Top lockdown reads revealed by Square Mile library

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Books and e-books are providing escapism and a chance to catch up with some fantastic reading during lockdown.

The City of London has revealed the top reads downloaded by bookworms who have signed up to its digital library services it calls a ‘Library Without Walls’.

It has been described by one senior councillor Randall Anderson as “a source of joy  in these troubled times”.

Top reads include a memoir by former US First Lady, Michelle Obama, and a saga of love, betrayal  and friendship set in Naples.

In normal times The City of London Corporation’s  four libraries at the Barbican, Shoe Lane, Artizan Street, City Business and adjacent Guildhall are popular with some of the 243,000 people who commute there for work, as well as residents.

Since lockdown began people have picked adventure stories so they can curl up in a different world.

The top eBook downloads for adults include My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante and Becoming by Michelle Obama.

For children, they include Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling and Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Popular eAudiobooks include the humorous The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson and The Break by Marian Keyes. Children are listening to Little Women by Louisa May Alcott , following the movie starring Florence Pugh and Emma Watson which was such a hit at Christmas.

Children’s story, The Case of the Vanishing Granny by Edinburgh-based Alexander McCall Smith, is another popular Audiobook downloaded by library users.

Staff pushed through temporary online membership with the City’s eBooks supplier,  and more than 130 new customers have signed up since lockdown.

And librarians said the top eMagazine reads for those who want to keep up with current affairs are New Scientist, The Week, The Economist, BBC History and The Week Junior.

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They said customers are busy brushing up their languages skills as well, especially French, German, English, Latin American Spanish, and Italian.

Naxos, the library’s  music and video streaming service, is also allowing access to new customers. The top tracks streamed tracks from City libraries  are Artie Shaw, Concerto for clarinet, Saint Saens, Bassoon Sonata in G major op 168, Duke Ellington / Juan Tizol, Caravan, Poulenc, Clarinet Sonata FP 184 and Mendelssohn, Song without words.

Virtual Rhymetimes have proved very popular and staff from the whole service – not just the Barbican Children’s Library specialists – have filmed themselves performing songs and poems.

And whilst the library doors may be shut, the team has launched Libraries Without Walls.

Activities include story time, music quizzes and visits to a virtual garden.

The virtual Rhymetimes have proved very popular  and staff from the whole service – not just the Barbican Children’s Library specialists – have filmed themselves performing songs and poems.

Barbican Library, which has a dedicated music library has created an online listening group called Classic Album Club. Every week users get to revisit old favourite classic rock or pop albums or discover new artists, and then discuss them.

Councillor Randall Anderson, the chairman of the community and children’s services committee, which has just had an update on what’s on offer, said: “Our library staff are always inventing new and truly helpful ways to support our community, going well beyond traditional library services.

“Their efforts to create a library without walls that delivers most of what they deliver in the physical library, and more, has been a source of joy in these challenging times.”

The Barbican and Community libraries staff are helping families with the challenge of  home schooling and entertaining small children, people who need to fill their time constructively and improve their mental health and the socially isolated.

Whilst home visits are suspended, library staff are also making weekly befriending calls to the elderly and people who are shielding because of underlying health conditions which could make them vulnerable to coronavirus.

Carol Boswarthack, the City’s head of Barbican and community libraries told a virtual meeting that “the reaction has been overwhelming”.

She said the team has been buying in extra stock “to help with home schooling and anxiety”. They are also giving people one-to-one IT tuition so they can learn how to get connected with friends and family through conference link ups such as Zoom.

They are running a reading group and are also launching a virtual version of the popular Dragon Cafe in the City which was first set up in 2017 as a suicide prevention campaign to help boost people’s mental health and well-being.

Graham Packham, who chairs the culture, heritage and libraries committee, said: “I am amazed and delighted at the ingenuity and enthusiasm of the City’s Barbican and community libraries’ teams who have exceeded all expectations to meet the challenge to “build a library without walls”, in response to the building closures following the mandated Covid-19 closures.”

He added: “Our libraries are much more than just places where books are borrowed, and the range of important services that are being delivered since the closures are needed more than ever during these difficult times.”

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