Friday, 1 June 2012

Libraries, Lattes and Art

Okay, I know the title might seem a bit of a mixture, but it WILL make sense...eventually. And there's some valid points. Anyway...

First, a confession. I very rarely go to the library. <ducks hail of sharp objects> This despite the fact that not only does Colchester have a large main library, but also several smaller branches, one just a ten minute walk from my home. You see, I'd rather OWN the books I like to read than borrow them. My groaning book shelves bear witness to this sin of hoarding paperbacks. With my newly discovered love for my Kindle, that problem has been alleviated by my latest books all being digital now (yes, I'm aware there is some debate over whether you actually 'own' a digital copy of a book. I've heard about Amazon deleting titles from Kindle accounts. But that's diverting from my main topic today). In all honesty the last three times I've been to my local library has been to make use of their computers or their free Wi-Fi. Ironically, my last but one visit was to use the free Wi-Fi to register my Kindle, the device now most responsible for my lack of library visits. Other than that, my visits have been for research - to see what speculative fiction titles are around and whether my own works fit in with anything else currently available.

But today is the last day before a week's half term school holiday, so I made a trip into town to enjoy my last morning of freedom. Yes, I should be writing/editing. I will....later. I had errands to run, and two reasons to visit the main library. Firstly, a local artist called Claire Heaton has a small exhibition there. I'm a huge fan of Brian Froud's fairies - the man responsible for the Goblins in Labyrinth and the Gelflings in The Dark Crystal, two of my all-time favourite films. I prefer his version of fairies compared to the Disney variety. They're more elemental in feel. And Claire Heaton's work runs on a similar vein. 

I loved them! Now if only I can sell enough copies of my book to buy one. If you'd like to see some (and Colchester library is outside your range) you can find her at 

The second reason I went there was for some research - again.Colchester main library is a large, two storey building, but an awful lot of it is no longer taken up by books. It has a reasonable sized music and DVD selection, a huge childrens' library with play area where they hold story time, a cafe, a heck of a lot more computers than I remember from my last visit, a large room devoted to the history of Colchester (it IS a historic town after all), a small area given over to the display of Claire Heaton's artwork...and the rest is books. Not a huge amount of books, to be honest.

I can understand that to a degree - the library is trying to adapt to changing trends, hence the large number of computers and additions like the cafe. More and more people are doing their research on computers. Ereaders are becoming more popular. The library has got to offer more or sink.

But the speculative fiction section depressed me. Science fiction and fantasy share one entire shelving unit, one side each. Horror also has a side to itself, but a third of that is taken up by urban fantasy/paranormal works. Looking at the science fiction alone, I became even more depressed. Most is hard scifi - dark, techy stuff. Don't have a problem with that - I have and still do read that. There were six Neal Asher books, five of which I already own. One entire shelf was Doctor Who. Star Trek and Star Wars also had a shelf each. Various incarnations of Stargate and Primeval novels shared a fourth shelf. There were no Jaine Fenn books (sob!). No Linnea Sinclair. There were a dozen Anne McCaffrey books, some co-written with her son or another author and none of which I've read - I stopped reading them after the last book in the Crystal Singer trilogy. I could be wrong, but after picking up a few I found the blurbs all read as more Young Adult stories than the adult sfr I'd always associated with her. None of the authors I have gotten to know, read and love since I began the whole publication process were anywhere to be seen. Not so surprising I guess when most of them are published through predominantly digital small press publishers, and in the States too, but it left me feeling a little lost. Maybe I'm too out of touch, at least with the scifi scene in the UK. Maybe because while science fiction romance is fighting for recognition in the US, it's still unheard of here. I couldn't see anywhere on that shelf that I felt my own work would fit in. Not that I have any illusions that I'll be big enough to warrant making a shelf in the library. (Yet. I add the 'yet' as I'm ever optimistic, yet still try to be realistic. That's a balancing act in itself).

The romance section was no better. It had an entire shelving unit to itself, but mostly for a ton of identical looking Mills and Boon style books. Mostly contemporary, a handful of historical. But again, my book wouldn't fit in there.

Out of curiosity (a morbid one at that) I visited my local branch on the way home. Here, all the speculative fiction shares one side of a shelving unit. Doctor Who rated half a shelf (I think the children's library upstairs also has DW titles). Only two Neal Asher books, one of which I own. One Jaine Fenn book (Yay! Although I own all of her titles already). Most of the horror section was again paranormal/urban fantasy. Probably a fair selection for a small local branch, but it left me sighing. So this is one reason I don't go to the library. Now I have a Kindle, I can go to Amazon, check out the blurb and the first few pages if something catches my eye, and have the entire book to devour in a couple of minutes. I just don't have a reason to go to the library. And I feel bad about that, when I've always loved books so much. So much so that I write them too. I just hope the libraries can keep coming up with ways to pull people in. Like the art exhibition and story time for children. Because I would hate to see them go.

Oh, and the latte? My treat for walking into town and back again (a good hour's fast-paced walk) is a coffee at Slice who make a decent cup without charging Starbuck size prices, and with homemade soups to die for. Told you it would all make sense. :-P

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