Saturday, 28 September 2013

Dr John Rae

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Stromness is abuzz this weekend as delegates gather for the John Rae 200 International Conference. The conference explores the life and legacy of the arctic explorer, who was born at the Hall of Clestrain in Orphir, and grew up in and around Stromness where his father had taken over the Hudson's Bay Company agency.

Organised by the Stromness Museum, the conference features papers organised under three themes: Arctic Exploration, Museum collections and archive sources, and The Hudson's Bay Company and Orcadians in "The Nor' Wast". The full conference program can be viewed on the John Rae 200 website which also has a full list of events which have been organised to commemorate and celebrate Rae's bicentenary. 

This evening, as part of the conference a statue of John Rae will be unveiled at the Pier Head.  The ceremony takes place at 7.15pm for anyone who would like to go along. We won't make it but will try to take a photo of the statue for you next week . In the meantime here is the before picture of John Rae under wraps - or perhaps modelling the latest design for all-in-one arctic gear?!

If you'd like to learn about John Rae and his explorations, and find out why many feel his achievements have never received the official recognition they deserve, then come along to the library. Among the titles on Rae you will find No Ordinary Journey - published by the National Museums of Scotland in 1993 to mark the centenary of Rae's death,  and the two books by Stromness Museum John Rae 200 Exhibition Writer-in-residence, Canadian author Ken McGoogan - Fatal Passage and Lady Franklin's Revenge.

In his role as Writer-in-residence Ken will give a public lecture as part of the conference tomorrow evening, Sunday 29th September, in the Stromness Academy lecture Theatre at 7.30pm. The lecture is entitled Return to Rae Strait and entry is £5 payable at the door. 

Ken McGoogan's books not only tell of Rae's achievements but explain how his report on the fate of the Franklin expedition upset the Victorian establishment -  a campaign against Rae,  led by Lady Franklin, resulted in his achievements being dismissed or wrongly attributed. Many feel that it is time this wrong was righted and that John Rae should receive the official recognition for his achievements that he has, so far, been denied. 

This bicentenary year has seen the launch of the John Rae Society which has been formed to: 
...advance the education of the public in the life and achievements of Dr John Rae as the discoverer of the final navigable link to the Northwest Passage and as one of the greatest arctic explorers. 

Application forms to join the society are available in the library and they have a website under construction at 

As part of this drive to raise awareness of Rae a campaign was launched at the Orkney International Science Festival  with an online petition asking the minister responsible for the Post Office, Jo Swinson MP, to consider a special stamp to commemorate John Rae. 

You can find out more about Dr John Rae and his achievements in this article from the Orkney International Science Festival's online magazine Frontiers.

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Saturday, 21 September 2013


This month the Stromness Library Reading Group will be discussing Islanders by Margaret Elphinstone

Set on 12th-century Fridarey (Fair Isle) Islanders tells the story of Astrid, the only survivor of a shipwreck, and her struggle to come to terms with her new home amongst the small community with all its tensions and conflict. 

As well as a glimpse into a different time and culture the book offers a different view of the world in a time where all travel was at the mercy of wind and tide. A map at the front of the book reverses the usual north/south orientation and  offers a new perspective on Orkney's place in the world. Rather than remote, we now see Orkney as a central point in the Norse world, sitting in the middle of the trading routes from Norway to Ireland. 

The islanders of Fridarey owe their allegiance to the Earl of Orkneyjar, and Kirkjavagr with its cathedral to St Magnus is  talked of as a seat of power and riches. Much of the wealth of Orkneyjar comes from the activities of the 'Orkneyjar pirates'  and Snorri Hakonsson, Fridarey's smith has returned to the island a cripple having fought alongside the infamous Svein Asleifarson who, 'keeps eighty men in Gareksy all winter, and when he goes to sea [...] mans at least four longships'. 

Come along to the library on Wednesday 25th September at 7pm for a lively discussion of the book and its view of the Norse world. New members very welcome, there will be tea and coffee and, as far as we know, no Orkneyjar pirates!

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Betty's Reading Room

Phot by Alison Miller 

Regular listeners to BBC Radio 4 may have heard Orkney being mentioned on last week's Saturday Live show,  when the programme included a piece on Betty's Reading Room. A derelict bothy at Tingwall has been converted into a cosy reading space by Craig Mollison and Jane Spiers in memory of their good friend, Betty Prictor.

You can still listen to last week's edition of Saturday Live here on BBC iPlayerRadio and if you  can't make it to Tingwall you can watch the BBC Scotland report filmed earlier this year. 

Our very own Reader in Residence, Alison Miller, has also blogged about her visit to Betty's Reading Room and you can read about her visit and enjoy her lovely photos on her Reader in Residence Blog.

Photo by Alison Miller

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Binary Bonsai

The 2013 Orkney International Science Festival starts tomorrow, Thursday 5th September and as usual the programme is packed with interesting events to suit all ages and interests. You can see a full list of events on the Festival website, but the library Yap and Yarn group members are getting involved in one event which takes place as part of the Family Day on Saturday 7th September in the King Street Halls in Kirkwall.

The project  Botanica Mathematica is the brainchild of Madeleine Shepherd and Julia Collins who came up with it as a celebration of the year of Mathematics of Planet Earth 2013. The project's Ravelry Group page explains the nature of the project and its aims:

Botanica Mathematica is an exploration of mathematical structures arising in botanical forms, using generative instructions and textile techniques to create a sculptural installation. Simple algorithms applied to embroidery, patchwork, knitting and crochet generate elegant structures, rich textures and fascinating patterns.The aim of the project is to create an ever-growing textile herbarium of plant like forms generated by the application of algorithmic processed to craftwork of all sorts.
Madelaine contacted knitters in Orkney to encourgage them to create their own trees to add to the knitted bonsai forest and there is a free pattern for the binary bonsai tree available on Ravelry. It's not too late to knit your own bit of nature, if you can't get along to see Madeleine and Julia on the day then you can drop off your tree(s) at either Stromness or Kirkwall library and we will pass them on. As well as a chance to see the forest on the day of the event there will be kits of pattern and yarn to take away and make later.
Trees have  started to spring up in the libraries already. Kirkwall library has this very lovely specamin:

While the Stromness tree has a distincly Orcadian character with its lean away from the prevailing wind!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Happy Birthday!

We can hardly believe it, but it has been 10 years this week since our friends in Kirkwall moved into their lovely new Library and Archive building. This year also sees 50 years of the mobile library service in Orkney so of course we had to have a celebration. As well as a wonderful exhibition charting the history of the mobile service there are a series of events and promotions running all week. 

As we are all in such a good mood, and full of birthday cake, we have declared an amnesty for all overdue books so that even if you have been invoiced you can return the books this week and we will waive the usual admin fee. You can also enjoy free CD and DVD loans all week and there are complimentary chocolates on the issue desk - if you hurry there may even be some left. *sound of sweetie wrappers hastily being hidden under the desk*

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Open Windows 2013

Today sees the opening of a new exhibition which turns the main street in Stromness into a gallery space. The theme for the Open Windows 2013 exhibition is No Ordinary Journey - referencing the title of the book about Orcadian arctic explorer Dr John Rae, whose 200th birthday falls on 30th September 2013. 

The writers and artists involved have not necessarily made their work about John Rae but have interpreted the wider theme suggested by the title. 

Take a wander along the street during the exhibition and look out for the compass logo in windows displaying the art works. Including the window here at Stromness Library which features work by Yvonne Gray, Pamela Beasant and the late Margaret Storr Bell.

This is the second Open Windows exhibition with the first taking place in 2011 which you may remember we also took part in.

Library events

It's going to be a busy week for the library, we'll give you more details tomorrow, but today here are three events which you can add to your diary and which are all FREE but need to be booked.

On Monday 2 September James Oswald will give a reading at 7.00 pm in the McGillivray Room at Orkney Library & Archive.

Then on Wednesday 4 September Ron Butlin will read at 7.00 pm again in the 
MacGillivray Room at Orkney Library & Archive.

Both events are  FREE but TICKETED so please contact the Kirkwall library to book your place 
Phone: 01856 873166

More details about both authors and events on Reader in Residence Alison Miller's blog:

Then on Saturday 7th September The Gunnie Moberg Archive project worker Rebecca Marr will hold  a workshop at Stromness Library and out in the streets and shores of the town. The workshop is titled VIEW FROM THIS SIDE, a reference to the instructions printed on the slides but also an indication of Gunnie Moberg’s artistic approach. 

No experience necessary, just bring your enthusiasm and a camera! The workshop will run here in Stromness Library 1pm to 5pm. For more details please visit  The Gunnie Moberg Archive blog 

Places are free but limited so please book by contacting Rebecca Marr at the Orkney Library and Archive on 01856 873166, via the project blog or by phoning us here at Stromness Library on 01856 850 907.