Monday, 6 May 2013


There was a great article by Jonathan Douglas, Director of the National Literacy Trust, in the Telegraph yesterday; if you haven’t read it, this is the link:

Jonathan has long been a proponent of school libraries, and the NLT carries out valuable research and has some fantastic resources; if you haven’t joined their School Network, I can thoroughly recommend it. But reading this article, I can’t helping thinking that much of what is said has been raised so many times before yet we are no further forward to having the benefits of libraries and librarians recognised within schools and you have to ask, what next?

Working with teenagers all day, I know you can’t force them to read. Okay, you can make them choose a book and sit for 30 minutes, one hour even, staring at it but that doesn’t mean they’ve read any of it. Or they read the first few pages of the book closest to their chair (regardless of what it is) and then put it back, never to be picked up again. What a waste! And you can maybe get them to engage more with rewards but once you remove that incentive then they’ll stop reading. The only way you’ll turn a teenager into a “reader” is if they manage to find “their book” – the one that introduces them to that immeasurable experience, the “joy of reading.” And for some of them, this never happens, at least not while they’re at school. But that doesn’t stop me trying!

There’s an incredible array of books published today for the teenage/young adult market; almost too many, if one could actually have too many books! But for those who aren’t readers and who don’t know how to choose a book, this range can be confusing and rather off-putting – which is where we come in, of course, knowing our stock and knowing the student we’re able to guide them. But they have to want a book in the first place and for many, they’re just not at that stage yet. I’ve noticed that the balance of my stock has slowly changed; I have fewer non-fiction titles that support the curriculum and far more (what I call) recreational reading books – things like extreme sports, gruesome facts, fascinating lists, annuals, etc. And my magazine subscriptions have also increased. The result of this is that I now have more students engaged with some sort of text during their library lessons; it doesn’t bother me that they’re not reading a book; the important point is that they are “reading for pleasure”!

But if reading for pleasure is so important to the future success of a child, and one would assume that Ofsted have realised this as it’s now a focus of their new guidelines, why do they still inspect schools but go nowhere near the library? Why is the research carried out, not only by the NLT but also other organisations, which shows the benefits of school libraries and their impact on reading, ignored?

Jonathan’s article also raised a couple of other points. If initial research shows that reading digital literature does not have the same benefits as reading a physical book, then this needs to be investigated further before even more schools get rid of their libraries and make the move into e-books for all. I’m not against e-books (in fact, I’ve just ordered myself a Nook and have Kindles in my school library) but I think that schools which abandon their traditional libraries are not giving students any choice – there’s a time, place and need for both hard and electronic texts.

I was also struck by his comment that “teachers’ knowledge of new writing is patchy.” This was based on the list of top 100 books that was recently published – though to be fair, they were asked to name their personal favourite and not one that they’d recommend to a student. But the subsequent list created by school librarians showed a far wider range of contemporary titles. In some schools, teachers recognise that their school librarians are “book experts” and use them as such but, unfortunately, too many teachers ignore the experience and expertise that is available to them and you have to wonder why? Is this due to ignorance or do they somehow feel threatened by us?

It doesn’t really matter. The bottom line is that we should all be working together for the benefit of the students; using whatever resources, skills and knowledge we have to increase their literacy levels because an increase in literacy results in an increase in attainment across all subject areas. And this means using the school library and librarian.

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