Sunday, 16 August 2015


I am often asked how I select books for my school library and my response is to ask how long the enquirer has because there’s no quick, simple answer to this question. Sometimes I just buy a book from hearing about it – I know the calibre of the author and have read several of their books previously, it is part of a series or I can tell, from experience, that it will be popular because of the cover or theme. Most of the time, I prefer to physically see the book (this is especially true for non-fiction) and assess it via the cover, blurb, dipping into it to determine its level, suitability, relevance, ascertaining whether it fills a gap in the collection or whether it will add to the several books I already have on that theme or subject. Often I will buy something slightly esoteric that catches my attention and will then be asked for exactly this topic a week later … sometimes I think there’s a sixth sense at work. However I choose though, the process I use is a skill gained through experience and expertise.

Thus in answer to the question, in no particular order and most definitely not a definitive list because I’m bound to have forgotten something:

v  Talking to friends and other librarians (either in real life or online) – not surprisingly, many of our conversations involve books and what we have read/are reading;

v  General recommendations where people have praised a book they’ve read, often on Facebook or Twitter, sometimes at local School Library Association (SLA) or CILIP School Library Group (SLG) meetings - not necessarily people I know personally;

v  Specific meetings where the focus is on new fiction; our local SLA meetings always have a slot for book recommendations;

v  Goodreads – which enables me to see what books others are reading and what they think about them;

v  Tweets from librarians, authors, publishers, people that inhabit the book world;

v  Enewsletters from the CILIP YLG (Youth Libraries Group), publishers and other literacy-related organisations such as Booktrust and the National Literacy Trust. These organisations also have useful booklists;

v  Websites that focus on teen/YA books, reviewed by young people, librarians, adults … too many to mention or keep up with, the best way is to use what works for you;

v  Publishers’ catalogues;

v  Browsing in bookshops and other libraries (both school and public);

v  Conferences – where we have author talks, publishers’ stands, meet other librarians and talk lots about books;

v  Author’s news via Twitter, Facebook, their own websites;

v  Pinterest;

v  Book Awards – definitely the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway but there are all sorts of others: SLA Information Book Award, Excelsior, Blue Peter, Roald Dahl Funny Prize, Peter’s, Bookseller’s YA Award. Not to mention local ones such as the Berkshire and Hampshire Book Awards. And I don’t just look at the winners but also what made the shortlists too;

v  SLS meetings and book exchanges – if you still have one!;

v  Newspapers and magazines – although there’s not enough in them about children’s/teen/YA books;

v  Newsletters from companies such as Peter’s, Scholastic, Waterstones, etc.;

v  Reading books – the majority of my personal reading is teen/YA, often chosen for myself but then added to my school collection.

All these sources combine to create a sort of multi-input into my consciousness of “information about books” which is the start of the process of “selecting books” – you can’t make any choices unless you know what’s available. It’s difficult to ascertain the exact number of children’s/teen/YA books published each year (although the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook suggest about 10,000) but regardless of the number, it is a necessity for me to keep up-to-date, maintain awareness, sign up for (and read) relevant newsletters, check out social media sources, be aware of trends, popular authors, curriculum topics, my own students’ needs and interests as well as what’s coming next to help me make an informed selection as to what to buy. Especially as I have both a limited budget and available space.

I see this as part of my job and it’s something I cannot do at my desk so is often done in my own time. This is true for almost every school librarian I know. Fortunately, I’m slightly obsessed with books and even just reading about them gives me pleasure (not to mention making my to-read list exceptionally long) but this is also why I argue that librarians are the “book experts” in schools …