My second day in as the Shetland Library's Reader in Residence, I join a lunch-hour book-group on the Mezzanine. It's grim out, but the Mezzanine's a comfortable place to nest down in, with Scott's The Pirate on the menu.
'I liked it...until I fell asleep in the middle' confesses one member. Like many, I find dense, historical tales like The Pirate a wee bit daunting, but the group agree that they've found a good way to tackle the Victorian novel. Reading manageable portions each week, with the prospect of discussing the chapters informally, helps them appreciate things like Scott's dramatic scene-setting and wry, self-deprecating humour.
The Pirate is set in Shetland, and a debate follows about how true we feel Scott's depiction is to Shetland landscape and culture. Some think Scott's Shetland – such as his account of the Shetlander's delicacy and hospitality on meeting a stranger – is convincing. A reader has brought along a portrait of Scott's Magnus Troil that currently hangs in the Shetland Museum, sporting some very dashing Fair Isle socks. The connection is made between Norna, with her supernatural powers, to Bessie Millie of Stromness, who used to sell favourable winds to sailors. We think Scott slips up a bit when he describs the typical Shetland female as blonde and blue-eyed though...
The time comes for me to introduce myself and my post as Reader in Residence at the Shetland Library. It's basically – as one of the book-group says – the perfect job. The writer's life is rewarding but often solitary. It's going to be a treat to drop the hermit bit and to work with our heroic library staff, who toil to help readers across Shetland get hold of their next book-shaped fix.
A library is one of the most democratic institution we have: giving everyone in its community the same opportunities for professional and personal growth. It's a no-brainer that libraries are good things but, at the risk of sounding partisan, I think we're particularly blessed with ours.
Whatever you want to read, the staff will do all they can to help you get your paws on it. Mobile and housebound staff zip around Shetland all week to bring the collection to those who can't get to Hillhead. School librarians are champing at the bit to help students with their research and literacy skills and dedicated volunteers offer other services such as recording the Shetland Times for the visually-impaired, so that no one has to miss out on Friday's all-important news, info and gossip.
The Shetland Library also brings Scottish Government schemes like Bookbug and Booktime to brand-new readers, and will help you click with computers. They host book-groups, readings and author events, and on Monday and Thursday nights open late, providing a peaceful and relaxed place to hang out, read, work or check your emails. Immense beanbags and squashy sofas at your disposal. They'll help you set up your own book-group, too.
So what's left for a Reader-in-Residence to do? It's my job to encourage folk to step over our threshold for the first time and to bring brand-new projects, like our 'Poetry For Tea' sessions, starting Thursday 10th November, to existing users. I'll be trying out all kinds of ventures with schools, care-homes, book-groups and community collections. Readers in Residence is all about encouraging the Shetland community to read books, talk books, recommend books, swap books, write about books.
And this is just the tip of the book-berg. Keep an eye on shetland-library.gov.uk , follow us on twitter or like the Shetland Library facebook site to keep in touch with the full range of events, projects and services. And if you're lucky enough to stay in Shetland, contact me at the library or
firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more about what the Reader in Residence Scheme will be doing in your community.
Readers in Residence is developed and administered by Shetland Arts Development Agency and part of Creative Scotland¹s Creative Futures programme <http://www.creativescotland.com/investment/creative-futures>: promoting, connecting and developing Scotland¹s creative practitioners.