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 loved Ladybird books as a child and last night’s BBC4 programme, The Ladybird Books Story: How Britain Got the Reading Bug, brought back wonderful memories of learning to read with Peter and Jane and What to Look For in Summer.
I hadn’t realised quite what an impact they had on children’s book publishing and there are fantastic clips in the programme of the original Ladybird displays in book shops and the handwritten letters of gratitude from the book shops to the publishers. If you fancy a bit of bookish nostalgia, you have seven more days to catch the programme on the BBC web site!
Inspired by the window displays of Richard Booth’s Bookshop, I thought I’d like to use poetry in some of our displays, and this is my first attempt, for Remembrance Day. I’ve used Rupert Brooke’s poem, The Soldier, which may be a bit too patriotic for today’s taste, but is familiar to lots of us and conjures up the feelings of many soldiers at the start of the First World War.
I love watching children pull out the books from the library shelves but hate it when I hear a parent tell them to put a book back because it’s too young for them or is “rubbish”. Reading is not like eating food, so letting children choose their own books is not like letting them eat fish fingers every day. Reading “bad” books won’t spoil their appetite – it’ll make them want to read more and try out new authors and a child who’s allowed to read whatever they fancy is much more likely to grow up into a book lover.
Growing up in a small village, I don’t think I was taken to a library as a child, although we were given lots of books. But I remember the first time I discovered Heffers Children’s Bookshop in Cambridge – I was about ten and had just started going into town on my own. It was like book heaven and for the first time I could choose and buy them on my own, with no adult present. I still have some of the books I bought there: the Doctor Dolittle cost 21/- of my birthday money (and was very special), the I Spy Car Numbers was 1/- and the others cost 3/6 or 4/- (that’s £1.10, 5p, 17.5p and 20p in new money). How will e-books ever conjure up such memories?
My son Jack never uses a library, although he does like reading, and he and his flatmates, Gareth, Josh (above) and Steve, all love the Game of Thrones books. I asked Jack why he doesn’t go to the library:
Jack: I don’t know where it is…oh no, I’ve seen one quite near here.
Me: Why don’t you use it?
Jack: I don’t know when it’s open.
Me: If it was open after work or at weekends, would you use it?
Jack: Probably not.
Me: Why not?
Jack: I haven’t got time and I don’t read enough. Nobody my age goes to libraries.
Me: But you’d see a fantastic selection of books.
Jack: If I want one I use Amazon.
You can see I have a bit of work to do on my son!
I quite like Waterstones (we’re a bit short of independent bookshops around here) and often pick up ideas from their shops to use in the library. A few months ago the Birmingham High Street branch was full of charming and quirky displays, including the country house books theme I copied at Langley. Everything looked less corporate and more like an independent bookshop, reflecting the particular interests of the local staff, who are always really knowledgeable and interesting to talk to.
However, when I walked in recently the boring corporate image was back, with the same displays of George RR Martin and JK Rowling books you’ll see in every bookshop in the country. I asked what had happened and they said they were only allowed to display the books on a list provided by Waterstone’s management. How disappointing and unimaginative of the company.