This year I decided that each festival I attended I would go to an event by someone I hadn’t heard of before & so for #Ayewrite I chose Chris Paling as the subject matter was one close to my heart – that of the social value of our libraries & the recognition that they are more than just places to borrow books, they are what urban sociologists refer to as a “Third Place” – place in our community where we democratically meet – one where you are not defined by class, gender or status but as a member of the democratic community.
Chris was there to talk about his book, “Reading Allowed” which is a collection of short vignettes based on visitors to the library where he works. What followed was a poignant, thought-provoking and sometimes emotional overview of the absolute social function our libraries play in bringing a connectedness to some of our most vulnerable members of our communities from the rough sleepers seeking warmth and shelter throughout the day to the old man with memory loss who sought a system to help him remember what books he had previously read. One of the saddest stories Chris told the audience was of the woman returning her deceased neighbour’s books, with the bookmark marking the last words he ever read. There was also the story of the rather sinister “Mr Jones” who had taken to getting a little too up close and personal with staff members and faced a ban from the library after turning up one day and telling a female member of staff “I see you never put your bins out last night” – “Mr Jones” lived nowhere near the staff member!
The session was both informative & thought-provoking with discussion around the way forward for our libraries in times of cuts to services and a real need to find a means of measuring the qualitative benefits of libraries to ensure that councils realise the very real value that have as places at the heart of our communities. David Cameron once said that now that we have internet we no longer need libraries…what a huge misunderstanding of the role that our libraries can and should play in our communities!
If you are lucky enough to have a library in your local community please use it…be a part of it and shout for it to remain there! You never know when that heart of your community could become your place of refuge…
Chris Paling is the author of nine novels, the most recent of which, “Nimrod’s Shadow”, was published by Portobello Books and featured in the first “Fiction Uncovered” promotion.
His first stage play, “The Final Test”, toured UK theatres in Summer 2015 and has now been published by Josef Weinberger.
He has written a number of short stories for magazines, newspapers and Radio 4 and was long-listed for the inaugural “Sunday Times” short story award.
He has contributed to most of the major national newspapers and is a longstanding radio producer, regularly making radio documentaries for Radio 4 through Pier Productions in Brighton where he is Development Editor.
His latest book, his first non-fiction publication, “Reading Allowed”, was published in February 2017 by Constable and Robinson.
Chris works as a librarian in a small-town library in the south of England. This is the story of the library, its staff, and the fascinating group of people who use the library on a regular basis.
We’ll meet characters like the street-sleepers Brewer, Wolf and Spencer, who are always the first through the doors. The Mad Hatter, an elderly man who scurries around manically, searching for books. Sons of Anarchy Alan, a young Down’s Syndrome man addicted to the American TV drama series. Startled Stewart, a gay man with a spray-on tan who pops in most days for a nice chat, sharking for good-looking foreign language students. And Trish, who is relentlessly cheerful and always dressed in pink – she has never married, but the marital status of everybody she meets is of huge interest to her.
Some of the characters’ stories are tragic, some are amusing, some are genuinely surreal, but together they will paint a bigger picture of the world we live in today, and of a library’s hugely important place within it. Yes, of course, people come in to borrow books, but the library is also the equivalent of the village pump. It’s one of the few places left where anyone, regardless of age or income or background, can wander in and find somebody to listen to their concerns, to share the time of day.
To buy “Reading Allowed” please click below
Full #AyeWrite Programme can be found here