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Saturday morning adventures

Books can provide a real escape to another world. For one woman her love of books became a real labour of love and saw the creation of a library. ALIX NORMAN gets pulled in

When I was little, I didn’t have toys. I had books. Every night I’d climb into bed, books tucked tightly round, and fall asleep safe in the knowledge that my imaginary worlds were right there beside me. Books, you see, have always been my world. Which is where I am similar to Soulla, founder of Soulla’s Saturday Morning Library in Larnaca. “Books allow you to go on adventures while sitting in your chair,” she enthuses. “They open up doors into different worlds, allowing you to step out of your life and into another realm.” And it’s exactly these sentiments that led her – an English teacher by profession – into a career based on a passion for language and to share her love of reading through her flourishing library.

Situated on the premises of the American Academy Junior School in Larnaca, Soulla’s Saturday Morning Library celebrates its five-year anniversary tomorrow, November 18. “It’s a landmark for me really,” she laughs. “When I started the library back in 2008, I would wait at the counter for people, hoping someone would arrive. But now, just a few short years later, I’m rushed off my feet, and each Saturday we open has become an incredibly busy occasion!”

What started five years ago as a conversational lament for the lack of good English-language libraries on the island has since become hugely successful, numbering hundreds of members, friends and supporters, all with a penchant for reading and learning, and a love of literature and friendship.

“I knew first-hand what the libraries in England were like,” she explains, “craft sessions, reading time, somewhere kids and parents could interact socially. And there wasn’t really anything like that here.” Encouraged by friends, Soulla decided to start her own venture, a not-for-profit library aimed at creating community and friendship, which would bring together those from all walks of life.

“I wrote a letter to the local newspapers, and posted on AngloInfo, asking for donations of books,” she recalls. “Originally, I was going to run it from home, setting up my front room as a lending library. Luckily my husband was very understanding,” she adds, “though I’m not sure he quite envisioned the number of books it would involve!” By the time her study was filled from floor to ceiling, Soulla realised that another solution would have to be found and, fortunately, circumstances intervened and the school showed an interest in creating a public lending library…”

Sharing the school library allowed Soulla to really get the project up and running, bringing in her own collection of books and setting up an adults’ section. “It took months of work before we officially opened as a public lending library,” she reminisces. “I was in school every day setting everything up: bar coding, labelling, alphabetising and entering details into the computer; the Academy have been incredibly supportive in this project, even before I started teaching there full time,” she says, “and it’s great to feel we’re really doing something for the community.”

Entirely self-supporting, the library is totally not-for-profit with most of the proceeds ploughed back into the venture and its related events. Anything extra goes towards the community, and over the past few years the library has been able to donate nearly €6,000 to philanthropy. “We’re lucky to get regular donations of books,” she explains, “many of which are the latest bestsellers. Visitors to the island often leave their holiday reads behind, and very occasionally I’ll buy the odd book from a thrift shop to complement the adult selection.
“My regular members are lovely, and I feel the success of the library is largely due to them. I’m very keen to get more adult members through our doors,” she adds, mentioning that the children’s activities and section is ticking over very well: “Between 9.30 and 10, we always have a Story and Song time at a cost of one euro per child. I read a couple of stories to the kids – they’re usually so fascinated you could hear a pin drop – then we all sing nursery-type songs. With about 25 children, it’s great to see the non-English speakers picking up the words and learning the language through the lyrics.”

With Soulla giving up every first and third Saturday of the month as well as spending huge amounts of time in planning and organisation, the Library really is a labour of love – but one which any bibliophile greatly applauds. If only there were something similar in Nicosia, I suggest hopefully… “It would be great if we could open a library in every town,” Soulla muses, “but unfortunately I just don’t have the time. So for now, I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing… providing a place for people to share a love of reading, a cup of tea and a chat. I’d like to think this library is where friendships are born.”

Soulla’s Saturday Morning Library
Based at the American Academy Junior School in Larnaca. Open every first and third Saturday of the month. Story and Song Time runs from 9.30 – 10am, and the library is then open to the public until 11.30am. Membership costs €10 a year (2 books at a time) or €20 for a family membership (6 books at a time). Donations of any books in good condition are always much appreciated, as are any toys for the Library’s toy corner. For further information visit the Facebook page Soulla’s Saturday Morning Library, email [email protected] or call 99 801141

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