Laura Swaffield, Chair of The Library Campaign, was asked for an off the cuff comment on the novel approaches being planned in Midlothian Libraries on 2nd February, which is Love Your Library Day in Scotland, though given little information about the activities on offer.

The activities planned,  including what some papers are referring to as ‘pole-dancing classes’ and table tennis using books in place of bats, have not only raised eyebrows but certainly got a lot of people talking.  The ‘pole-dancing’ is little more that a one-off fitness session on offer to over 16s in a single  library on the day.  Other activities planned are Scottish country dancing, workshops for would-be authors, X-box competitions to engage youth and their parents, and musical performances.

The story has been covered in The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Scotsman and today in The Independent so the novelty of the activities has certainly grabbed a great deal of publicity! You can read the articles via the links below:

DAILY TELEGRAPH : 18th January
Library under fire after offering free pole-dancing lessons to encourage users

THE GUARDIAN : 18th January
Library turns to pole dancing to entice new readers

The SCOTSMAN : 18th January
Plan to encourage people to visit library by offering pole fitness session among books

The INDEPENDENT: 19th January
Scottish library offers pole-dancing lessons

Laura was misquoted in The Telegraph article.  We reproduce the comment she added to the article here. Laura wrote, 

“I’d like to reassure members of the Library Campaign that I haven’t really turned into Lady Bracknell, as quoted.
For instance, I’d reserve ‘absolutely appalled’ as a comment on the fact that 200 public libraries were lost last year and another 300 are likely to go this year.
Even using books as bats looks acceptable compared to that.
Laura Swaffield

The Library Campaign is very clear that we support local groups, in what ever they feel best meets local needs, and do not sit in judgement. The concept of using books as bats  does seem a little far fetched and some will see it as showing little regard to the mainstay of libraries – the precious and varied book stock within. The details are sketchy and the books may not even be intended to be used as physical bats or they may be mock ups or even written-off stock.

The choice of activities has certainly got Midlothian Libraries an awful lot of attention in a very short space of time across the UK and if that draws in more people, allowing the service to shake off a stuffy image or attract people who would not usually use libraries that can only be a good thing.

What do you think?

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Libraries News Round-up: 14 September 2016

PRIVATE EYE Issue No. 1427 Library News: Surrey (p.34) In all good newsagents Bromley Times : 14th September Unite hails ‘significant victory’ as group pulls out of community library takeovers…

20 Replies to “There are worse things than pole-dancing!”

  1. Much ado nothing as usual.

    Anything that may lead people to libraries is acceptable.

    I wish I were fit enough to attend pole-dancing classes. Shall I start training?

    Mens sana in corpore sano

  2. Shirley Burnham 11 years ago

    I thought the quotes from Laura S (whether misquoted or not) were perfectly fine. I do not want to close my eyes at night and dream of libraries filled with athletic women dancing on poles, nor of Alice in Wonderland-style matches using books as bats instead of flamingos. That would class as a nightmare.

    Is the “sexing up” libraries really necessary ? I’m not just referring to these articles, but to all the contortions of those who want to stuff them with things that synergise with their core purpose so remotely as to be ludicrous. It is as though advocates believe that libraries’ genuine value cannot be promoted without boring the pants off people. Granted, the Midlothian initiative is a bit of lateral thinking – and will be fun for National Libraries Day, but personally I am *much* more interested in Newcastle’s plan to occupy their libraries, not in this.

  3. Diversification gone mad! It’s a bit sad that this is what we have to do to attract people into libraries and joking apart it’s indicative of the total lack of belief in the core ethos of the service!

  4. Laura Swaffield 11 years ago

    It’s an interesting question.
    And it’s getting more & more topical. Cuts are hacking away at any hope of still offering a normal library service, with accessible local branches, trained staff, decent stock etc etc.

    So what do you do? Close branches? Reduce hours? Hollow out the staff expertise? Share the buildings with other stuff? Where do you draw the line?

    Peace and quiet is one special, unique thing libraries offer (note the ‘silence room’ that Selfridge’s has just opened for their weary customers).
    Worth remembering.

    But I’ve got no quarrel with Midlothian’s wacky plans for a one-off national libraries-are-fun day.

    What DOES drive me mad is the near-universal hopelessness of libraries at publicising themselves at all.
    The humblest pizza parlour knows to shove a few leaflets through doors, to tell people what it’s got.
    Meanwhile, I read endless research reports saying that people are amazed to find out what libraries offer – it’s just that nobody told them.

  5. […] Library Campaign : 19th January There are worse things than pole-dancing Sky News : 18th January Campaigners Plan Occupation Of Newcastle Libraries In Fight Against Cuts […]

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  7. Elizabeth Ash 11 years ago

    I find this fascinating. At first, I admit, I was very taken aback. Given more time to consider it all I actually find it highly amusing.

    I do understand where Shirley and Alan (comments above) are coming from, and I would agree with them if this were an ongoing thing but behind the attention-grabbing headline this is just a stunt after all.

    The pole-dancing is really a glorified exercise class. I agree with Marzia there too. I’d kill to be as fit as the woman pictured, possessing the muscle tone and control to hang from a pole like that!

    Let’s not forget though that there are author visits, beginner sessions on how to write a novel, something to attract children and parents with the x-box competition, Scottish dance – appealing to a wider audience, various music groups performing and head massage. The breadth of activities are bound to draw in a wide cross-section of the community and that really can’t be a bad thing. Once in, there is a chance to show those not currently using a library what a great library service has to offer.

    The only thing I find a bit bizarre is using books as bats. I think this really does have the potential to cause offence but then again I wonder if they really will employ them physically or whether they will be used as a metaphorical battle of words in some way.

    As a one off I have no problem with this rather clever publicity stunt and hopefully those attending will have their eyes opened to all the things that libraries REALLY have to offer.

  8. Shirley Burnham 11 years ago

    Remember, there was once a *first* coffee-shop/café in a library. It was not, in the end, a one off – was it? Just saying ….

  9. Rubymalvolio 11 years ago

    I’m with Shirley and Alan on this one, gimmicks are the things we should leave to the politicians, gives them something to do with their time. Libraries should have the confidence to believe in and promote what their core purpose is which is reading and information. Its one of the things I find frustrating, there is lots of activity (e.g the 6 million arts in libraries thing) going on at the top that is distracting from the dismantling of the library service, the arts council, scl, dmcs etc should be looking at ways of saving libraries rather than the endless stream of gimmicks and initiatives that occupy their time and energies. Yes libraries have to adapt and change to survive but I think the line has been crossed with pole dancing. We don’t want to give E-Laizey any silly ideas, he may get Peter Stringfellow in as library Tzar 😀

  10. Elizabeth Ash 11 years ago

    We hope to be able to share further background details to this planned event shortly. Watch this space!

  11. Laura Swaffield 11 years ago

    Nope, I remain unrepentant.
    I don’t want a library service that can’t have a laugh, one day of the year – remember, this is just a publicity stunt for National Libraries Day in Scotland. And it’s worked, hasn’t it.

    I do, though, draw the line at bashing books about, even old ones. It’s not what they are for.

    Like many, many library users, I hate the way librarans chuck out anything that isn’t absolutely new and shiny, regardless of its relevance or value.
    I have watched shelves in a branch library get more and more empty as they threw away an out of print book on local history, most of the gardening books, a Jane Austen, used but in perfect condition… etc etc etc

  12. As the person responsible for Love Your Library Day in Midlothian I find the comments here intriguing, interesting and somewhat baffling.
    I thought the term National Libraries Day somewhat uninspiring so last year I changed the name in Midlothian to Love Your Library Day – please note this is only in Midlothian not the rest of Scotland. Last year we had Frankie Boyle and Miles Jupp appearing (both did it for free because they vaule libraries) and we received the same amount of publicity about the appropriateness or otherwise of Frankie Boyle promoting libraries. I thought he was great as was Miles Jupp.
    We also had “booky” table tennis last year which if I remember correctly was one of the suggestions put forward as part of the discussion of what libraries could do as part of National Libraries Day. In response to the comments about using books as bats I have no problem with doing this. The books are no longer fit for use in the library and won’t sell as part of our withdrawn stock procedure (we use Book Donors who sell our old stock through the Internet and pay us a percentage of the sales).
    I have to say I disagree with Laura for the most part about having dirty, tatty books sitting on library shelves. When I was a proper librarian my criteron for withdrawing a book on physical grounds was “would I take this book to bed with me or not?” If I wouldn’t it got withdrawn unless of course it was something of value which couldn’t be replaced – eg local history. I agree with Laura that there needs to be careful consideration about what is withdrawn and what isn’t. One of our unique selling points is that libraries stock books which are out of print and not easily available elsewhere – but that is a debate for another time.
    Pole dancing in libraries whatever next??? For a start it isn’t pole dancing, it is pole fitness. Nikki (the person in the photo) is a fitness instructor and runs a very popular class in the leisure centre not far from the library.

    Hopefully members of her fitness class will come into the library, maybe for the first time, to see what is going on. I am certainly not advocating pole fitness as a regular activity – this a one off event as a means of encouraging people to visit who wouldn’t ordinarily come into the library.

    As far as the comments about having a belief in our core values go and we shouldn’t have gimmicks in libraries – these commnets are completely naive. I totally believe in the core values of public libraries but try to get press coverage on anything positive relating to books and see how far you get. In November Midlothian Libraries had a tremendous programme of book related activities and events as part of National Book Week Scotland. We had no national publicity and very little local press coverage. We do a little non conventional event, we get the Telegraph allegedly lying by misquoting Laura and we get an incredible amount of publicity in the national and local press. As someone said there is no such thing as bad publicity.

    Just for information the leader of the council phoned me up last week to congratulate library staff on putting together such an imaginative and creative programme of events. I cleared the pole fitness session with the elected member with responsibility for libraries because I knew there would probably be a storm about this. She couldn’t stop smiling when I told her about it and thought it was a great idea. This morning another local councillor phoned the staff at Mayfield Library to say that it was a great idea and well done.

    When I have to put forward cuts to the library budget next year these councillors will remember not just the pole fitness but the breadth of events we put on in libraries (Stuart MacBride, Quentin Jardin, Lin Anderson, Peter Kerr, J A Henderson – all well respected and popular authors are also taking part in Love Your Library Day) as well as the incredibly successful early years literacy activites we put on, they may think twice about accepting these cuts.

    I am making the library visible and relevant to the community and the politicians – that is my job. Great to see such national interest in Midlothian which is the second smallest mainland authority in Scotland – we must be doing something right!

  13. Shirley Burnham 11 years ago

    This is an extremely eloquent response from Philip Wark. Thank you.

  14. As a member of the Midlothian Library Service, I don’t think I have ever been as proud to serve the Library Service and our community as I am today.

    I have to say I totally agree with one of Ms. Swaffield’s comments above. To whit: ‘What DOES drive me mad is the near-universal hopelessness of libraries at publicising themselves at all.
    The humblest pizza parlour knows to shove a few leaflets through doors, to tell people what it’s got.
    Meanwhile, I read endless research reports saying that people are amazed to find out what libraries offer – it’s just that nobody told them.’

    There are many people who still seem to be under the impression that all any of us do in Library Services is stamp Mills & Boon books all day whilst going ‘Shoosh’ at anyone who has the cheek to talk above a whisper. Whilst, like a lot of stereotypes it may stem from some people’s experience, people are waking up to the fact that Libraries have so much more to offer.

    And people are prepared to give. As someone who was involved in bringing Frankie Boyle and Miles Jupp to Midlothian last year, not only did they not charge for their appearances, but they didn’t even ask for travel expenses (for the record, they were offered, and declined). This didn’t stop some people being ‘disgusted’ about the fact that public money was being spent on them – sadly, they decided not to check their facts and make assumptions.

    It has been said that shutting libraries in a recession is like shutting casualty departments in a war. I would agree-and I am sure most Library Service workers and users across the British Isles and further afield would concur. What I would also add is that those people who would wish to see Libraries as quiet places where it is only books that are taken out, with none of the activities being promoted, frankly are as much of a risk to the future of Library Services as those who would seek to make cuts.

    Last week saw HMV go into administration. As a former employee of the company, I can certainly say that one of the reasons the company had been struggling was that they had failed to get to grips with changes. Libraries should take note!

    1. @Ed – I would just like to assure you that i for one am not one of the people you mention, of course i want to see library services promoted but what now constitutes ‘services’, anything and everything it seems, this to me is the problem! Our core offer has become muddied and muddled by a plethora of add-ons that along with calling library staff ‘customers service assts’ and libraries ‘lounges’, ‘hives’, ‘discovery centres’ etc has confused not only the public but management, staff and the policy makers. I call it the ‘disneyfication’ of libraries! Yes we have to develop and inovate but only if its relevant and most importantly only if users want and need it, we could try asking them i suppose, a bit revolutionary i know! 😉

  15. A very good response from Philip Wark and i can see his point about it being a one off event and i’m not particuarly bothered by this specific example, my wider concerns lie with the way libraries are being portrayed as leisure options and how there seems to be a general policy in the library world of ‘get them through the doors by any means necessary’, which might boost user figures but in the long run, i believe, leads to overdiversification and a shift away from the core! I don’t think these concerns are naive!

  16. Rubymalvplio 11 years ago

    I agree that there is some very good points above. All regular library users and staff understand the power of libraries, both for information and the written word. Unfortunately those making and influencing policy seem to be unable to communicate and promote this. What libraries do for people and communities doesn’t appear on a balance sheet so they think its something they can cut. Which I think is the nub of the problem as I see it. These sorts of stunts might get the library column inches but its a shame we have to go down to the level of politicians with their stunts and gimmicks to promote libraries which is a failure to promote their true worth. I really do wish the library the best of luck with it and despite not being keen on it hope it helps stave off the cuts

  17. Sarah Mac 11 years ago

    I think this is obviously a publicity stunt in order to create a buzz around the library. I think perhaps this ‘event’ is aimed link the currently popular (though I may be wrong as I have’t read it) 50 shades of grey and the work of the library itself. Unfortunately, I think where it fails is that the act of pole dancing in a library has nothing to do with the work of a library. If libraries are to continue in their work they need to adapt to how they are needed within the community. Libraries are a source to provide information, support literacy and improve wellbeing through community based events in the library. I do not think we need to pull stunts such as this to guarantee their future, nor do I think we should simply let libraries die. I do think we need to be pro-active and better understand how our communities are formed in this day and age and what role a library can have within these. We need to actively build links with the community members and understand what they want from, and how they would engage in the library (I’m almost certain the answer is not pole dancing classes!). Glasgow Womens Library is one library that I know of worth checking out, its work to engage with members of the community be it through BME work, ESOL work or literacy work is unrivalled in the area and is a source which busy day in day out and continually growing – they must be doing something right!

  18. As I’ve said elsewhere the pole fitness session is a very small part of a varied and interesting programme of events to promote libraries. See my post on LisPubLibs for further detail. Great that there is such interest in Midlothian.

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