Me black and white smilingThis week The Book Blogger Files features Jess Haigh, who you may know from Twitter as @BookElfLeeds.  She’s not exclusively a book blogger, but she does know her books and bookish events, so I wanted to find out more about her site.  Here goes!

What prompted you to start blogging?

I’d always considered the whole internet thing Hard. I was never an internet geek as a kid – I don’t even have a laptop, I write everything in the library or on my lunch hour.  I started out writing guest pieces on friend’s blogs, then some people I went to university with started an online magazine so I started writing book reviews for them. I’d also got a Blogger site running for the Travelling Suitcase Library, though this was for event listings rather than a blog as such. At the same time I found I wanted to write about things other than books and thought sod it, why not start my own blog.

So I got myself a WordPress page,, and went from there. I knew I wanted to continue doing book blogging as that is my main interest so I try and do a ‘Friday Reads’ every other week, shamelessly nicked off the #fridayreads tag on Twitter, which I really enjoy.  The books chosen are either ones I’ve loved, ones I’ve been sent Advanced Review Copies for (I like ARCs, they make me happy), or ones that I’ve hated.

Can you tell me a bit about the Travelling Suitcase Library?

The TSL has been going since 2010.  It’s a free bookswap service in a suitcase, you can either bring books to swap or just take books that others have recommended. I’ve done bookswaps in various lit fests including the Ryedale Book Festival, Morley and Headingley Literature Festivals and other events like I Love West Leeds.  This last year I’ve had to cut it back a lot as I’m doing my MSc, so I’m only doing occasional bookings-I’m at Wakefield Lit Fest on the 25th September  and I’ll also be doing a huge book swap as part of Leeds LadyFest, which I’m on the organising committee for and is on the 19th October in Wharf Chambers.

What do you do when you’re not reading?

I’m currently studying for my MSc in Information and Library Management which will mean I’m a qualified librarian.  I also love craft, I’m currently really getting into cross stitch, and am learning how to quilt. I am on the organising committee for Leeds Ladyfest this year, and I run a project called Envelope Club.  I also love Real Ale so I go to a fair few beer festivals and the like. Plus most of my friends now are musicians of some kind so I spend a lot of time supporting them. Then there’s the usual watching period dramas and drinking wine thing, and I am Auntie Jess to all my friends cats and spent most weekends this summer catsitting…


What do you wish more people had read?

I just wish more people would read! I really dislike the idea you’re some sort of hideous philistine or Massive Thickie if you haven’t read certain books or authors. I find that having a fairly eclectic reading taste myself, apart from Sci Fi which I’m not that fussed by, I can talk to most people about the books they love. There are some people you meet though you think, oh you should read XYZ, you’d appreciate it, and others I would recommend a totally different set of books to.

Is there anything you want to see in a novel that you haven’t come across?

I wrote about this for ForBooksSake a few years ago, but I would LOVE to read a chick lit about a woman who is single, stays single throughout, doesn’t meet The One, doesn’t go looking, but actually has a life. I was happily single for years and years, and did a whole load of things that never involved looking for a partner and it would be nice to read something similar to my life as it was. I would also love to see more books with characters who aren’t cis in mainstream fiction.

eBooks – yay or nay?

I find myself really torn because on one hand, some readers and platforms are so good in terms of accessibility, and from a storage point of view it’s a no-brainer. I have a Kindle and I do use it occasionally. But at the same time I used to swap books all the time with a friend who now reads only Kindle so the social aspect of sharing a physical thing has gone. Also, the rules regarding access are a mess, especially from a librarian’s point of view with various publishers and platforms baying for blood. You still cannot get current textbooks for popular vocational courses as an eBook on a multi-publisher platform within a medium FE college library budget, and that just smacks of publisher greed. It is also far too easy to get illegal copies, I’ve had shed loads of memory sticks filled with books slipped under the counter to me. Amazon has it right in making one platform that does everything, but that is open to abuses and leads to a monopoly by default.

I think if you can compare the digital age with the first fifty years after printing there’s not that much to worry about, the eBook isn’t going to kill the paperback.  I don’t agree with the whole ‘oh but it doesn’t feel like a real book’ thing, there are some horrible shiny covered nasty books out there which make me long for my Kindle. And the ‘I miss the smell of books’ thing is a myth, any book published in the 1980s now stinks, and, unless you’re keeping your books in bad conditions, they don’t smell. One thing that I don’t like though is the % read bar you have rather than a bookmark.  I love bookmarks! Second hand books with random photos or tickets used for bookmarks and with creases down the spine at the good/mucky bits are the best.

One thing that is very interesting is the self-publishing thing, I get so many authors emailing me saying ‘would you be interested in’… and it’s their own work they’ve published as an ebook.  I have taken them up on it in the past but I’m wary, I know sometimes you can get invested in a relationship with someone who has to do all of the PR for their own book and I really would hate to review a book that I didn’t like and then have to report back to them personally-going through a publicist seems less cruel. I do support self published authors though, especially if it’s a book I believe in like Sian Norris’ The Lightbulb Moment.

As a soon to be qualified librarian, how do you see library services evolving over the next decade or so?

Oh, it is such an exciting time! New librarians are really up on the whole networking thing (though it can seem a little tribe-like at times), so things like the Radical Library Camp in Bradford at the end of the month are really interesting. I’d be interested to see how the newly qualified librarian networks progress, will they end up overshadowing more established organisations like CILIP, which is currently going through a rebrand…

Of course, the industry itself is changing. I’m a firm believer that librarians don’t need a library to be a librarian.  We’re trained to exploit, disseminate and gather information and organise it in a way that is accessible, you don’t need a room full of books to do that. At the same time though, libraries shouldn’t be run by volunteers, no matter how well meaning (though I know a lot of people who volunteer at libraries who should be given a grant and trained as professionals as they are marvellous) as it devalues the profession. I’m interested to see how businesses make use of librarians in non-traditional roles. I work in education and librarian-as-teacher is a big thing. Information Literacy is just massive – especially since the growth of the Internet – and so important.

In general I’m just so thankful to be part of the future of my industry.  I can’t speak for public libraries as I’ve never worked in one, but in education we are always growing and evolving and always up for a new opportunity to meet people and discuss the changes happening. I love my job and can’t imagine working as something else now.

Are there any books you would be tempted to ban from library shelves?

No! Censorship is the biggest of crimes, I would never ban anything! Though you don’t have to massively publicise everything in your collection to the same extent as you do other things…

For more from Jess, follow her on Twitter @BookElfLeeds and subscribe to her blog.