Category Archives: Blogging

Libraries a Celebration by Nerine Dorman

Libraries started it all for me. When I was little, and could barely read, I’d go help out at the Hout Bay library down the road from where I lived. At first I packed away children’s picture books but soon I had an inkling of how the Dewey system worked. I have lost myself in bookish things ever since.

Recently I have come full circle – libraries in South Africa now carry books I’ve written and edited. This, more than anything, makes me feel like I’ve “made it” – if there ever is such a thing.

Nowadays we have so much information at our fingertips, at the click of a mouse. But it is often a challenge to wade through this morass of resources. It’s not so much being able to find what we need, but how to select what we need. What is useful? What is utter rubbish? We must, in a sense, take on the skills of a librarian and become our own curators of knowledge.
I learnt those mad skills at the library. And, with all the changes and challenges facing how we access information, librarians as curators have become even more important as custodians and gatekeepers.

It’s a terrible thing to admit, but I no longer visit the library as much as I used to before the advent of tablets and smartphones. My visit to the library was the highlight of my week, and I spent hours wandering between the shelves.

The central library in Cape Town used to be housed in the historical City Hall, for goodness knows how many years. How many of us remember that rickety elevator? Or the worn steps in that narrow stairwell that twisted up and up? One room would open into another, and I never really fully explored all of them.

The library was always a place of discovery, and I suspect if I could take the time out of my busy work schedule it probably still would be.

For all the convenience of ebooks and websites, libraries are still, in my mind, valuable. Many wonderful books are simply out of reach to youngsters and students—be this a financial consideration or access to the technology that allows for a digital environment.

I feel here, in Africa especially, the role of the library as not only a repository of knowledge, but a temple dedicated to learning, is as important as ever, and we must do all that we can in our power to ensure that these doors remain open.

If I think back to what sparked my love of fiction and started me on my journey as an author, it was the fact that I had such a range of authors I could sample at whim: Anne McCaffrey, David Eddings, Poppy Z Brite, Storm Constantine, Jacqueline Carey, David Brin, Kate Elliott, Neil Gaiman, Katherine Kerr, Mary Gentle, Robin Hobb, CJ Cherryh… The list goes on and on.

That sense when pulling a book off a shelf knowing that “Yes! This book looks like one I’ll enjoy reading” enriches my often dreary day-to-day routine. For a short while I can escape to other realities and meet a cast of fantastical characters who’ll often linger in my thoughts long after I’ve reached the end.

I’d not have known many of these authors if it had not been for my local library. Even better now is that thrill of knowing that my own books are now waiting on library shelves for a new generation of authors to be inspired.

Perhaps the greatest change I’ve seen in libraries now since the old days is the spirit of inclusiveness. The library opens its doors for all South Africans, no matter their background. And, for those who hunger for learning, they have the opportunity to discover entire new worlds.

Nerine Dorman
Editor, author
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Some thoughts on the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Awards Longlists

The 2014 CILIP CKG Awards mark the first time that a longlist has been compiled from all the books nominated by members of CILIP. The words inaugural and prestigious were used in the CILIP press release – they are good words although ones that I seldom use on a daily basis so I get a thrill when I see them in print (I am a bit of a word nerd).

From the press release:

Traditionally an extensive list of nominated books, comprised of titles which have received one or more votes from member librarians, is made public, followed by a shortlist announcement, before the overall winners are crowned. CILIP, the organisers of the Medals, took the decision to judge and announce longlists in order to shine a spotlight on some of the brightest authors and illustrators in the running for the esteemed awards, to reflect the high number of quality children’s books being published.

Read the full press release here

The books are chosen by the judges using the same rigorous criteria they use for the shortlisting and eventual winning titles.

Over the past few years due to the increase in quality writing for children and young people longlists had been growing ever larger; this has caused suggestion from some sectors about splitting the Carnegie Award at least into a teen and young reader award (that suggestion was shot down in flames and buried at several unnamed crossroads to prevent it ever rearing its head again). Large longlists also adversely affect the judges who have to juggle work, life and reading up to 120 books several times to adequately judge the merits of each according to the criteria for each of the awards. I will just say that the judges still have to read every title nominated to assess eligibility so the integrity of the awards is not affected in any way.

I am going to be on the CKG Judging Panel next year and am looking forward to the honour (there is a smidgen of dread as well but mostly excitement).

A small part of me is upset as some of the books I was hoping would make it through to the shortlists did not make it, I wholeheartedly support the longlisting as it will bring more books to the attention of the greater public as well as stimulating debate in the literary merits of fiction for children.

Adding a longlist to the steps leading up to the announcement of the winning titles will allow shadowing groups to follow the process more closely; previously by some arcane and unknown process the judges were able to whittle down 60+ books into a 6 book shortlist. Working with 20 titles is more manageable and if schools are able to carry the full longlist students will be able to start discussing the awards process sooner and will have the opportunity to compile their own lists of potential winners and discuss the titles in the run up to the shortlisting when the official shadowing scheme begins,

The books on the longlist that I have read are fantastic and deserve to be there, I will be reading as many of the other longlisted titles as I can before the shortlisting on the 18th March. I will hopefully post my favourites here during the week before the shortlists are announced.

Stories, Reading and Me

I have always loved stories, before I could read books I still had stories; I was lucky enough to have parents who read to my brothers and I in the evenings and on rainy afternoons when we were very young.

I can still recall the times my mother took me to Muizenberg Public Library for the story-time in the Children’s Library; the curtains would be drawn and the Librarian would light a candle for the duration of the story-time and while the candle was burning we would sit in silence while she read to us.

I do not remember when exactly I learned to read, at times I am still surprised that I am a reader as my primary school used Dick & Dora and Nip & Fluff – books that were created in the 1950’s & ‘60’s to teach us to read.

My younger brother went to a different school for sub-A & sub-B (grades 1 & 2 in modern schooling) and he regularly brought home books on world myths. I have vivid memories of the boojks with Jamaican and West Indian myths about Anansi the Spider-Man and ghost stories about Duppies and all manner of new and interesting stories that I had never come across before. I regularly nicked the books to read them (I always gave them back when he needed them).

One of the highlights of my week when I was a young child was my mother walking my brother and I down to Kalk Bay Library to borrow books. It was a relatively small library, but through the eyes of a child it seemed to loom massively with rows of shelves and high windows. The library was closed in the early ‘90’s and the only memories I have are of the smell of wood polish, rows of bookshelves, colourful carpets and bright books in the Children’s Library and the sound of windows slamming as the Librarian closed them; it was this sound that signalled that the library would soon be closing foro the day so we would have to hurry up and choose our books.

The last time a teacher read to me and my class I was 11 going on 12, I was in Standard 4 – Grade 6 in modern teaching terms. Our teacher Mr Paul would, for the last 30 minutes or so every Friday, read us a story. If it was a hot summer’s day we would be taken out to sit under the trees on the school field, but mostly it would be in our classroom, which was a prefab room that had been constructed as the school (Kalk Bay Primary) had become too small for its students. The only story I can remember with any clarity is The Monkey’s Paw – a brilliant short horror story. Then from Standard 5 and on through secondary school I have been reading stories on my own.

I have worked with several storytellers in Libraries over the past few years and they held their (mostly teen) audiences and me spellbound. Anyone who claims that young people are incapable of sitting still and concentrating has never witnessed a storyteller plying their trade with a group of young people.

For me being a reader does not mean I love books (I do) but rather that I love stories. Being able to read allows me to choose the stories that I want to experience, either in written form, listening to audiobooks or someone telling or reading a story.

Before there were books, scrolls or clay tablets there were stories; in times before literacy was widespread skalds, scops, griots, minstrels and troubadours roamed their lands telling tales, poems and histories to kings and commoners alike.
In my current role as a school librarian I read a story to my year 7s, 8s and 9s during at least one library lesson per term. All the students love being read to – even those that profess to hating books, a love of stories is present in everyone.

In 2014 I am going to try something new with reluctant readers in my library; instead of trying to get them to focus on reading books or e-readers as physical artefacts I will try to engage them with stories using audiobooks, audio lead-ins to stories and short stories to kick-start their interest in reading to and for themselves.