Margaret Houston : Home Ground, Aye Write, and more…
Margaret Houston started with a flourish as our first speaker under Alistair’s presidency. She is Principal Librarian (Reader Development and Literacy) with Glasgow Libraries responsible for organising a year round programme of book related events. However, her talk revealed that she does much more.
The Aye Write Festival is now the second biggest book festival in Scotland and 4th in the UK. This year they sold nearly 14,000 tickets. Margaret explained why it had evolved this year into one festival, three venues (the Mitchell, the Contemporary Centre for Art and the Royal concert Hall). It turns out that the glass roof over the main hall has become unsafe and alternative accommodation had to be found. (Sadly it appears that current austerity budgeting means that it is not going to be repaired any time soon.)
The book festival aims to bring the best authors to the city and promote books to the widest audience. It underlines the vibrancy of Glasgow writing and publishing abilities. In particular it’s an opportunity to promote and showcase Scotland’s own writers.
Margaret also told us about Wee Write which is aimed at children from nursery age upwards – it’s never too soon to inculcate the book reading habit! This year 12,000 children attended events. The Libraries Service is addressing the ‘Attainment Challenge’ to improve children’s education through reading and writing. For instance, studies have shown that the 7 week summer break results in a decline in children’s reading quality.
A children’s event which has been running for 3 years now is ‘The Biggest Book Show on Earth’ appearing at 6 venues throughout the UK. Glasgow’s event is based in the Royal Concert Hall with a capacity for 2,000 children. Two thirds come from Glasgow and the rest from other parts of Scotland. Six writers showcase their work in an hour and a half. The speakers at the last event included Sir Chris Hoy, Steven Butler and Lydia Monk.
Perhaps the most entertaining of Margaret’s tales was about the refurbishment of Barlinnie Prison Library. The Governor had approached Glasgow Life saying ‘Help!! The library had lost its way and badly needed rejuvenated. This the Libraries service cheerfully did. Later monitoring revealed that the Crime Books were the most popular! Exasperatingly they were subject to a high theft rate. (Training manuals?) The inmates seemed to be able to spirit them off the shelves without being caught. Interestingly Yoga books were also popular. The ultimate hope is that improved literacy will help reduce the re-offending rates.
Margaret told us much, much more. About the library service in Glasgow being maintained so far despite the austerity pressures in contrast to other places; the partnership with Waterstone’s and the use of Volunteers in Aye Write, and much more. As John McIndoe observed Margaret’s talk was delivered with enthusiasm and clarity, as any teacher would! An appropriate accolade.