Friday, 24 July 2020

Ipswich library staff record audiobook for 102-year-old

source - ITV Anglia

Ipswich library staff record audiobook for 102-year-old

A touching news item from East Anglia, this, featuring as it does a sterling effort on the part of Ipswich librarians to track down and record to CD a 1920s novel for a local centenarian who remembered her father reading it to her as a child.  I'm sure we have all at one time or another used our local library to try to obtain a rare or out-of-print book but the thoughtfulness of the staff at Ipswich library is above and beyond anything one would normally expect and I can well understand the pride felt by the library's senior management.

Ipswich library staff record audiobook for 102-year-old member during lockdown

source - Amazon
Once again there are multiple facets to this story that all make for happy reading - the kindness and sense of community that came out in the early days of lockdown which this typifies (and which I'm sure we all hoped would continue once the crisis abated); the thought and effort put in by the librarians to actually go and buy the book with their own money, then to take the time to read it aloud and record it on to discs; the care and concern they obviously feel towards this valued member of the community and the recognition of the importance of this book to her and the memories it engenders; the obvious joy of reading that was imbued in to this 102-year-old lady at a young age by her father, which has not waned in nearly a century; the importance to the human spirit of books and of reading in general.  Not to mention that a previously-forgotten novel from the 1920s is now potentially back on the shelves of Ipswich library, at least, hopefully for a new and appreciative audience to discover and enjoy.  Then there is the wider aspect of this story - Suffolk Libraries' advice and support network for older and more vulnerable residents, which is also to be applauded as a perfect example of the value of libraries to the local community.

It's also lovely to note that as well as recording the audiobook the library staff also purchased the DVD of the 1950 film adaptation for Mrs Bugg to watch.

On a more personal note this article reminded me of my own lockdown project that I have been working on, as well as putting me in mind of one or two lesser experiences with my own library service.

To start with the lockdown project - seven years ago now(!) I made tell of picking up a book at a local vintage fair, which I regarded (and still do) as a splendid period find.  It was The Test Match Surprise (subtitled A Romance of the Cricket Field), ostensibly written by the famous early 20th century cricketer Jack Hobbs (in actuality ghost-written by an unknown author, although Hobbs may have had a hand in the more cricket-oriented chapters).  Anyway, I have enjoyed reading it many a time since then and one day during lockdown having re-read it again it occurred to me what a charming story it was (albeit of its time like Portrait of Clare) and that in many respects it was not unlike a Wildean plot.  With this in mind the thought came to me that it could possibly be converted into a four-act play so I began transcribing it on to my computer.  Well I've completed that task but since then I have received various other suggestions as to adaptations - radio play, four-person comedy version in the mould of The 39 Steps and, as the Suffolk librarians have done, a simple audiobook.  Faced with this variety of sources I'm sorry to say things have stalled a little but I still hope to have this own out-of-print book of mine - published in 1926, only one year before Portrait of Clare - adapted into one of the above formats, if only for my personal enjoyment, perhaps before the year is out.

The two instances of my local library service helping me track down copies of rare books are not in the same league as Mrs Bugg's but nevertheless still form happy memories.

Ever since I first saw the B.B.C. adaptation in 1995 I was on the lookout for a copy of 1930s racing driver Sir Henry 'Tim' Birkin's autobiography Full Throttle.  Then in the early 2000s I read an article about Birkin in the Autocar magazine and spurred on by this I eventually managed to get a copy through Essex Libraries' inter-loan scheme (it originally coming from Maidstone, Kent).  Back then I was working at London's South Bank and I spent many a happy hour reading this copy by the riverside by Blackfriars.  Afterwards I desperately wanted a copy for myself, but it had been out of print since the early '60s and I couldn’t find another one anywhere.  More out of hope than anything else I dropped a brief e-mail to the chaps at Autocar asking them from where they got their copy on which they based their article, expecting at best a list of bookshops to try my luck at.  Imagine my surprise and delight when the following week the journalist in question used part of his column to plead for a copy for me!  Even more wonderfully, a splendid old boy who lived literally just around the corner from me had 1935 edition in remarkably good condition, plus W.O. Bentley's autobiography, both of which he said he would let me have for free.  I popped round there and spent the best part of half an hour, spellbound, chatting to him, as it turned out that he used to be a marshal at lots of the major European motor races and had seen many of the greats - Fangio, Moss, Surtees - actually racing!

In an almost carbon copy of the above, the autobiography of forgotten army officer and eccentric Lt.-Col. A.D. Wintle MC was also adapted as part of the same three-part B.B.C. series (titled Heroes & Villains) and it was through this that I first became aware of this unique individual and the story of his remarkable life.  Following this I was able to locate a copy of The Last Englishman in Southend Library's "stack" (i.e. store unit) and for several years would request it every time I felt in need of reading it until one day, a few years ago, I was distraught to discover that it was no longer available!  Clearly it had been disposed of (or possibly, due to its rarity value, misappropriated), much to my chagrin.  Since then I was constantly on the lookout for a copy - mainly on eBay, where the prices more or less confirmed my suspicions that the library copy had either been sold or snaffled by someone who realised its value.  Then just a few months ago one came up on the aforementioned auction site and my bid - far less than I'd seen any other copy go for - was the winner!  So once again after several years of searching I was finally able to add another long sought-after book to my collection and in both cases it has been thanks in various degrees to my local library service (although nowhere near the same league as Ipswich's).

At the risk of repeating myself, then, these experiences and the wonderful story that forms the crux of this post just goes to show the overwhelming importance of libraries to society in general.  I take my hat off to the staff of Ipswich library and hope that Mrs Bugg enjoys listening again and reminiscing to Portrait of Clare.

***What has been your experience of your local library service?  Is there a book you would like to see turned into an audiobook or similar?  Let me know in the comments below!***

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