Promoting literature – it’s magic!

Literature can bring people together and create magic. As librarians we wish to open the door to new literary experiences and to make the library a popular meeting place.

Beneath four arches

In the autumn of 2005 the Tromsø Library and City Archives moved into new premises, built beneath what was originally the roof of a cinema. The central feature of this special construction, sometimes referred to as a Candela shell, is that the roof consists of four large arches, each independently anchored in the ground. This made it possible to demolish the rest of the building, while still retaining the roof for the new library. It is an impressive construction and beneath this arched ceiling we work purposefully at the task of promoting literature. Our range of activities has risen steadily to a level which in 2008 saw 93 arrangements for adults in addition to all the work we do for children and young people. Such progress is attained only by constantly extending and improving library services.

In this article we should like to construct four arches creating a roof to span across the various aspects of bringing literature to the public. For in the same way as each arch supports the building itself, we feel that our four arches are important to the shaping and future development of these services in our library.

The arch of inspiration

The task of promoting literature is all about creating reader involvement.We aim all the time to improve ourselves as intermediaries. The library has a group of staff particularly interested in this feature of our work, which in turn comes from the fact that they have been given the opportunity to travel around seeking inspiration. We ourselves have both obtained a degree in the dissemination of literature at Oslo University College, which gives us the background necessary to define certain important aspects of this field.

An important source of inspiration has been Marianne Svarstad, psychotherapist and film maker, who for many years has held courses in presentation of and talking about books. Svarstad’s method consists of telling a story by recreating scenes from the book in question, thus appealing to the listener’s imagination and own experience. In this way listeners can conjure up their own images and create their own personal story.

Those coming new to this process must take their first steps in reassuring surroundings. Together with a colleague, who is a trained narrator, we arranged a ‘dissemination workshop’, where we passed on the method we had learned from Marianne Svarstad. We followed up this event with staff evenings, for which everybody was required to prepare a book-talk or a story. Our experience was that those involved gained greater self-belief in their abilities and that, in fact, the library had several capable members of staff available for this work.

The arch of involvement

If we wish to arouse interest and to inspire, the first requirement is that we ourselves are committed and involved. Only then can we communicate to others. We find our inspiration in the classic rhetoric of the Roman philosopher Cicero (106-42 BC) and in his declared aim to please, to move and to enlighten. The rhetorical tradition considered mankind to be both body and soul, which means that we as promoters of literature must address ourselves to the listener’s intellect, feelings and imagination. This is achieved through forms of appeal or methods of conviction known as ethos, logos and pathos. Ethos refers to the credibility of the speaker. If we base our appeal on ourselves, our interests and our involvement, we gain the confidence of the public. Our words must demonstrate a sure grasp of the subject in hand, i.e. logos. Pathos is concerned with feelings and with the speaker’s ability to touch the emotions of those listening. If our argument comes across as heartfelt and sincere, listeners will trust in what we say.

The meeting-place arch

The library is for everybody. It is a meeting place, an oasis and an arena for interaction. Those who so wish should find it possible to settle themselves in a quiet corner, but our experi- ence is that many people greatly appreciate a shared literary experience. As librarians we must provide the inspiration for such arrangements.

At the Tromsø Library and City Archives we have gradually developed certain regular events, such as the Literary Lunchbox which is a 30-minute gettogether every Friday in the library’s newspaper section to talk about books. Not only the library’s own staff but also invited guests make a contribution to the programme. In the course of time we have acquired a regular public and the programme is both varied and challenging, spanning wide from cookery books and portraits of authors to football literature, reading aloud, haiku poetry and contemporary Sami art. In addition we are constantly testing out new ways to present literature by means of exhibitions, book soirees and other arrangements for the public.

On World Book Day 2009 we arranged Arctic Passion – an evening of rapture. This was an arrangement devoted to love and romance, discussing some of the best-known classics of world literature, together with more modern works, poetry and a literature quiz. Cheese and biscuits, dark chocolate, roses and live tango music served to round off an evening of quality. A positive response from those who took part confirmed the success of the arrangement. In our opinion librarians possess qualities which could and should be put to greater use.We should show and be proud of our knowledge of literature. People trust us and our reputation is high among the general public. The challenge therefore is for us to make even greater use of our personal interest and commitment to encourage the spread of literature and to bring people together for fantastic experiences.

The local arch

It is important for our activities to be anchored in the immediate surroundings. This is true both within the library itself with colleagues providing mutual support and also outside with partners in the local community. Our library has limited financial resources to invest in the promotion of literature and must therefore rely greatly on a wide network of contacts and helpful partners. We cooperate with the Tromsø International Literature Festival, ‘Ordkalotten’, with the Norwegian Authors’ Association, with the local booksellers and with a variety of different organisations in the town.We are constantly looking for new partners whose cooperation will give our programme greater breadth and the possibility of reaching new user groups.

We have also many ideas which cannot get off the ground because of a lack of resources. Much of what we have achieved has been in spite of rather than because of, but we find it is easier to gain support when we can point to one of our successes. A great deal can be accomplished without much expense by commitment and enthusiasm, and often those we contact are interested in sharing the cost. Our experience is that one must establish contacts within the local community, drop into the book- shops, turn up at other literary arrangements, introduce oneself and the library to the literary environment, be active in the local press and visible on the Internet. We must simply be there where it’s happening.

Our vision

Beneath these four arches we have not only built a new, attractive library but have also created a strategic platform for the promotion of literature both in the present and for the future. The high, curved ceiling of Tromsø Library and City Archives offers plenty of space for people to meet and to enjoy literature. Our vision is to fill this space with literary happenings and to make the public aware of our librarians as dedicated and inspired advocates of literature. Just imagine having a job with such possibilities!

Marit Andersen Somby
Tromsø Library and City Archives

Marit.somby AT

Ellen Berg Larsen
Tromsø Library and City Archives

Ellen.berg.larsen AT

Translated by Eric Deverill

Project Director "Library rooms in Troms" Troms County Linbrary
Librarian Tromsø Library and City Archives