Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights
Times are hard for independent bookshops, with fewer than 1,000 now in Britain. But public libraries can still learn a thing or two from them. Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath is a wonderful example of how creative some of these shops are.
From there you can purchase a Reading Spa (either a Delightful one for £55 or an Extravagant one for £100) and enjoy a tea or coffee and cake with a bibliotherapist, who will offer you a pile of books especially selected to suit your tastes.
Or you might prefer a Reading Year (Paperback £135 or Hardback £220) and receive eleven books hand-chosen for you throughout the year.
I’m not suggesting that libraries start charging people for similar services but we do a lot of this stuff any way. At Langley, which is small enough for us to get to know a lot of our regular customers, we often recommend particular books we think they’d enjoy, and there are a lot of coffee and cakes around too. But what we’re less good at is marketing this service and we don’t even have a lot of general If you love… then try this information around the library. I’m definitely going to do something about that!
Toronto Public Library has some great book lists, including Read Alikes and Who’s Reading What lists with local celebrities and I also love some of the If you love this… graphics on anotherlibblog.wordpress.com and New Orleans Public Library.
I’d never given bibliotherapy much thought until I read John Crace’s article in the Guardian at the weekend about his meeting with Ella Berthoud, a bibliotherapist or book doctor. Ella listens to John talk about his life and books he has read and then recommends a list of books for him to try – a reading cure.
Listening to people in the library I’m aware that many of them have found comfort in reading, saying that it’s helped them get through difficult times, particularly bereavement. But usually the reading takes the form of escapism and the books most people seem to turn to are romances or thrillers. I can understand this and it would probably be the first thing I’d do in that situation.
But Berthoud talks about “books that offer rewards through the quality of the writing and parallels with the reader’s life”, and this is a different kind of therapy. However, unless you’re in the habit of reading literary novels then it’s going to be harder for you to make the extra mental effort at a difficult time in your life.
The Reading Agency’s new scheme, Reading Well Mood-boosting Books, aims to promote up-lifting titles recommended by readers and reading groups, but when we opened the boxes of new books at work, our first reaction was that they were just the sort of books most of our borrowers wouldn’t like! They are not brightly coloured or obviously cheery books (in fact their covers are nearly all dreary and dull) and it did cross my mind that the library budget could be better spent.
But perhaps I’m missing the point – these are just the kind of books we should be encouraging people to read to boost their moods. So I’m going to try to make a bit of an effort with them and as I’ve read and loved several of them myself (The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and Miss Garnet’s Angel by Salley Vickers are wonderful novels), it shouldn’t be impossible!
I’ve been admiring other people’s Blind Date with a Book displays for a while now and finally got around to doing my own for February. Our customers have been intrigued by it and I’ve had to wrap up more and more books to keep filling the display, so that’s a sign of success! Even better is that it’s given us another good excuse to chat with people about books.
In true library tradition I used packing paper from our new book deliveries, cut out a red heart for each one and wrote three words or phrases to summarise each book. I copied the format from Moorhead Public Library in Minnesota, so many thanks!
Other Valentine’s Day displays I like: