“The social aspect of reading”: Fife’s success with food, wizards and comic-cons

I got to talking to Yvonne Melville from Fife libraries at the National Acquisitions Group conference a couple of weeks ago. She was telling me of the great events they put on there and I just not heard of any of them. So I thought you should know to … my thanks to Yvonne for sending me the article and the great pictures.

 

“Fife is set between the rivers Tay and Forth on the east of Scotland. With St Andrews to the north and Dunfermline to the south, Fife Cultural Trust manages a library service covering a mix of rural and urban communities, some of which have high levels of deprivation others which are very affluent.

 Over the years we had built up a good programme of standard author events in Fife’s libraries, where the audience would arrive waiting to hang on every word uttered by their favourite author. However we began to realise that it was becoming more difficult to attract an audience to this type of event, readers have more access to their authors through social media and authors tour much more than they used to, making the opportunity to meet and talk to an author less of a rarity.

Now that's one tasty reader promotion

Now that’s one tasty reader promotion

As part of our programme of events we have offered events with more of an emphasis on the social aspect of reading, eg Readers Day, Real Corkers and Beer, Book & Burger events. As a service development team we started to think about what else we could offer which would attract audiences in to our libraries. MANIL 2015 was coming round and we wanted to do something a bit different which would offer an event suitable for visual impaired readers – and so Death by Chocolate was created. Working with a local chocolate maker we paired crime and thriller readings with bespoke chocolates. The audience listened to a short reading and then tasted the chocolate with tasting notes provided by the supplier. The audience loved it, with a demand for more like this being fed back. It would have been wrong not to give our readers what they wanted and so the Taste of ….. series of events started. To date we’ve tasted gin, whisky, chocolate, baileys and our next event will be Cheese, Wine and Horror. We love reading the feedback from our audiences, but we’re unsure about the request for a whisky and trampoline event.

 

This is some of feedback received:
• Great fun, reminded me it is ok to read something different.
• Excellent event! Please offer more of these! Great readings, drams and a whisky legend! What more could you ask for?
• Fab evening, wonderful readings – nothing beats the pleasure of listening to a story being read aloud
• Libraries need to be innovative and this is a welcome example

A wizard library event idea

A wizard library event idea

The social aspect of these events continues to attract audiences, and local businesses gain by providing (at a cost) the tastings. We’re not restricted to only offering taste of events, we’ve also found that interactive murder mystery evenings are very popular. Until recently we have used the scripts written by Ann Cleeves, read out by willing staff volunteers. The ‘suspects’ are then interrogated by members of the audience over refreshments before deciding who the killer is. These events are relatively low cost, with the main expense being staff time. Our last murder mystery was a little different with the murder taking place in Hogwarts and the suspects provided by ‘Can you catch the Killer’. This was in response to a request for adult Harry Potter themed events. Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Museum was dressed for the occasion with catering reflecting the Harry Potter theme – who could resist a Golden Snitch cocktail? We had a full house and will be repeating the event in February.

Looking back we had often talked about how do we get across to readers who have never been to an author event what to expect from one? Perhaps we have found the answer – we provide events that bring the social aspect of reading to the fore rather than asking audiences to sit and be entertained by an author.

“Perhaps we have found the answer – we provide events that bring the social aspect of reading to the fore rather than asking audiences to sit and be entertained by an author”

We also have to be aware of reading trends. Graphic novels and comics are becoming increasingly popular and we can’t afford to ignore this readership. It was with this in mind that we decided it was time to put our toe in the water and arrange a comic con. We were fortunate to be able to receive help from a local expert in graphic novel business, who made sure we didn’t make any awful mistakes, and provided us with links to guests, vendors and small publishers. We thought we were being optimistic when we set our sights at attracting an audience of approximately 1000, the reality was that over 3000 people from all parts of Fife and all ages visited Glenrothes Comic Con. The £1 entry fee helped ensure that families found the event affordable.

Be a library hero

Be a library hero

Cosplay was embraced by all ages with mini superwomen, Bat Boy and Bat Girl standing alongside Poison Ivy and Arrow. The professional cosplayers were amazing: our Jedi Knight, Wicked Queen and Maleficent took so much time to talk to visitors and pose for photos, and I’m still surprised by how many children were happy to take an apple from the wicked queen. It was a huge undertaking and we’ve learnt plenty of lessons for next year. Little things like using a hand stamp on entry rather than a wrist band, t-shirts for volunteers worked well (we called all our volunteers Glen) the little things in life make life easier for the stall holders, giving them bottles of water and some snacks throughout the day was very well received, as was having a way for stall holders to book online will be in place for 2018. Workshops on the day had a mixed response with the practical drawing sessions being far more popular than the creator panel sessions.

The most important piece of the jigsaw was social media – vital to have that in place as it will disseminate information quickly and easily for you. We now need to work on how we capitalise on the success of this year, and having easier access to a different demographic from those we usually meet at our events.

Where to next? I’m sure we can find other ideas that will incorporate good food, drink, and company with great books.

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