Jane Graham: Reading Ambassador
My now intimate relationship with libraries began in autumn 2013 when Scottish Book Trust bestowed upon me the honour of becoming the Reader in Residence (still my favourite ever job title) for all 22 of North Lanarkshire's libraries. It was a heady year - I launched a national poetry competition (with a judging panel cooler and more esoteric than that of Britain's Got Talent - Scots Makar Liz Lochhead, poet Ian McMillan, Manic Street Preacher Nicky Wire); hosted a Geek Love mini-convention in Airdrie Library with Doctor Who legend Terrance Dicks; instigated a monthly newsletter to over 10,000 library users; and chaired my first author's visit in Motherwell with the delightful Damian Barr. When the year of living precariously came to an end, it was with genuine sorrow that I parted from my friends in the north.
I was offered the job of the first ever Scottish libraries' Reading Ambassador. Really, this just meant carrying on my Reader in Residence role, but with more Ferrero Rochers
There followed a few months' hiatus, during which time I became the Books Editor of The Big Issue, another job I love, and which I hope gives exposure to some fantastic international writers who aren't exactly clogging up the broadsheets, such as Daniel Kehlmann, Ayelet Gundar-Goshen, Ivan Repila and Erwin Mortier (google them, I promise they'll knock your socks off). But I still missed my library gang. So you can imagine what a lovely surprise it was when the regional arts board - CultureNL - got in touch a few months later to offer me a job as the first ever Scottish libraries' Reading Ambassador. Really, this just meant carrying on my Reader in Residence role, but with more Ferrero Rochers. Immediately my mind was running with all the project ideas I'd had but not found time to get off the ground. I got straight back to writing the briefly abandoned monthly newsletter and kicked off my first ambassadorial scheme; Sponsor a Book.
Sponsor a Book
Sponsor a Book is a way to, in the words of the little tagline I came up with (and am rather proud of) - 'make a mark on the book that made a mark on you'. For a minimum contribution fee of 50p you can choose a favourite book to sponsor, and a beautiful bookplate (featuring an original illustration of Motherwell Library, a lovely old Carnegie building, by local artist Tommy Moulds) with your name in it will be placed inside the book. It then goes back on the library shelf for everyone who ever gets that book out in the future to see. As well as people simply choosing to 'bagsy' their own favourites, we've had people sponsoring books in the name of loved ones who have died. It's also a rather nice birthday present for a booklover. Every sponsorship is also recorded for posterity in a Sponsors' Ledger, held at the library and available to leaf through for anyone interested.
The romance of the idea has captured the imagination of a few celebrity sponsors, including Big Issue founder John Bird (who chose The Treasure of the Sierra Madre), Daniel Handler, aka global kids' book sensation, Lemony Snickett (Muriel Spark's Not to Disturb), Mogwai frontman Stuart Braithwaite (Alan Moore's From Hell), Liz Lochhead (Kidnapped), Damian Barr (Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City), and BBC Scotland's Tam Cowan (The Famous Five). Armistead Maupin said the scheme was 'the loveliest thing', which made me feel awfully happy because I love it too. (You don't have to be a member of a North Lanarkshire library to sponsor - anyone interested can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Encounters with Owen Jones
As well as racking up the author Q&As, which I do quite regularly now and really enjoy (crime queen Louise Welsh and extra coolio political journalist Peter Geoghagen next week), I have a few more ideas brewing. I'm helping put together an ambitious programme for the region's October arts festival Encounters - I've managed to lure baby-faced political assassin Owen Jones, who, it turns out, loves any excuse to spend time in Scotland.
I also have plans for a series of podcasts starring some of our older library users, who I like to call the owls, laying down their favourite old skool local jokes, songs, colloquialisms and playground games so that they survive the onslaught of time and technology. This project - which I've called Live Forever, partly because that's what we want these decades-old stories and songs to do, and partly because I still fancy Liam Gallagher - will culminate in a tea-dance/concert fronted by the BMX Bandits' frontman Duglas Stewart. He's promised to learn some of the old tunes, and to take requests on the night too. I can't wait for that gig.
I'm also hatching another autumn mini-convention, which is still in the early stage of gestation. But it's looking exciting. Rather than cult TV/sci-fi, this time the theme is... let's just say, a little more rabble-rousing. Just keep an ear out for talk of a stramash in North Lanarkshire. Though, to be fair, bearing in mind the location, I can't guarantee it'll be ours.