In conversation with… Tony Brown

Tony Brown in a library holding a book called Reading Well For Mental Health

Stock and reader development manager on all Islington libraries have to offer

Tell us about your role.  

I choose all the items available for loan in Islington libraries, including books for adults and children, e-books and online resources. I also organise reading schemes and develop projects around reading for pleasure, working with national organisations such as the National Trust and The Reading Agency. In my role I get to meet a lot of different people, of all ages, which is great. 

What sorts of events and activities do you put on? 

We have a huge range of activities for people of all ages. Each library does a baby bounce session, which is all about rhymes and singing, introducing language and developing a love of reading. We run under-fives story time sessions – we recently had a drag queen story hour – and we do nursery and classroom visits, working with Bright Start. We run family craft sessions during holidays, which are very popular, and we get visits from schools and nurseries. We’re working with Laycock School on a ‘reading into writing’ project at the moment. We also have reading groups, colouring and chess clubs for adults. There’s a whole raft of different activities for people to get involved in.  

Do different libraries across the borough offer different things? 

Most Islington libraries have a similar offer – for all ages – but we also have a special library for children and young people. Lewis Carroll library does not stock any materials for adults: the books are all for children, the activities are child-focused and there are PCs that are suitable for children to use and access. 

Islington also has several toy libraries. Tell us about those. 

We have four libraries across the borough – Mildmay, North, West and Finsbury libraries – from which parents can borrow toys for their children, just as you would loan a book. It’s about making toys available for everyone, regardless of financial situation – plus, when a child gets bored with a toy, they can just exchange it for a different one. It saves parents and carers money, and it’s more environmentally friendly: buying one toy that’s used by multiple people rather than them all going out and buying it individually has less impact on the environment. The toys are carefully chosen from educational suppliers, so it supports development, too. 

What other resources are on offer at Islington libraries?  

We have more than 100 PCs across the library service, which can be booked and used for free. There is a small charge for printing, if needed. Libraries have also always been a haven for people, where they can come in, sit, read, use a PC, study or just have a warm space to be in. Everyone is welcome. Some people come to the library just to take some time out of their lives, perhaps picking up a book and reading a few chapters. 

Reading is also great for people’s mental health and wellbeing, and has been shown to have potential to lower blood pressure and reduce stress. We have dedicated ‘reading well’ sections in our libraries for this, too. We also have several booklists – we’ve just put together a collection for books for Ukrainian adults and children, for example. 

There is a home library service for vulnerable and isolated residents who for one reason or another are unable to get to their local library. Our staff will take books, CDs or audiobooks round to their home and have conversations with them about what they like to read or listen to, then provide them to them.  

The library service is open to everyone, not just residents. You could be working or studying in the borough and still get a library card and access all those activities and online resources – all for free. 

Why are libraries so important? 

There’s a great example of how libraries can make a difference that springs to mind. Twice a year, we run reading challenges where children are challenged to borrow and read four or more books from their local library. Those who complete it are given a special certificate and entered into a prize draw. Anyway, we had some particularly nice feedback last summer from an Islington mother. Her son had joined the Summer Reading Challenge at Cat and Mouse library and she emailed us to say it had changed his life.  

She said they’d been to the library at the start of the holiday to pick up some reading books when her son saw the posters for the challenge on the wall. He was immediately interested and after speaking to a librarian and getting going, was so motivated to get the stickers he started reading in any spare moment. The mother sent a lovely thank you email to staff, saying how grateful she was and describing the transformation she’d seen in his reading because of it. So, it does have a positive impact! It was one of those moments where you think, this is the sort of thing that makes it all worthwhile. 

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