On Monday I had the extreme pleasure of being at the Carnegie Greenaway Awards ceremony although this time I was attending as CILIP President and was due to give a speech. Normally I get asked if I could talk about something specific or I pick up the theme of the event but this time I was told I could talk about school libraries. I didn’t need to be told twice!
During the past few months I’ve got quite used to talking in public, delivering keynotes and workshops but this 8 minute slot has been harder to write than anything else I’ve done so far. Why? Because I was aware that the event attracted a lot of media coverage and it was an opportunity to deliver an important message …. and I wanted to make sure that I got it right. Not so much for me but for all the wonderful school librarians I know who do such a fantastic job in their schools; working way beyond their contracted hours, delivering services outside their job descriptions, and often for a rather low salary (management please note – if you advertise for a qualified or Chartered librarian then what you are getting is a professional who deserves a salary and status that recognises this). And all for the benefit of the students …
The speech was live streamed but I’m not sure if it’s available anymore so, as promised, I have replicated my speech below for those who didn’t manage to see it.
I am extremely excited and honoured to be here today. Of all the events I have in my diary, the Carnegie Greenaway Awards is top of the list.
Last year somebody remarked that they had never been to a children’s book award at which there were so few children and so many adults but what I think they failed to realise was that the audience was comprised of people who live and breathe children’s books, who are surrounded by them every day and for whom the Carnegie and Greenaway Awards are one of the highlights of the year.
When the nominated titles, both the longlist and shortlist, are announced it causes a flurry of discussion amongst children’s librarians which increases in intensity as we work our way through the books. Discussion that is mirrored in the 5000 groups that have been participating in the shadowing scheme this year. 5000 groups! How amazing is that???
And what a wonderful array of titles there are? All very different and each with its own merits. I have been reading them alongside my shadowing group and, as is usually the case, we have agreed to disagree as to which we think will win. I’m rather glad I’m not on the judging panel as I think they have an almost impossible task. Besides, every year I make a start on the longlist and I haven’t yet managed to select anything that then makes it onto the shortlist … I suspect because I choose my favourite authors or genres … so I probably wouldn’t be a very good judge. And I find the Kate Greenaway award even harder as I’m in total awe of these artists who produce such incredible work.
But how about some more statistics? These 5000 groups have involved 95 – 100,000 children reading books with over 10,000 reviews being posted on the website. That’s a lot of children reading a lot of words yet without school librarians most of this wouldn’t happen because we are the people who organise the majority of the shadowing groups in schools throughout the UK.
Mr Gove has stated that he wants all children to leave primary school fully literate and I actually think this is a commendable idea.
Children need a certain level of literacy to be able to access the curriculum, to achieve academically in both further and higher education, and to be successful in their career choices. A child that leaves school with a low level of literacy becomes an adult with literacy problems. Someone who is unlikely to become an involved, informed and socially mobile member of society. Someone who is excluded.
One of the main components of increasing literacy is reading. And I may be stating the obvious but in order to read you have to have access to books and other reading material. Books that will start a child on its reading journey, that will enable them to advance their skills, challenge them as they increase in confidence and help them to discover the pleasure of reading. Because it is this last thing, the pleasure of reading, that will turn them into lifelong readers and give them the manifold and well documented benefits of reading – things like increased attainment across the curriculum, increased self-confidence and communication skills, improved concentration and an impact on their wellbeing, together with helping them become independent learners.
But this is where we have a problem because, even though access to books is implicit in children’s literacy development, not all children have equal access and some actually have none.
National Literacy Trust research shows that 1 in 3 children do not have a book of their own at home.
Studies by The Reading Agency indicate that 40% of 5 – 10 year olds and 23% of 11 - 15 year olds do not visit public libraries.
Which means the only place that many children encounter books is at school. To encourage them to read they have to be able to browse and make their own choices so they need, not just a few books on a shelf, or even a list of 50 titles but a wide range of books at different levels for all abilities, encompassing a variety of genres and formats. Books that have been selected by someone who has the knowledge and expertise to ensure a balanced stock and who can guide a child towards the right book. This is why school libraries and school librarians are so important – because they are at the forefront of developing children’s literacy and have an impact on their lives in such a fundamental way. But school libraries are not statutory so many schools do not have libraries at all. Others think they have libraries when all they have is a room full of books. And some have wonderfully stocked libraries and even librarians but the children never have a chance to explore them fully. All these situations are denying children the means to increase their literacy skills via reading.
The provision of school libraries must not be left to chance because it is children who are the ultimate losers.
They should be embedded in the Ofsted framework with a minimum level of provision underpinned by statutory requirements. And I know the government response to this is that they cannot tell schools how to spend their budgets yet they are quite happy to tell them what children ought to be eating or drinking and what books they should be studying.
School libraries should be strategically supported by senior management, an integral part of the School Improvement Plan and their use secured in schemes of work for every department. It is no good saying that the library is open to use at breaktimes because the only visitors you will get then are readers and those looking for a safe environment. The ones you need to get into the library, the non-readers and reluctant readers will be nowhere near it. I work in a library that is supported within the school and where the younger students have timetabled lessons giving them that opportunity to explore and browse, and make their own selections … for many this will be the only time outside the classroom that they encounter reading material or actually sit down and read. These lessons also enable me to work with those that need encouragement and direction, where the barriers of “being in the library” and “reading is not cool” can be broken down.
School libraries need to be run by a professional librarian – somebody whose tools of the trade are books; who knows their stock and the children; who, every day, sees the difference school libraries make. Someone who is aware of the value of running a Carnegie or Greenaway Shadowing group and the impact this can have on encouraging children to read more challenging titles, introducing them to a wider range of authors and, perhaps, moving them outside their comfort zone.
We are asking that people who work with books - in education, libraries and publishing; people who work outside this environment - in businesses and organisations, - in fact, everyone who recognises the value of reading, its role in literacy and the importance of having a literate society to get behind school libraries and support us.
Einstein said “Not everything that counts can be counted” …
School libraries count.