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Libraries Week x Meet our Members – Shahnila Shafiq

Category: Blog, Libraries Week, Meet our Members

The regular Meet our Members blog you know and love is enjoying a Libraries Week special edition for one week only, during which we’ll be learning more about how our dynamic and diverse CILIPS membership base is Taking Action, #Changing Lives.

Today, we’re hearing from Shahnila Shafiq, Information Assistant at City Campus Library, City of Glasgow College. Shahnila is also taking charge of today’s CILIPS #LibrariesWeek social takeover, so keep a close eye on our Twitter and Instagram accounts this afternoon as she shares more of her innovative ideas!

Libraries Week 2021 – Libraries #ChangingLives

a large library space with shelves on the left and study spaces beside windows on the right

Level 5 of City Campus Library, where Shahnila works

Hello Everyone!

This year’s theme for libraries week is Libraries #Changing Lives, which made me reflect on my own experience of various libraries as a service user and as a Scottish FE library worker. What does reading means to me and how has the library changed my life? I would like to share some informal thoughts.

I believe that libraries truly are places that take an individual from one place to another through the power of books and their services. I also think that libraries are essential to our society, as Andrew Carnegie once said ‘A library outranks any other one thing a community can do to benefit its people. It is a never failing spring in the desert.’

Scotland has a rich libraries heritage. The National Library of Scotland was established in 1925 and has over 24 million objects. Andrew Carnegie himself, who built almost 3,000 public libraries around the world, opened his first Carnegie library in Dunfermline in 1883. Glasgow’s libraries also benefitted from his generous £100,000 donation which led to the creation of branch libraries at Dennistoun, Bridgeton, Maryhil, Parkhead, Govanhill, Possilpark, and Woodside. These still serve as community libraries to this day. In Glasgow we also have one of Europe’s largest public libraries with research, archive and business facilities called The Mitchell Library.

During pandemic restrictions, when the world closed down, like many other people I took a lot of comfort in reading about places and through books; I discovered concepts and worlds which were a source of both fascination and curiosity. I think we read a lot more than we realise in our daily lives: we read the newspaper, online news or Twitter articles/tweets first thing in the morning. We also often read our books on our commute, as well as reading for pleasure, business and academic study. Despite our different choices, reading is a fundamental part of our existence and should be encouraged and nurtured from a young age.

City of Glasgow College Riverside Campus, showing its status as the COP26 International Maritime Hub.

Nowadays when I visit libraries, it’s usually to get specific books or for quiet study, but sometimes it is also just to browse and be inspired. Even after so many years of using different types of library services, I still get excited when visiting a new library. There are many things to love: the architecture, the extensive amount of books that can satisfy endless curiosities, the joy of seeing books as beautiful objects and different bindings. Reading and libraries are important parts of the daily fabric of life in modern society and have been so throughout history, targeting all ages and backgrounds, and offering a wealth of information and learning for business and pleasure for all. I also like the idea of library and allied services as a hub where people use those community spaces for a multitude of things, such as learning, creativity and workspace.

In an international context, I really like the way Christian Lauersen, Director of Libraries and Citizen Services in Roskilde Municipality, Denmark, spoke in his recent talk A library visit is not just a number: Seeking a new language for the value of libraries about the four dimensions of culture: emotional, intellectual, creative and social aspects of library service. I believe that the community aspect of libraries is fundamental in engaging effectively and meaningfully with users to create a space which fulfils all of the above needs successfully. We must invest in our communities and create spaces where users can engage with the service and one another to share ideas and reduce isolation. On a personal note, I think that considering people are living longer and there are a lot more people living alone and outwith nuclear families, places like library hubs that bring different demographics together are a wonderful way for people to socialise and encourage community cohesion and exchange cultural ideas. I also believe they are important for communities in bringing multiple services together within the library, which is very beneficial for service users.

The view from a City Campus Library Level 5 study desk, showing the welcome addition of greenery

I also care passionately about seeing more green spaces and gardens incorporated within libraries. In today’s fast-paced modern society, it’s important to take time in nature to recharge and find a mental balance, and libraries are already great places for self-reflection and intellectual curiosity. The pandemic has left a significant mental void in many people. Urban living, isolation and loneliness are on the increase. Health and Social Welfare alongside libraries are crucial to the post-pandemic world in building economic recovery, resilience and for empowerment in society. The combination of calm garden spaces with libraries enhances quality of living for users and encourage more awareness for climate change issues and responsibility. As Glasgow is hosting the climate change summit COP26, this year is a perfect opportunity to highlight this and advance its place on this agenda. Our Riverside Campus is also the COP26 INTERNATIONAL MARITIME HUB.

In Scotland’s Public Library Strategy 2021-2025, I am particularly excited about section 2.1: Deploy people-centred design principles and decision making to ensure service development is collaborative. It can also be referred to as People Centred Spaces. An awesome international example of this is the public library with an indoor garden in Schiedam in the Netherlands which has an innovative indoor garden.

a courtyard-style library space with tables, a magazine and book stand, and many hedges, plants and flowers.

Public Library, Schiedam – photo courtesy of hanratharchitect

I especially love Dutch libraries and think they have an excellent library system, having enjoyed several bookish adventures in the Netherlands. The Dutch paper trade historically meant that reading was widely encouraged there and has strong roots in their society (find an excellent article on this here – ‘Reading Newspapers in the Dutch Golden Age’ by Michiel Van Groesen). On my last trip, I bought some small books called dwarsliggers, also known as ‘flip back books’, which were invented by the Dutch and are amazing: so small they can fit in a small purse or your pocket, and very easy to read. I really wish we had them available in the UK, especially in Scottish libraries! The United Nation’s World Happiness Report 2021 looks at the relationship between well-being and the spread of viruses, and The Netherlands ranked fifth in 2021 results, climbing one spot compared to the results of last year’s report. This is in addition to the UNICEF report that Dutch children are most satisfied with their lives and the OECD ranking the Netherlands best for work-life balance. I think all of this is interconnected and libraries are at the heart of happiness.

An amazing collection of Dwarsliggers at Schipol International Airport, Amsterdam

I absolutely love libraries and genuinely believe in the transformative power of reading and learning, and I also think that libraries are fundamental institutions in a civil society, playing a key role in developing human potential in all age groups. Continued public library cuts are devastating as not everyone has access to college and university libraries: I think we need innovative ways to generate revenue ethically and invest in services that integrate and help re-build communities post pandemic.

Lastly as I love libraries and reading, I believe that libraries change lives every day, in so many ways, but especially by empowering people, allowing them a space to dream and develop hope. I think all libraries are full of hope and light, they certainly have been for me.  Libraries have shown time and time again that they are adaptable and can change to suit the needs of its users with still maintaining traditional qualities i.e. equality, dignity and a place of learning for all. I hope you will all support your local libraries (or whichever library you use) and the people who work very hard in these services: from management to frontline workers and beyond. Please also encourage others to read and engage with all that a library has to offer so they flourish in the long term and evolve positively with the changing times for the benefit of all. If you would like to know more about City of Glasgow College Library, where I work, you can check out our website.

On Friday 8th October for #LibrariesWeek, I am taking over the CILIP Scotland’s social media channels, so look out for some lovely posts about some of the Glasgow libraries in my life, including my library, and the books I love. Please do say hello, tag me in your bookish posts and tell me something about the libraries in your life and what reading means to you.

Thank you so much to Shahnila for sharing these passionate and thoughtful reflections on all that libraries mean to the world – we’re also excited to see dwarsliggers make an appearance in Scottish libraries!

Please click here for more on CILIPS’s #LibrariesWeek celebrations, or why not send us your very own Meet our Members blog post?

The Libraries Week graphic with white text reading 'Taking action, changing lives' and a photograph of Shahnila with a library garden background


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