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Information Scotland

The Journal of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

ISSN 1743-5471

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December 2005 Volume 3 (6)

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in Scotland

End piece


Brian Osborne calls (again) for libraries to be involved more with the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

I know, I know, I have gone on about this before, but every year it strikes me more and more forcibly that, as a profession, we are losing a trick by not having some sort of active involvement with the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I accept that it was easier to think up some sort of a linked event when our professional body had an active publishing programme and regularly produced books like The Scot and His Maps or Discovering Scottish Writers but it should surely not be beyond the wit of the clever people who run CILIPS to get their heads together and find some way of being involved with Scotland’s premier book event.

I spent a fair amount of time at the Book Festival this August, both for work (talking and chairing events) and pleasure (listening to speakers and browsing the bookshop) and enjoyed the unique atmosphere that is Charlotte Square in August; ticket sales were up, the sun seemed to shine most of the time, the crowds were constant, sell-out events were legion. A wide range of bodies seem to feel that it is worthwhile to be associated with this buzz of activity and to sponsor events or have some form of presence there. Why not us? Is this not just the sort of high-profile event we should be involved with?

What is the librarian’s key skill? Presumably acting as an information intermediary – a role not less significant in the on-line age. So couldn’t some form of co-operative library presence – an “ask a librarian” stall for example – be organised by CILIPS, drawing on the human and electronic resources of public and other libraries in the central belt. Is this totally impracticable? Is this the worst idea since 1953? Well possibly but if that particular idea wouldn’t work perhaps something else would. What seems to me to be important is less the specific nature of our involvement and more the act of getting involved and what that would signal to the wider world. Would it not be worthwhile discussing with the Book Festival what sort of involvement they would welcome?

One of the highlights of the Festival for me was introducing William Horwood, the author of The Boy With No Shoes (Review, 2005, £6.99). Horwood is best known as the author of novels like Duncton Wood but here he tells the story of his own childhood in Kent. I was delighted to have been obliged to read this book, which I am sure I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. Although I am fascinated by biography as a genre I am rather resistant to memories of miserable childhoods.

Horwood’s book is, however, one of the most moving things I have read in a long time – his account of being a small, unloved boy in a strange and rather unpleasant adult world had, to me, something of the flavour of the Dickens of Great Expectations and Oliver Twist. The story, though a deeply unhappy one at times, is eventually positive and life affirming. A definite recommendation.

For a totally different read let me end by drawing your attention to Kathleen Jamie’s superb collection of essays on Scottish nature and landscape Findings (Sort of Books, 2005, £6.99). Kathleen Jamie is an award-winning poet who very early in her career survived the potentially blighting experience of working with me as Writer in Residence in Midlothian.

Happily this didn’t seem to cause her any permanent damage and she has gone on from strength to strength as a poet and travel writer. Findings is written with a poet’s imagination and sensibility and really shouldn’t be missed – it also has the bonus of being one of the most attractively produced paperbacks I have seen recently.

Brian D Osborne

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Information Scotland Vol. 3 (6) December 2005

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Last updated: 01-Feb-2006