Support Our Libraries: ‘The need for us never went away’ – a celebration of Edinburgh Central Children’s Library

Re-homed in 2014, the Central Children’s Library on George IV Bridge is a haven for youngsters of all ages to fall in love with literature and develop vital connections to get them through some of the most formative years of their lives – from real-life friendships to life-long affinities with authors penning their favorite novels.

Described as the jewel in its crown, the library hosts weekly Bookbug sessions for wee ones up to five years old, where they get to sing, rhyme and read stories all together in a gentle space adorned with glorious pictures by children’s illustrator Catherine Rayner.

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Library adviser Zoe Johnstone takes the sessions regularly and says they are a highlight of her week: “It’s just a lovely sociable thing for families to come and do.

“We encourage the children to learn rhymes and provide the building blocks for literacy and numeracy, but it’s also just a great way for them to socialize and bond… it generates this kind of lovely energy and to see their little faces and watch them jump about is just lovely.”

The developmental benefits for children attending the Bookbug sessions, run by Scottish Book Trust, are endless with Ms Johnstone going on to describe the joy of seeing babies recognize one another and their surroundings: “They know Bookbug [the teddy]they recognize us and they recognize the room, it’s a wonderful thing for them and they all really look forward to coming back to the library.

“If you start them young they will just associate the library with fun and friends and laughter and that’s what we want and what we’re trying to engender.”

A Bookbug session at Central Children’s Library in Edinburgh. Picture: John Devlin

While thriving in its latest home on George IV Bridge, the Central Children’s Library opened in summer 1890 as part of the Central Library, known at the time as the Juveniles Library.

Over the years as the Central Library expanded it became necessary for the local authority to explore more permanent solutions to overcrowding, which included buying the adjacent premises in 1930. This additional space was used at the time for a number of purposes including a junior library, a fine art library, storage and staff accommodation – this is the very space that became home to the Central Children’s Library on May 15, 2014.

Before returning to the current site, staff had to manage the entire junior section from a small room in number nine George IV Bridge.

Vesna Rajacic, the library development leader, describes the difficulties they faced in such confinement: “It was really quite small and we had to squeeze everything in from the books we stock to events we run like Bookbug, so we were absolutely delighted when the decision was made to repurpose this space.

Children enjoying themselves at a Bookbug session at the Central Children’s Library in Edinburgh. Picture: John Devlin

“Structurally the architecture remained the same, we didn’t have the scope to change it, but I think it works really well.

“We’ve got the front room which is a reading/book based room, we’ve got an arts and crafts room, we’ve got the backroom which can be used for author events, for dance, the Bookbugs, story time… this is the room with the illustrations from Catherine Rayner, they make the space such a true joy to work in, it’s lovely.”

Well-known for its educational endeavours, the Central Children’s Library is in close collaboration with the nearby Royal Mile Primary School and has recently restarted in-person class sessions which came to a forced stop in March 2020 when lockdown hit.

Vesna Rajacic, Library Development Leader, at the Central Children’s Library. Picture: John Devlin

“Despite the break the children have come back more excited than ever about the library,” Ms Rajacic says.

“The primary one class was one of the first that came in and just the buzz of actually being out of the school and in another place was so wonderful.

“Being able to take out a book, do some activities and have a story time makes such a difference, you can really see it in them and that’s been really fantastically uplifting for us too.”

Working alongside Ms Rajacic is Diane Yule, a lifelong learning development leader. Ms Yule is one of the key players in stocking the library, planning events and ensuring the needs of the children are met.

“They are so on the ball those kids,” she says.

“We try to make sure we have Scottish authors in, but a lot of what we stock is led by what the children ask for, if the football is on they want to be reading sports books, do you know?

Zoe Johnstone giving a Bookbug session at the Central Children’s Library in Edinburgh. Picture: John Devlin

“But Scottish authors are always a big one definitely, I think because in school they do live interviews with authors over video so when the children come out they are after the books.

“For junior kids Catherine Rayner – the illustrator who we used to decorate the Children’s Library – is always popular. They still like all their classics too like Judith Kerr, but one of the new ones I’ve noticed coming through is Maz Evens, he wrote Who Let The Gods Out? and the kids find them really funny.

“I get so many requests and it’s great to know the drive for more is there.”

Lockdown was tough but as things resemble something close to normality again, Ms Yule reflects on the importance of keeping the library doors open.

“It’s just a lovely social space to be in and it really is the heart of the community,” she says.

“Even though it is the central library there is a community around here and they do see the library as the place to go.

“The need for us never left, and in fact we’re needed now more than ever, we won’t let kids lose interest.”

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Arts and crafts at Central Children’s Library in Edinburgh. (Picture credit: John Devlin)
One of the rooms where events including the Bookbugs are held has been decorated with illustrations from Catherine Rayner books. (Picture credit: John Devlin)

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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