Treasure in the Library

I love libraries. After all they are depositories of adventure, knowledge, advice, pictures, stories, humour, facts, poems and much more. They are places where you can wander in, choose from thousands of wonderful things and take them home for FREE – that’s positively amazing.

My local library is where I became hooked on books as a kid. It’s what made me an author and helped me conquer that many-headed beast that is the English Language. It’s how I ended up doing well at school and getting to uni and having opportunity. It’s the place that made me a reader, that most precious of things.

The place that made me in the 1970s

Which is why, like many other people today, I am appalled that libraries are being closed and run down. It’s not only an act of cultural vandalism perpetrated by the very government which is supposed to promote wellbeing and learning and provide opportunities for social mobility – all of which libraries offer – but it adds to society’s problems and increases the divides in our nation.

As an author and campaigner who specialises in promoting reading for pleasure and visits over 50 schools a year I am always shouting for libraries. I tell children that they can become cleverer if they go there and become readers – it can be a place that opens up opportunities in their lives. A library card is a passport to adventure and fun but also a gateway to achievement and an exciting future. Using your local library is win-win.

If we can get more families understanding these messages and using their local library then they are more likely to stay open.

So I am always looking for new ideas to make libraries appealing. And that’s how I came up with the idea of slipping something exciting into a library book for a kid to find: some treasure. Everyone loves a treasure hunt. Everyone likes finding something unexpected and good. I chose a book token – it’s small, gives the owner choice and, of course, it will be spent on a book and therefore encourage more reading.

I bought a book token from my local indie bookshop for this purpose months ago and then promptly forgot I had it! But last week I found it and I remembered my plan. I chose a library, snuck in, checked for eagle-eyed librarians, went to the children’s shelves, chose a book at random and slipped in the token, above, along with a little note explaining that it’s the finder’s to keep.

I took a quick photo on my phone, feeling all very underhand, and left pronto. But I did have a smile on my face. Who would find it? What if it was a librarian? Would it just drop out? I decided not to worry about it – it’s just a bit of fun.

Next I needed to Tweet and put it on Facebook. I had no clue what people would think of the idea.

The likes and retweets and kind comments just kept coming and I have been overwhelmed by the positive and enthusiastic response. At the time of writing the tweet has been seen about 130,000 times and over 8000 people have engaged with it. Many thanks to everyone who gave it a RT or a kind comment.

Quite a few people also said they’d like to copy it which I’m delighted about. If we get lots of book tokens in lots of libraries and spread the word and stir some publicity then more families will visit libraries. Of course some kids will just flick through pages but they might also find something they want to read. They might look around and think, ‘This is a nice place’. And if they find a token they can choose a book for free and read it!

I included a short ‘congratulations’ note with the token I hid just to clarify that it was a gift and the finder’s to keep. I decided to put my name on it, so that a finder could say thanks if they wished, but I decided against a message to say ‘Please get in touch if you find this’ or contact details. For a start, they might not want to make contact, and furthermore there are the broader issues of safety and data protection etc. Of course I am hoping a parent/carer of the finder googles me and uses my website contact form to send me an email, but it doesn’t matter if they don’t. A photo of an excited finder would be a treat, though!

I’m also hoping some children’s illustrators will do a little signed sketch/doodle and slip it into a library book and tweet about it too – what a lovely thing to find!

Many teachers and school librarians have responded too and exchanged ideas about doing this in school libraries:

So, please share, spread the word, copy the idea, keep encouraging families to visit (and join) their local library – and use #TreasureInTheLibrary. Happy hunting!


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