Monday, June 17, 2013

#ELTU1 - The Scottish Poetry Library - 13 June 2013

For me this was a very exciting Library Tweet-Up, not only was it the first in Edinburgh, but I had also volunteered to organise it. So first of all many thanks to the Scottish Poetry Library (@ByLeavesWeLive) for hosting us and Anabel Marsh (@AnabelMarsh), the Library Tweet-Up Godmother for all her advice.

The Poetry Library occupies a stunning modern building designed by  Malcom Fraser just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, one of the first lottery funded projects.  

We were met by the librarian, Julie Johnson, who gave us a brief history of the building and pointed out the stairs and the lectern outside the main entrance, to create an outdoor performance space. As someone who thought they knew the Library well, this was new to me and we hadn't even stepped over the door yet! Many other design elements contribute to the building's uniqueness, such as incorporating part of the old City Walls and and a 16th century gable into the fabric. A theme of nature and oak trees and leaves runs throughout the building,  inspired by the quotation from Patrick Geddes which is reproduced at the entrance and gives the twitter account its name.

Membership of the library is free, currently they have about 2000 members and they offer postal loans throughout the UK and Ireland. 

The collections themselves are mainly 20-21st Century reinforcing the ideal of the poetry and the library constituting a living environment. Performance and other activities form a major part of their remit, and many spaces within the librarian are designed to allow flexibility to accommodate these. They are just now running out of space and are commissioning ideas for redevelopment including potentially a recording studio.

They have an extensive periodicals collection,the core of which is Scottish. While printed journal publishing may be declining, pamphlet production is increasing, particularly limited edition, decorative publications. Like most of us they are still struggling with how to collect and epublications. The Library maintains a cuttings collection of reviews etc and every Scottish literary magazine is indexed. They also try to subject index  poets, services led by enquiry service. The small children's section is less used, but most of the work is done in schools or with poets.

The Library has only recently only recently moved into rare and archived materials, primarily with the Edwin Morgan Archive. 

There was also the opportunity to see close-up the latest mystery book sculpure - a delicate birds' nest.

These sculptures  created a storm on twitter and other social media and were the perfect lead in to the next part of the visit,  a discussion with Colin Williams, who has been  Communications manager since last January, previously having been a journalist.

Colin emphasised that the communication reflected the heart of the general strategy, which is bringing people and poems together. Change ideas of how the library works and think of the Library not only and bricks and mortar but also a hub, for example they linked in with Olympics by featuring poems from each competing country. 

He felt that poetry was distinctive, poems being normally quite short, they were unusually mobile and  suited to new media. They have experimented with a number of forms but found that twitter was the most successful, the constraints of 140 characters forcing creativity. 

Some do and don'ts:

Promote poetry and the Scottish Poetry Library
Twitter is all about the voice, which fits in nicely for teh SPL  e.g. they use it for celebrating poets'  anniversaries, followed by few lines of poetry.
People want to be acknowledged and he tries to reply to all  messages 

Don't use them as mini press releases
Have to be careful about individual opinions, e.g. avoid personal politics

They have 14000 twitter followers to varying levels, some never interact, they just like a little poetry in their day. He take victories where they find them. Between  website.  7000 to 49000 per month

For Facebook, they have to register as organisation. This has limitations  and makes metrics more difficult. Most likes are for photos rather than text or events. Though surprisingly Google Analytics indicates more click throughs from Facebook rather than twitter. They have also tried pinterest and flickr, but pushing these may wait until the photo archives are fully organised.

Fitting in with the performance element is their use of Soundcloud for podcasts and poems. They produce 3 podcasts per month which get 300 hits/month.  At different times each day, they mention the latest podcast on twitter, recognising the transitory nature of the twitter stream. A recent innovation was to podcast their annual 20 best Scottish poems which are picked by a guest editor, which was very successful in SoundCloud. Spoken poetry makes it come alive for many people, and it keeps a place for poetry for transitional life events such as weddings and funerals.

All in all everyone found it a fascinating an informative visit and even those of us who had been many times before all learned something.


A number of us went along to Hemma, for some of their (now famous) Swedish cider and a hearty meal,  to socialise and discuss the future of the Edinburgh Tweet-Ups. I'm pleased to say everyone felt it was a success and were keen to repeat it. With the first Scottish LibraryCamp coming up in October, we may have time to squeeze one in before then, so I'll sound out out locations and canvass ideas closer to the time.

Finally 'A Big Thank You' to everyone who came along and made the evening the success it was.

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