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Oh, the places you'll go ...

By Carolyn Rance

A keen bibliophile has spread her love of literature far and wide, writes Carolyn Rance.

Anna Burkey's career move from one book-loving city to another should help increase young Australians' enthusiasm for reading.

Burkey, one of the team that established Edinburgh, Scotland, as UNESCO's first City of Literature, has joined the staff of the State Library of Victoria to work on Melbourne City of Literature initiatives.

The City of Literature program was launched in 2004 as part of a worldwide Creative Cities Network after Scottish writers, publishers, library professionals and academics lobbied the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to include literature as part of its broader program to foster cultural diversity and creativity.

Melbourne became the second City of Literature in 2008. Iowa, Dublin, Reykjavik and Norwich, England, have since received the designation. Criteria for the honour were developed in Edinburgh, Burkey says.

Cities must be able to show diverse and quality publishing, educational programs, literary events and the importance of literature, drama and poetry within their communities.

Melbourne's literary credentials gained a significant boost with the opening of the Wheeler Centre as a focal point for books, writing and ideas in 2010.

However, longer-established organisations, including the State Library of Victoria and the Melbourne Writers Festival, have a significant role in reinforcing the city's literary reputation.

"A City of Literature belongs to everyone. It brings people together and becomes a focal point for energy and ideas," says Burkey, who studied literature and European history at the University of Edinburgh.

She was travelling overseas when the announcement was made that the Scottish city was to be the first UNESCO-designated City of Literature.

"A board was established and I became one of the first members of staff," Burkey says.

She spent six years building and running reading campaigns, strengthening partnerships between organisations concerned with books and reading, and contributing to a range of publications. Last year, arts funding organisation Creative Scotland awarded her an inaugural fellowship to help develop art trade links and boost digital design and literature in South Africa.

As reader development and off-site programs manager at the State Library of Victoria, she is now working with children and teenagers, encouraging interest in old and new forms of storytelling.

"I think there will always be books but they are increasingly becoming objects of beauty, and a lot of fiction that people read quickly is being downloaded to e-readers," she says. "The generations growing up now are so used to technology that they will see it as normal to read in lots of different ways."

Published: 20 October 2012

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