An invitation to talk about libraries and reading for pleasure is always exciting and when that invitation comes from Pakistan, it’s irresistible. So it was, at the end of January, I found myself on a plane heading for Lahore. I was travelling there at the invitation of the British Council to run three days of workshops.
The British Council reopened its libraries in Pakistan in 2016. I was based in the Library in Lahore which is a lovely, light and airy space connected to an elegant historic house for their offices and a gorgeous garden. The library staff in Pakistan are dynamic and are actively promoting services to their local communities, participating in festivals and running pop up events. They run games’ nights for teenagers, tiny tales for younger children and a programme of cultural events for adults.
Last year, Lauren Child, the Children’s Laureate, curated an exhibition of 10 British picture book illustrators for the British Council. To mark the Drawing Words exhibition, British Council Pakistan invited me to lead the reading for pleasure workshops, particularly focused around families, for public library staff, teachers and school librarians.
On the first day I worked with British Council staff from Lahore and Karachi. On the second day, a mixed group of 25 state funded school staff, literary festival organisers and public librarians, some working with children from very deprived areas. On the final day we hosted a large group of 40 library staff and teachers from private schools. Although each day was different, I was asked to ensure that the training was highly interactive and I was able to incorporate drama techniques and empathy ideas and practices developed through my involvement with Empathy Lab.
The passion and enthusiasm for promoting reading for pleasure to children and their families was overwhelming and participants were full of creative ideas and had lots of fascinating experiences to share. They threw themselves into the training with energy and commitment and each day was filled with fun and laughter and some moving moments as we shared stories together. I think I probably learned more from them than they did from me.
Security in Lahore is tight, but the clear guidance by The British Council was practical and reassuring and the warmth of the welcome from everyone I met made it hard to say goodbye. I was there for a less than a week but I’ve carried home wonderful memories of an intense and vibrant experience with teachers and library staff dedicated to transforming lives through reading.
See Cilip Update October 2017 for more information about the British Council Libraries in Pakistan.