Saturday, 24 November 2012

Readers and Books

We were delighted to welcome Orkney Library's Scottish Book Trust Reader in Residence, Alison Miller, to Stromness Library for a visit this week. Over coffee and biscuits we talked about the different kinds of reading experiences library users are looking for, and have hatched plans for possible new reading promotions -  so watch this space!

Alison Miller
Alison has started her own blog about her residency, and we would highly recommend adding it to your reading list, to keep up with all her news and insights into reading, books, and the authors who write them.

You can also keep up with Alison through her Twitter and Facebook accounts  - she is very keen to hear folk's thoughts on Libraries, books and reading, so do drop by and say hello.

While we are on the subject of Libraries and social media we will be in trouble if we don't remind you that the (in)famous OrkneyLibrary twitterer has been nominated in a number of  categories of the  GoldenTwit awards.

You have until 28th November to vote for OrkneyLibrary in the Information Service, Humour, Public Service and Customer Service categories; the shortlists will then be announced on 3rd December, when voting will commence in earnest with the winners being announced on 14th December. Needless to say we have everything crossed in anticipation, and celebratory/commiseratory biscuits at the ready.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Author of the Month

Those of you who come into the library may greet our announcement that this month's author is Val McDermid with the cry

"But hasn't she been author of the month before?" 

To which we would reply
"Ah yes indeed, your memory serves you well. But wait, there is a good reason for this repetition, for on Thursday 29th November at 7pm in Kirkwall Library, Val McDermid will be giving a talk about her writing, and so to celebrate her visit it seemed a good time to have her as author of the month"

The good news is that Val's visit has sparked an enormous amount of interest - the bad news is that this means all the tickets for her reading have been snapped up already. However  this reading is only one of a series of events to celebrate Book Week Scotland 2012 and there are still a few tickets available for author events by Victoria Campbell on Friday 30th November at 2pm, and local author Rosie Wallace on Saturday 1st December at 3pm. To reserve tickets, which are free, for either of these events please phone or call in to Orkney Library and Archive in Kirkwall.

For more information about Book Week Scotland keep an eye on the library Facebook page and Twitter account, and in the meantime do drop by and borrow some Val McDermid titles - at least then you'll know what you are missing.


Wednesday, 7 November 2012


image from
We've been thinking a lot about seals this week. If you come into the library we are likely to ask you to complete a questionaire about seal conservation from a local school pupil collecting data for their ScottishScience Baccalaureate project, which seems rather appropriate when the Sanday Ranger's Sealcam  went live this week. 

The Sanday Sealcam project is a joint initiative between the RSPB's Enjoy Wild Orkney project and Sanday's Development Trust's Ranger Service, with the help and expertise of local landowners and Triscom Technology Ltd, and gives folk a chance to view live footage of  the grey seals and their pups from Sanday's beaches between 07:00 and 17:00 each day.

Seals are such a distinctive feature of the Orkney coast and richly woven into local folklore and literature. In fact  as Simon Hall points out in his book The History of Orkney Literature one of the only substantial pieces of Orkney literature between Orkneyinga Saga and Walter Scott's The Pirate is the ballad 'The Play o' de Lathie Odivere', collected in fragmentary form by Walter Traill Dennison and published in Ernest Marwick's An Anthology of Orkney Verse, and later included as part of his story "The Ballard Singer" by George Mackay Brown in An Orkney Tapestry.

This ballad tells how Odivere enters a pact with Odin in order to win the hand of a beautiful Norwegian and then goes off on crusade, leaving his bride at home. His return home is delayed by his diversions in the brothels of Constantinople and in his abscence his lonely wife is wooed by her former lover Imravoe - who it turns out is a selkie. The Lady bears Imravoe a son, who returns to the sea with his father but tragedy results when Odivere returns and slays the young selkie and discovers his wife's infidelity. Condemned to death by her furious husband, the Lady is saved when Imravoe and his fellow selkies herd all the whales in the North Sea towards the shore, leading Odivere and his men off on an, ultimately unsuccessful, hunt only to return home to discover 'The lady fair was clean awa/ An' never mair b' mortal seen'.

Imravoe's description of himself:

"I am a man apo the land,
I am a selkie i' the sea. 
My home it is the Soola-Skerry
An' a' that's there is under me."

also appears in the folk ballad  "The Great Selkie o' SuleSkerry"   which uses the same basic plot of a human woman and her selkie lover and the tragic fate of their offspring, suggesting not only the popularity of the selkie in Orkney legend but also suggesting a common source for both folk ballad and written text. 

In relation to this it is interesting to note a quote from Low's Fauna Orcadensis of 1770, reproduced in William Groundwater's Birds and Mammals of Orkney:
"a ship commonly goes once a year to Soliskerry, returning with 200 or 300 seals. She is manned with between thirty and forty men who, as soon as they come up on the rock, fall to knocking them on the head and to cutting off the skin and blubber: the skins are sold by public auction at five or six shillings sterling a piece." 
Perhaps the image of Suleskerry as the kingdom of the selkie folk had its roots in this relationship, which must have created a certain amount of mixed feelings for some of those involved - for whenever man's needs and interests come into conflict with those of nature we face an uncomfortable choice.

We will be watching the Sealcam with interest and half an eye open for selkie changlings!