Tuesday, 28 May 2013

The Hay Festival - An Insider View

                                Image courtesy of: Finn Beales

Time to return to Hay-On-Wye for an update from our guest blogger, Andrew Campbell, who is currently soaking up the literary atmosphere as a volunteer steward at this year's festival!


Hay. Fine weather. No need for wellingtons. A steady procession of visitors enter the festival site. Cheerful, chatty, eager with anticipation. First time visitors will know no difference, but the site has been reconfigured. Interestingly it is now smaller in size, but appears bigger. A sleight of hand or just another example of the magic of this place. It’s good to meet fellow colleagues from 2012. “Had a good year?” everyone seems to ask. It feels like a reunion which it actually is. The hesitancy of newly inducted stewards is apparent, but like the first day of school will soon disappear.

Commence work at “Barclays”, the largest venue (1500) and mecca for all the big name speakers. First up is John McCarthy, who is supposed to be talking with Sandi Toksvig. Big problem is that she’s ill. Unusual for Hay and for some attendees there is disappointment. She is a draw in her own right. McCarthy instead delivers a reading, but conversations are invariably better. The subject of Palestine is clearly a passion and he receives respectful attention. Prior to the talk commencing I chat to a gentleman taking notes. “That’s the sort of thing I suggest to my students when sitting in lectures”, I quip. A conversation ensues. Turns out he’s note taking for a blog. We have something in common (if you haven’t noticed you are reading mine right now)…but that’s where the similarity of sorts ends.  He’s a blogger with a difference, no less than Benedict Brogan, Deputy Editor of the Daily Telegraph! He graciously accepts my excuse for not having renewed my DT annual subscription and generously shares some blogging tips. Short, incisive commentary is best, so I make no apology now for my change in style. It’s the Benedict way. We become best friends.

To a smaller venue next. The Landmarc Stage. Title of talk: ”Futures in the Making”. All quite intellectual. Both speakers and audience appear equally challenging. I shall be making my debut here tomorrow as Venue Head, so concentration levels are at an all-time high. Visitors file out thoughtfully (something they always seem to do at presentations). Perhaps they are contemplating their own personal futures …

Head on over to the Wales Stage for a music performance. Hay covers a multitude of artistic presentations. Rokia Traore, a singer from Mali is performing. She comes with a big reputation and does not disappoint. The music is pulsating; pockets of the audience, unable to contain themselves, break out into unrestrained dance; some of the seated look on with envy, weighing up thoughts of how they might look if they joined in. The place as they say, “is rocking”. Truly a captivating performance! My working day ends up at Barclays. Another full house for Irish singer Christy Moore. A musical contrast; an audience comfortably seated and more constrained…but no less the poorer for that.


Hot and sunny today. The wind has dropped. No sounds of flapping canvas.  Visitor numbers seem high. Bump into my new best friend, Benedict, early on. We discuss blogging (what else?) and I compliment him on his posting which I had read earlier. Brevity, reflection, salient points. These are my new reference points. Help out at Barclays and listen in to Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. Astonishing revelations and insights. Schmidt delivers with a languid and easy style. Spot my work colleagues Lucy and Chris on the front row (where else?). Never mind Google Glass. Medical tablets have been invented to determine your state of health. Simply swallow and check the feedback on your mobile phone. Plenty of bemused reactions to that! No time here to discuss his coverage of “code wars” (cyber space attacks); or social revolutions; or political influences surrounding broadband provision. Better to buy his latest book. Make my way to lunch. Surprisingly BBC Middle East Correspondent Jeremy Bowen swerves masterfully out of my way into a food court. Has he had a rugby past - or is it a developed skill to stay alive in dangerous places?

Spend most of my day at Landmarc. Was amused by Irish writer Colum McCann’s response to an opposing point of view, “I accept what you say, but I’d like to examine it”. Clearly it was nonsense to him then. Make a mental note to use that one at work. Out on the boardwalk, I get asked by Lord Stern’s wife for directions to the Green Room. We walk across together chatting briefly about climate change issues. I can safely report that despite his underestimations of former predictions, he does sleep well at night. In the Green Room spot an all-time hero, AC Grayling in thoughtful conversation. What wonderful hair! The boardwalks are now teeming – and there is hardly any room for deckchairs on the grass. But the crowds seem content.  Bump into friends from Carmarthen. They appear enthused. Again on the boardwalk I get asked for directions. This time from Welsh Govt Education Minister Leighton Andrews and wife. We walk and talk, Leighton holding his white rose (which is given to all presenters). It doesn’t hurt to mention that my day job is at Swansea Met. A piece of information that I pass on later to First Minister Carwyn Jones , when he comes to present at Landmarc.

My day ends in more sombre fashion. Faction Theatre are delivering a tribute play about gay rights activist David Kato, who was murdered in Uganda. Controversial. Shocking. Moving. It reflects much about the human condition.

                                Image courtesy of: Finn Beales   

38,000 tickets sold yesterday. Car park spaces suggest less numbers today. Still busy though, but more room to breathe on the boardwalks. .

Was able to catch Hans Blix earlier in the day. He revealed truths that we already knew but the audience was no less astonished. “Iraq has taught us that we must act upon fact not fiction”; “if you break the pot, you own it”, were just two of his lines. Uncomfortable listening for any former Prime Ministers in the audience. I was drawn by interviewer Jon Snow’s pink socks during the session. Quite striking, quite bold. Much in keeping with Blix’s presentation.

Spot Benedict in the Telegraph Tent and ask him how he managed to be brief about Schmidt yesterday. “Not easy” was the response. So I’m human after all. He was dashing off in the direction of Carl Bernstein’s presentation – one journalist in support of another I suppose. Return to Landmarc to set up geneticist Adam Rutherford’s talk. Science was never my thing, but his ability to explain difficult concepts with ease impressed. Had he been my “chem” teacher at school, who knows how life would have turned out? For the record – and you heard it here first, we are all descended from rocks. Yes rocks. My thoughts as well!!

The IF Campaign, “Enough Food for Everyone” brought a sense of sobriety late in the day. One in eight people on the planet go to bed hungry each day. Esther Mweto, from Malawi, grew up with such hunger. Her testimony was moving. Former Jain monk, peace activist and pacifist, Satish Kumar, known for his 8,000 mile walk to all nuclear powers 50 years ago, electrified the audience with his oratory. Calling for more dignity for farmers, his message made perfect sense. Reflected on the way home about the contrast between Schmidt’s Google advancements – against a world that still cannot feed itself. Very much food for thought.


November returned with a vengeance today. Strong winds; lashing rain; low temperatures. Despite the conditions British stoicism was evident amongst festival goers. There was a grim determination to enjoy it; a sense of pride in seeing it through. Queues were patient and polite; cheerfulness and humour to the fore.

Stella Rimington, ex MI5 chief, lightened the gloom with a riveting performance. Not at all George Smiley. More like the neighbour next door. Down to earth, personable, appeared entirely “normal”.  Fascinating insights into a life living with secrets. Was totally against the invasion of Iraq – and believed Government put pressure on the Intelligence Services to “sex” up the dossier. It was again not a good day for ex Prime Ministers.

My most embarrassing moment of the day was asking Edith Grossman for her ticket when she entered the venue. Unbeknown to me, she was the guest speaker. Grossman is arguably the world’s leading literary translator. A reserve list of ticket applicants bore testimony to the fact. Think she found it all very amusing. Hope so. Must remember though to purchase her latest translation of Garcia Marquez’s novel when next in Carmarthen.

“Low Impact Travel” was the last talk tonight. Many suggestions were given. Apparently overland travel reduces the carbon footprint and brings people together. It connects individuals and communities. Had a random thought that perhaps Satish Kumar was onto this 50 years ago. Perhaps there is nothing new under the sun.  Sadly Benedict was nowhere to be seen today. So no blogging chats; no top tips; no thoughts about how to compose that masterful turn of phrase. Bearing in mind the weather he might have left for London. It seems therefore an appropriate juncture to end this particular literary excursion. I trust the insights have been interesting – and provided some “feel” about this most special of festivals! And that one day you might visit!

 Andrew Campbell.

Friday, 24 May 2013

25 Vintage Photos of Librarians Being Awesome!

Right, this one's for all you admirers of librarians out there! Times, fashion and technology may have changed, but this is a great selection of images of library staff going about their daily business way back when.

Which one is your favourite? (We're tickled by number 21 'A librarian helps a young hooligan'!!)


Enjoy :-)

Library Opening Hours - Spring Bank Holiday weekend!

If you are planning on using our Libraries this Spring Bank Holiday weekend, please see below for information on opening times:

Saturday 25th May - all four Libraries will be open from 10.00am - 4.00pm

Sunday 26th May - Owen & Townhill Libraries will be open from 12.00pm - 5.00pm

Monday 27th May - Owen Library will be open from 12.00pm - 5.00pm

All four libraries will re-open again on normal term-time hours from Tuesday 28th! Enjoy your long weekend :-)

Monday, 20 May 2013

It's Adult Learners' Week!

Adult Learners’ Week runs from the 18th to the 24th May this year, so it’s already well underway. The event is a celebration of lifelong learning and aims to highlight some of the benefits it can bring. You can find out more from the official website which includes Learners’ Stories of their achievements. Inspiring stuff!

As a university library, adult learning is really important to us and we try to offer you plenty of resources to help with your studies. You’re all adult learners, but some of you might also be teachers of adults, or perhaps have a particular interest in the value of lifelong learning. You can find out more about adult learning by searching our Catalogue or Digital Library. If you’d rather browse our shelves, you’ll find plenty of books at 374 on the first floor of Townhill Library.

If Adult Learners’ Week has inspired you to think about taking another course, why not have a look at the BBC’s Adult Learners page for inspiration. You could improve your spelling and grammar, learn to cook, learn another language, brush up on your IT skills… All for free!

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Make Hay while the sun shines...!

               Image: chainat / freedigitalphotos.net               


We’re extremely happy to welcome another guest blogger for today’s post! Andrew Campbell, Head of Leisure, Events, Tourism & Sport at Swansea Met has kindly agreed to share some thoughts on the upcoming Hay Festival with us. Andrew is a regular festival goer and now volunteer steward at Hay which provides him with a valuable insight into event management that can be passed on to his students. With over 20 years’ experience and a background in research and consultancy for tourism and events, plus a keen interest in the great outdoors (!) Andrew is perfectly placed to share his views on this prestigious literary event. So sit back and enjoy…oh, and make sure you check back in a couple of weeks’ time when Andrew will be back to report on some of this year’s Hay highlights.

As the month of May draws towards its close, final preparations are being made for the opening of the world’s most successful literature festival. From 23rd May to 2nd June, the Hay Festival will play host to 200,000 visitors, who will come in search of intellectual adventure, inspiration and fun. Approximately 500 talks will be given by writers drawn from the world of popular fiction, poetry, politics, the environment, philosophy, history, theology, sport and entertainment.

Audiences will sit in rapt attention within tented pavilions, listening to stories, ideas, concepts and experiences. All will challenge, invigorate and provoke discussion. All will take people out of themselves – and to quote Festival Director, Peter Florence, “to think about the world and to imagine how it might be”. As a regular visitor to Hay (and now an erstwhile steward!), I liken it to a gym for the mind, which never fails to sharpen my intellectual curiosity. The ready accessibility of authors adds to the fascination of attending, where a quiet word can be exchanged over book signings or simply along the wooden boardwalks which crisscross the festival site. Social connection is another additional benefit. The coming together of so many like-minded people creates an invariably relaxed atmosphere. Conversations held with complete strangers are the norm. Reactions to presentations need to be shared; opinions need to be aired; thoughts need to be clarified. It is all quite understandable. In essence it is the friendliest of places! No small wonder to learn from Festival sources that over 30 marriages have ensued from this forum of interaction! A union of souls in more sense than one!

Add to all these benefits the delightful setting of Hay; a small market town (population 1900) situated within the rolling Welsh countryside on the Powys/Herefordshire border – and it is not difficult to see why this event has become so popular. This year will be the 26th anniversary of Hay. Since it began in 1988, an international dimension has evolved. There are now a further 11 festivals operating across five continents……which reflects the strength of the brand. This year (June), Kells in Ireland will become the latest addition to the list.

Popularity and success though can lead to disparagement – and the Festival does have its detractors. In much the same way that Glastonbury  has attracted criticism for becoming a middle class, middle aged gathering, with a “popular” product offering, so has Hay. To the literary purist it has become too mainstream with an accent upon “celebrity” and entertainment. Evening performers for instance this year will include K.T.Tunstell, Noah and the Whale, Christy Moore, Dara O’Briain, Jo Brand and Alan Davies. Headline sponsorship by the Daily Telegraph has also raised eyebrows. With visitor numbers increasing year on year, fears also abound that Hay may fall victim to its own success, as small intimate, informal atmospheres may be lost.

That said, Hay has not only survived through a recession, but has successfully managed to meet the changing needs of festival goers. An important point. Better facilities and services are now required as consumers are not what they were in 1988. Basic amenities are not enough. The need for corporate engagement and sponsorship is therefore a prerequisite for staying in the game. Recent financial pressures have taken their toll upon the events sector, as the neighbouring Brecon Jazz festival can testify. Hay has stayed true to its core values and continues to trade as a charitable, not for profit organisation. The promotion of free speech, human rights, sustainable living, equality and inclusiveness remain key. Ticket prices are low and represent excellent value – “bargain” may be a better description! Festival themes are diverse and offer appeal to a wide range of interest groups. To the detractors then, it hasn’t been so much a case of selling out to commercialism, but more a case of embracing common sense.

Enough of the background. For further information check out www.hayfestival.org Programme highlights are too numerous to mention……a friend of mine has just booked to see: Mary Beard, Eric Schmidt, Nicholas Stern, Hans Blix, Carl Bernstein, Michael Vaughan, Edna O’Brien and Sebastian Faulks. Eclectic choice or what? But that’s the beauty of Hay – something to suit everyone! With Miranda Hart making an appearance this year, one might even say.......it will be “such fun”!

 Andrew Campbell

Friday, 10 May 2013

Famous, and fabulous, library cats!

For those of you who love libraries, and feline companions, this must be a match made in heaven!

Read all about these twelve moggies who made libraries their home...
purr-fect for a Friday!


Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Share-a-Story Month

It’s Share-a-Story Month! This event is organised by the Federation of Children’s Book Groups (FCBG), which was set up to encourage children’s interest in books and reading. Every May they promote the idea of reading aloud to your children, or asking them to read aloud to you. In other words, it’s all about sharing stories! (And no reason to restrict this to the children – Why not share some stories with the grown-ups in your life too?) You can find out more about the month on the FCBG website.

We’ve got lots of stories to share at Swansea Met libraries, of course! You’ll find tons of lovely picture books and junior fiction books in Welsh and English in the Teaching Practice section on the first floor of Townhill Library. The junior fiction section covers teenage and young adult fiction too, but there are lots more novels downstairs if you’re looking for something for an older audience!

If you’re stuck for inspiration and don’t know which books are the best to read aloud, you could try some of the titles from Mal Peet’slist in the Guardian. Mal Peet won the CILIP Carnegie Medal for his novel Tamar, which you can borrow from Townhill Library. His list of 10 books to read aloud is a very personal choice based on stories enjoyed by him and his children. For a wider range of titles, you might like to try Great Books to Read Aloud which explains why reading to children can be so beneficial and suggests 70 titles which work well when read out loud. The books are sorted in different age ranges from babies to 11-year-olds and each recommendation includes a synopsis of the book. There are even a few celebrity choices in there, so if you’d like to know which book J. K. Rowling and her daughter enjoyed together, take a look!

Friday, 3 May 2013

May Day Holiday Weekend - Library Opening Information!

If you are planning on using our libraries this Bank Holiday weekend, please see below for information on opening times:

Saturday 4th May - all four libraries will be open from 10.00am - 4.00pm

Sunday 5th May - Owen & Townhill libraries will be open from 12.00pm - 5.00pm

Monday 6th May - Owen & Townhill libraries will be open from 12.00pm - 5.00pm

All four libraries will re-open again on normal term-time hours from Tuesday!  Have a good long weekend :-)

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

A Page from World Book Night!

We're pleased to announce that for today's post we have guest blogger Dr Anne Price-Owen, sharing her experience of World Book Night with us! Dr Anne Price-Owen recently retired as Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Art & Design, University of Wales Trinity Saint David Swansea Metropolitan. She continues to supervise research students on a part-time basis, and this gives her more time to focus on alternative interests, which include curating exhibitions and exhibiting her own artworks. She has written extensively on the visual arts and literature in Wales. An admirer of the poet-painter David Jones(1895-1974), much of her critical and creative work is sourced in her explorations on the synergetic relationship between image and text. She is the Director of The David Jones Society which she inaugurated in 1996, and editor of the periodical The David Jones Journal 

A Page from World Book Night
I was thrilled when my application to be a book donor on World Book Night [WBN] was successful, because I love reading and want to encourage others to read. For sure, I know only one person who doesn’t read, except for the text which accompanies the images on her 40” telly screen! Accordingly, Beryl was my only certain target as the brief for WBN is to give a book to someone who is not a reader. Anyone I know who is an avid reader would have to be omitted from my readers’ list, with the exception of my friend Sue because she and I recommend and swop books regularly.
My book was Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen (2009). Out of the choice of books on offer, I deliberately selected a novel (I wanted an obvious story line), by an author I hadn’t read. I knew very little about Gregory, only that she wrote historical novels, a genre I seldom read. In other words, I quite unashamedly chose a book for its cover, rather than content. I fancied its title had mythic connotations (in this I was not totally incorrect), alluding to strange lands and curious characters, the stuff of a fantasy world, reminiscent perhaps of Lewis Carroll. But this novel is nothing like the Alice books. Rooted in the history of this island, it’s set in the 15th Century Wars of the Roses, and focuses on ‘the cousins war’, Edward III’s (1312-1377), great-grandsons, both born over a century after their great grandfather’s birth.
So that there was a chance that all the people to whom I gave a book could actually commence the story on World Book Night [WBN], I determined to start my task early on the day. I had decided that I could mention that 23 April is Shakespeare’s birthday which is a good day to give books away, but thought better of alluding to St George’s Day. I knew that, living in Wales, it mightn’t be smart to announce that it was also England’s national saint’s day. After all, he killed the dragon, and the red dragon is the icon of Wales having been passed down from Henry Tudor (Henry VII), the victor at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 which ended the Wars of the Roses, a not insignificant fact in relation to my Book.
It so happened that I had a medical appointment at 9.10am on WBD. Having packed my canvas bag with 8 copies (the optimum number of books I could comfortably carry), of my novel, I set off on the ten-minute walk from my house to the surgery, and collided with streams of schoolchildren, mostly teenagers, on their way to the nearby secondary school. Most of them were in gangs of five or six, with some of the groups comprising boys and girls. My quarry was the female sex. On reading the novel I rather regretted my choice, because I considered that its appeal would be restricted to women: its author is female, the title makes it clear that the protagonist is a woman, and the narrative is written in the first person singular, by the titular queen herself. Two girls, perhaps 15- or 16-year olds, were chattering together, and I homed in on them. They were reluctant to stop, and even less inclined to engage in conversation with me, but I persisted. I explained my mission, showed them a copy of the book, and finally pressed one to take it, having told them that this was a Romance between a king and a queen, initially fighting on opposing sides, so there’s lots of intrigue, mystery, mayhem and murder. Fundamentally, it’s like Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet being a story about love at first sight. I focused on the romantic aspects, and confided that the first love scene takes place on page six.  I suggested whoever reads the book first should pass it on to the other, and then to their friends.
When I entered the doctors’ surgery there were nine people waiting for appointments. At a guess the average age was 78 years! Undaunted, I told them tonight was World Book Night, and that I had books to give away for the occasion. None seemed very interested, but I persevered and I warned them that there were nine people in the waiting room, and I had only 7 books, so two would be disappointed. No-one spoke. I raised a copy of The White Queen, looked around the room in mock eagerness, questioned each one with my eyes, and all faces wore an indifferent expression. I couldn’t even give the receptionist a copy, who protested that she was ‘too busy’ to read. I considered asking the doctor after she’d given me a clean bill of health, but she seemed rather preoccupied and slightly severe, so I refrained.  
I was on my way home, and just passing the park as two women were walking through the gateway. I announced WBN, and both smiled: they knew what day it was! I offered them each a book and both accepted. One is a librarian at a local library, so of course she knew all about WBN. We had a friendly chat, before I returned home, and they went on their way promising to pass their novels on to others once they’d read them.
An hour later I took my spaniel for a walk through the park, having topped up my book bag. This time I was able to approach people with impunity. Having a spaniel is an ice-breaker. Having a spaniel with what’s been described as an ‘electric wagging tail’ reinforces the concept of ‘ice-breaker’. The vast majority of people are willing to smile, acknowledge, stop and talk. Discussing the story-line, the plots and sub-plots, the interweaving of characters, the facts (pointing out the Family Tree diagram that forms a Preface to the story), the fictionalising and embellishment of our own histories, the power struggles of the kings and their armies as well as the ruthless queens and their tenacity in securing fortunes for their heirs, in addition to the poignancy of the Princes in the Tower, was fodder for the hours I spent in my successive walks in the park that day. I gave my penultimate copy away at 4.30pm, to another schoolgirl who was standing with a schoolfriend talking to a young mother with her infant in his pram. Once I’d started to reveal the sequence of events, it was the schoolgirl who took the book, and not the young mother.
Giving books away is a very satisfying way of spending a day. However, I know that I didn’t fully fulfil the objectives of WBN. My most blatant oversight – I don’t call it an error – was to give books to people who read regularly. This is because I found it very difficult, impossible in fact, to refuse a book to any of the people I offered the book to, even before I asked them if they read regularly. It suddenly seemed very churlish to refuse them a book, and it was such a delight to tell them about it – an appreciative audience is very gratifying. I cite the librarian again: she was so pleased to meet someone giving books away that she wanted to participate fully in the project. There were others who’d just finished a book and were considering what to buy next and it was serendipitous that I happened along. One dog-walker favours poetry, so I was able to point out Byron’s She Walks in Beauty on the inside back cover of the novel, and she was won over. I found the easiest people to engage with about books were young women pushing prams. Perhaps they read aloud to their babies, and are good at multi-tasking. Some people wanted to know if they should pay me for the books. As far as I can tell, I encountered just one person whose first language is not English, who accepted the book. And I got two men to promise to read the book, too. One was the other half of a couple of twitchers who’d spotted a goldcrest and pointed it out to me. The plot of The White Queen appealed to his wife, but it was the historical aspect that interested him, and he was looking forward to a good read. The other man was a plumber whose wife liked reading, and he said that he’d read it too. I saved my last copy for Beryl so that I could hand it to her on WBN, and she is going to pass it on to her friend Hilary who is seldom seen without a book.
Anne Price-Owen April 2013