By Mark Freeman, Stockton Borough Libraries

For all of us who work in libraries, the love of reading and the desire to share that with other people probably explains why we are here.  Certainly, for me, being a librarian and being part of the Universal Reading Offer allows me to do what I’ve always enjoyed doing – sharing that unique thing about reading in that it opens up the world to anyone.  Although the ways in which people engage with reading have expanded, the experience of sharing that love of other people’s thoughts and imaginations has not changed in the 40 years since I first stood behind a public library counter.  Reading is still a key skill and a key factor in maintaining wellbeing and our Offer is the very heart of our public library service.

As a “Chief Librarian” nothing gives me greater pleasure than rediscovering that relationship between people when they share something they have read and enjoyed – and that’s especially so with children and young people who, in my experience, still love the sensation of reading someone else’s thoughts and imaginative experiences.  Each year I am delighted to stand in front of a room full of excited young people at our annual Stockton Children’s Book of the Year Award – around 25 schools take part in this event which sees them choose their own winner from a shortlist of authors.  They read all the books, write reviews and meet the authors before selecting their favourite. In October we will launch our quest to find the 21st winner at a special family reading day event in Stockton High St.

The Universal Reading Offer gives us the framework for all of this to happen and allows us both to concentrate on specific nationally agreed moments during the year, as well as providing us the freedom to keep delivering other exciting reading activities whenever we can. All of the festivals, book launches, talks, author visits can be directly related to the Offer and provide the stimulus for people to learn, but more importantly to enjoy their reading experience.

This year has already been truly inspirational and with our partnership with the BBC and the Reading Agency, we have already commemorated the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in a spectacular style across the country.  Shakespeare Selfie Day was enormously popular and here in Stockton we spent the day with special guest “William Shakespeare” and his lovely assistant “Ophelia” alongside a number of smaller “guests” created by our Museum Volunteers.  Our photographs joined those of the over 120 library services who really took the day to heart and tweeted to the world.

The Summer Reading Challenge has certainly inspired children and young people across the UK to get involved in a Big Friendly Read which quickly “sold out” here in Stockton.  We added many other activities to the basic scheme this year – one of the most successful being a film workshop from which I think we may have discovered some new “stars” who created their very own version of the BFG!

As we work towards the BBC’s #LovetoRead weekend in November, we’ll be busy with several different events which will help us to prepare.  Our Family Book and Reading Festival in October will provide a High Street based event featuring market stalls, storytelling, author visits and reading trails across the Town Centre.  This will also launch our Children’s Book of the Year award for 2017.  The #LovetoRead weekend will provide us with the opportunity to really promote reading as well as launch the Northern Children’s Book Festival which begins that week.  We always take an active role in both the fortnight of author visits and the public Gala Day later in November so the timing is ideal.

Reading is, for me, the core offer – without reading the others would not function and so it’s important for us to keep this in mind and to work together to develop those skills in everyone we engage with, young or old, and from whatever background.   We have to keep in mind what we want from our Reading Offer and this will give us the direction for our activities – reading is power and libraries give people power.  With the right encouragement we can help achieve:

  • A literate and confident society
  • Communities which are resilient, empowered and prosperous
  • Families that are connected, healthy and happy
  • Individuals that are confident, independent and engaged
  • Individuals with amazing imaginations, empathy and understanding of others
  • Children who read for pleasure!

We #lovetoread and we have the power to get others to #lovetoread!