visit count.

Libraries are about so much more than just books. They are one of the few places people of all backgrounds can meet one another.

So are the two homeless men who sit, teary-eyed, as they wander through Slovakia on Google Street View, along with the toddlers from Dalry Nursery who fill the library with laughter.

Most of all, those figures won’t tell you about the lonely man who floats around our library all day every day, desperate for someone to talk to. A man who, just last week, told me he was thinking of killing himself.

Libraries are about so much more than just books. In a society where the various social strata are increasingly isolated from one another they are one of the few places people of all backgrounds can meet one another. The people I’ve mentioned above deserve so much more than just a sentence in passing so please: the next time you visit your library, spend an extra five minutes chatting to someone and push against the confines of your social bubble.

 

  

Did you know Central Library actually has six libraries in the building?

There’s the Lending Library, with stacks of fiction and nonfiction practically overflowing with volumes for you to borrow. There’s the Children’s Library, with books for babies and children of all ages, and equipped with a craft room. This library hosts an unparralled number of children’s events: Book Bug, Storytime, Crafts, Lego Night, Chatterbooks, Dyslexic Chatterbooks… The list continues.

On the mezzanine level is our Music Library, which contains uncountable CDs, an incredible selection of sheet music from Baroque to contemporary, a beautiful practise piano and an acoustic pod for all your instrument practise needs. Follow the stairs up, and you’ll find our Art Library, with its amazing selection of art books – from feminist art theory to fashion design in the 1920s – and both instructional and educational DVDs. Our collection of artist books is unrivalled, and did you know the Art & Design Library includes an exhibition space? We host exhibitions from all sorts of individuals and organisations, from urban photography to portrait crafts.

Did you know Central Library actually has six libraries in the building?

Central Library also holds an impressive and comprehensive Edinburgh & Scottish Library, hosting a wealth of information about our city and country. Head to the top of our building, and you’ll find the Reference Library with its great domed ceiling and quiet study space. The exhaustive stacks look like something right out of a movie in this awe-inspiring space.

We have several unique spaces where we host events: from book launches, to whisky tastings, to concerts for all tastes. I can’t emphasis what a versatile place Central Library can be, and we do our utmost to create a lively and varied event programme. We’re also enthusiastic to host outside events – maybe you have an event you’d like to run here?

Libraries attract such a huge variety of readers and computer users. Our facilities are here for you to make use of: the printers, free WiFi, quiet study space, and, of course, our huge selection of books for you to borrow. There are so many Librarians and Library Advisors here with incredible knowledge within their subjects – there’s always someone on hand to help trace your family tree or held fill in a bus pass.

For all these things to be under one roof, mainly free, and accessible to all is quite an amazing achievement. Our resources, knowledge, and time are here for you to take advantage of – come visit and make use of what we have, you’ll brighten up our day.

 

Beth Cochrane is an Edinburgh-based writer. She recently completed an MSc in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh, where she won the university’s Sloan Prize in 2015 for her work in Scots. In 2015 she also read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as part of Story Shop. Find her on Twitter @literature_wine.