Friday 27 December 2013


Every time I add something to my blog, I resolve to write more often. Not that I don’t write, you understand … but it’s not always here. I spend most of my spare time responding to comments on Facebook, tweeting reports, lists of books and other literacy-related items, not to mention actively participating on the School Librarian Network (SLN) (and if you’re a school librarian and haven’t discovered this yet then I would 100% recommend it as a superb resource, just google it and you’ll find it!). Then there’s my CILIP Update column, various other professional posts, adding replies to letters and other blogs (especially if they are “stating” untruths about libraries). In fact, there are so many “writings” about books, reading, libraries, etc. that I’m amazed that we still need to tell people about what we do, and what the benefits of reading and libraries are.

So … a New Year’s Resolution, made early, is to blog more frequently.

However, one problem is that this blog is entitled “Library Stuff” and yet, so often, I find that I want to write about the state of our society; about the behaviour of people who are in a responsible position, who are meant to have our interests at the heart of what they do and yet so blatantly don’t; about the wonders of being a grandparent (even of only 17 days); about the despair I feel of a country that thinks it is ok to give people bonuses of thousands of pounds whilst others are queuing at food banks; and mixed in with all this is the incomprehension I have of how “they” ignore the research that shows the benefits of libraries and reading, and are happy to let individual schools decide on library provision! Not to mention how Ofsted can award a school an outstanding grade (with current criteria of inspecting Reading for Pleasure and Reading across the Curriculum) without going anywhere near the library, assuming the school has one.

Logically, the obvious thing would be to have an alternative blog entitled “Other Stuff” … but that’s going to have to be for another time and space … maybe when I retire J

So … what’s been happening with “Library Stuff” recently? Lots! And it seems as though every time I read something that results in all sorts of responses in my head, before I have a chance to get those down on paper, something else appears! But the one thing has stuck is the recent success in Scotland of School Library Services. The Edinburgh city council were originally planning to reduce the number of school librarian posts by 12, over half of the 23 currently working in schools, saving a grand total of £400,000! This resulted in an outcry from various sectors including authors and CILIP Scotland, and the council have now reconsidered their decision. Great news!

I can’t help wondering, though, why is the situation regarding school librarians in Scotland so different from that in England? Why do those in authority in Scotland, who have the power to make these decisions, listen to the arguments, read the research and act accordingly? They have publically stated that the decision to retain school librarians was based on consultation findings (the same findings that we have in England) whereas we get the same response time after time … that it’s up to individual schools to determine how to spend their budgets.

As a result of this, school librarians have been called “superheroes” and Ali Bowden, Director of Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature Trust has said: “You can have books in libraries but you’re not going to get kids reading if you don’t have someone who’s passionate and who can convey that passion.” This is true but what is worrying is the response from author, Linda Strachan, who has written a wonderful blog post about school librarians but seems to think that the axe is only just falling on them:

Whereas, as so many of us know, this is not the case. Time after time, school libraries are reduced to IT rooms or are taken over as meeting or intervention spaces with the consequence being that the librarian post is no longer needed, at least not in a professional capacity. At the same time as this success was being reported, I also heard of a school librarian who had given in her notice as she had been so undermined at her school, with her professional role being eroded so much, that she felt she had no alternative but to look for work elsewhere.

It’s a pity that so many people make the assumption that schools have libraries and librarians. Or that success in one part of the UK will result in success in the rest of it. This is why we need to keep telling people about why schools need libraries and about the benefits of them having a professional librarian. A good way of doing this is to promote the SLG publication about school libraries:
… pass this around your friends and family, and make sure they ask these questions of their children’s schools. If Heads become aware that parents are asking about library provision, they may actually think twice before getting rid of it!


Wednesday 4 December 2013

50 BOOKS ...

When I read that The Independent had produced a “50 books every child should read list”  I was quite excited; I love lists, especially of books. And the creators of this list are three children’s authors and two book experts so I was expecting something quite exciting.

But, oh dear, what a disappointment! Instead of an inspirational selection, the list reads like a nostalgic visit to a long-gone childhood. Now, the three authors in question are very popular and have written some amazing and timeless books. They also regularly undertake school visits so meet children and talk to them about reading. And I’m sure that the “book experts” (who just happen to work for The Independent) have access to children’s books and may even have 11 year olds of their own but my first thought on seeing this list was to wonder why the publishers had not thought to ask any “real” experts? Those people who are surrounded by 11 year olds all day long, those people who are knowledgeable about children’s literature (both classic and contemporary), those people whose job it is to inspire children to read, to introduce them to the wide array of books available to them? Yes, you’ve guessed it … school librarians!

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s some great books on this list and I’m not of the opinion that because a book was written 10, 20, 30 years ago, it’s not relevant to today’s children and that they should eschew it for something more contemporary. Every time I see a lamp in some woods, I’m transported to Narnia and secretly hope that I may spot a fawn scuttling along the path, and I would love every child to have that same magical experience that has purely been the result of reading C. S. Lewis. So that book would be on my list but I’m acutely aware that there are many 11 year olds who would hate it.

There are around 3.5 million children aged 10 – 14 years in the UK. A list of 50 books simply cannot encompass the wide range of reading abilities and varied interests of every 11 year old, it would be impossible to even try.  Yet with the number of books available, in bookshops and libraries across the country, I can understand why parents need some sort of guidance … but please, if we are going to have a list, let’s have some titles that will inspire and create readers. Let’s give parents the tools to start selecting books themselves by explaining that they need to start with the child, what they enjoy reading, what they don’t like and what their interests are. Many of those listed are books the compilers enjoyed when they were children, ones that bring back good memories, but this is no criteria for selecting books to recommend. And some of them I would be rather hesitant in recommending to a year 7; their content is, perhaps, more suitable for a slightly older and more emotionally mature child. I also wonder if the books were chosen with an eye on the fact that the general public would be judging the person behind the list by what they had included on it? A bit like the teacher’s best 100 books list that was published earlier in the year where many of the titles were incredibly “worthy”?

The problem with producing lists that say “should read” is that it puts parents and children under pressure. I have already had school librarians contact me as they have been asked by their Heads to send this list to all parents. Why? Are those poor children going to be forced to read the list and not be allowed to choose anything else? Are parents going to feel obliged to rush out and buy these books and push them onto their children (and many will) because they have been told by “experts” that this is what 11 year olds should have read? A far more useful exercise would have been to have each contributor to come up with 50 books … yes, that would be a lot of books but it would give parents a much wider choice. And also, next time, maybe ask a school librarian …

Monday 23 September 2013


On Saturday I attended the CILIP AGM at the Library of Birmingham. Despite being a member for many years, this was the first AGM I have ever attended … being a school librarian I am unable to take any leave during term time and they are usually held on a weekday. It was an interesting day! The agenda included votes on the name change and a motion expressing no confidence in Ed Vaisey, the fire alarm went off in the middle of the name-changing vote and the venue was incredible!

The vote went against the name change (356 members for, 644 members against, 22 abstained) – I was in favour of the name change and I’ve explained the reasons why in previous blogs so I’m not going to go over the same ground. Instead I will carry on with what I usually do: advocating and promoting for the profession, particularly school librarians and supporting CILIP in their work.

One of the things that struck me at the AGM was how many people kept referring to when CILIP was the LA and how it used to be, in a rather nostalgic way, and almost implying that we should go back to that. And this is also true of many comments that have been made online. It’s as though people are still harbouring some sort of resentment from when the LA became CILIP and blaming the current team for what happened back then, over ten years ago. What on earth is the point of this? I’m not saying we should throw away our past, our heritage, the rich tradition of libraries that we have or the ethos and vision of those libraries but we really cannot go backwards. The world is going forward. It is not the same as it was in the days of the Library Association. Technology has progressed incredibly; the global economy has changed; society’s values have altered; people’s perceptions towards information (both the sources and how it is obtained) have been transformed … this is what we have to work with. If we don’t then we are going to be left behind. And somebody or something else will fill our space (in many schools this has already happened … it’s called Google).

I tend to think of CILIP council as similar to a school governing body; a selection of voted governors who have a range of duties and powers with a general responsibility for the conduct of the school. Most decisions are discussed at sub-committee level then recommendations brought to a full governing body meeting. You could not have every single change put to all the students or parents; you would never get a consensus and so much time would be wasted in pointless, endless deliberations (trust me, we spend a lot of time in discussion at governors’ meetings as it is!).  This works … and it’s the same in many organisations. You also have to, at some point, accept and trust the judgement of the people you have voted for to act on your behalf. By all means, question them and ask them to explain their choices but, ultimately, if you are going to object to every single decision then you have to wonder why you voted for them in the first place?

So … members have voted and decided they rather like CILIP and want to stay with it. It’s funny how when you think you’re going to lose something, it suddenly becomes appealing. The new name was only a part of the rebranding process. This will continue … CILIP has already made changes and more are planned in order to make it the forward-looking organisation it needs to be, that is relevant to both its members and all sectors of the profession. Many people have remarked to me that they have already noticed how different CILIP is from what it used to be (in a good way!) and I’m really pleased whenever I hear these comments because I know it’s true and how much hard work has gone on to make those changes.

I now hope that those who spent a lot of time and effort in fighting to retain the name CILIP will put the same sort of expenditure into supporting and promoting the organisation.

Finally … I really cannot leave this blog entry without mentioning the Library of Birmingham. I know it’s had its detractors, people don’t like the building, others say that the money could have been used to keep branch libraries operating, etc. but this Library has had so much media attention, attracting over 100,000 visitors in just over a week from all sectors of the population, it really has raised the profile of libraries nationally. On the day of the AGM, it was heaving and there were queues to get in by the afternoon. I managed to have a wander around and it was astounding ... those who say that a library is just a room full of books need to come to this building. What especially touched me was how many families were reading together. And I also noticed the high percentage of teenagers … when I asked Brain Gambles, Library Director, about this, he remarked that the Library had already become the “cool” place to go to J


Thursday 25 July 2013



It’s been too long since I’ve written on here … my time has been consumed by writing HPQ assessments and the result of this is to confirm my thoughts that I really don’t want to be a teacher. I love working with the students, seeing them researching their projects, growing in confidence as they progress through the taught skills and they never cease to amaze me with what they produce … but marking their work is tedious and boring. Yet there’s not one aspect of being a school librarian that I feel like that about!

As usual there’s been a lot of interesting articles about books, libraries and reading in the media but the one that got me thinking was this: in which the writer explains how she recently rediscovered the public library through illness and realised that it wasn’t just a place for readers but also for the vulnerable.

Every school librarian already knows this. When we rage against the closure of yet another school library, it’s not just because one of our colleagues is losing their job, after all as adults with many transferable skills we have other options (even if we may not be as passionate about them), it’s because we know the effect this will have on the students.

Forget the ones who don’t have any books at home so the library is their only source of reading material; forget those whose parents do not see the value of books and reading so they never take them to the public library (assuming they have one, of course); forget the ones who don’t have internet access at home so can only do their homework in the school library (and you’d be surprised how many teachers set homework that needs to be done on the internet);  forget those who have watched something on TV and just want to find out more about it; forget those who have had their curiosity peaked by one of their lessons so want to explore the subject further; or those who have a family member suffering from an illness and need to find out information about it without someone asking lots of questions; or those who have just been diagnosed with something life-changing like diabetes and want to read something that’s aimed at their level; or those struggling with their sexuality that need reassurance; or those being bullied who are looking for advice on how to cope ...  

What about those who come in every day but aren’t really bothered about the books, CDs, DVDs, computers, etc. even though they may spend their breaks sitting at a desk reading a book or magazine?  The ones who use the space as a refuge? Those who are a bit different therefore don’t quite fit in. Those who find the move to secondary school a bit scary and breaktimes overpowering so need a place of safety and security. Those who are being bullied so want to be in a place where there is another adult. Those who don’t really have a friendship group to wander around with and don’t want to be on their own … they know that they will always get a friendly welcome in the library and very often join in with activities. Those who are going through a bit of a hard time in their lives right now and just want to sit somewhere on their own at break. The smaller children who find the bigger, older students en masse a bit loud and threatening so prefer a space where numbers are restricted. Those who aren’t part of the sporty set, the arty set, the music set but can become student librarians so are part of the “library set”!

Many of these students don’t stay with you forever. They find friends, they fit in, they grow in self-assurance until one day you realise that you haven’t seen them for ages. Others stick around from year 7 to year 11 (and beyond). But where would all these children go and what would they do without the library? They’d be lost and it would take many of them a lot longer to settle at school and to feel happy and confident enough to reach their potential, if they ever did. How can you put a value on what the library means to these children and the benefits it brings to them? You can’t … it’s immeasurable … which is why people who don’t know the true worth of a library (any library) should not make financial decisions about them.



Monday 24 June 2013


Every so often a question comes up on the school librarian network (SLN) about where to shelve a particular book within Dewey which usually ends up in a discussion about the merits, or otherwise, of various library classification systems. In my library, I use Dewey for my information books … okay, it’s a simplified version so that I rarely have more than one number after the decimal point and, in many cases, I’ve used the lowest common denominator for a section to make it even more abridged but it is still the basic Dewey system; ten sections categorised loosely by subjects. I also believe that you have to make it work for your own situation which sometimes means putting a book where it will be found rather than religiously adhering to the “correct” Dewey number; for example, does a book on Tudor theatres go into the history section on Tudors, with your Shakespeare resources or amongst the drama books?
I have to admit that I have very little recollection of ever using Dewey myself, either in my school or public library. I must have done but all I knew then was that if I looked up a book in the card index, it would tell me the number where I’d find that book on the shelves. I also knew that I’d find other similar, possibly useful, books near it. These days, give me a subject and I can tell you, if not the exact number, then roughly where you’ll find it. It’s not that I’ve learnt these numbers by heart, despite the belief of many of my students, but that working with them all day for several years has resulted in me absorbing them by osmosis.

Dewey isn’t complicated. It basically divides all information resources into ten areas according to the subject matter.  And, after I’ve introduced this concept to my year 7s, shown them the subject index and given them an exercise on finding books on specific subjects, very few of them have problems understanding how it works – I also think they rather like being able to come into the Library, use the subject index and find a relevant book without my intervention. This gives them confidence and empowers them as library users and, for those who will go on to FE or HE, skills to enable them to find information in much larger libraries.
But is Dewey the best classification system for school libraries? Would we serve our users better by adopting an alternative system? … and make no mistake, we have to have some sort of system otherwise no-one would be able to find anything (though it would make reshelving quite quick and easy)!

One alternative would be to shelve by curriculum subject (and many years ago I remember going into the children’s section at Guildford public library and discovering that this is exactly what they did, using coloured stickers). That’s fine for subjects that have very clear demarcations but what do you do regarding cross-curricular resources? Books on energy sources that are used by both Geography and Science and never Technology (even though that’s where you’d find them under Dewey). And what about books that don’t come under any curriculum area but are used by a certain department? I have a collection of books on pets that are well used during an English project yet they certainly aren’t anywhere near the Dewey sections for English resources.
A further arrangement that has been suggested is to shelve information books by year group according to the topic being studied during each term; so you’d have Roman books on the shelf labelled Year 7 History Autumn term and Pop Art on the Year 9 Art Spring term shelf.

I guess teachers would like this arrangement – it would be quick and easy for them to just pop into the Library and grab the pile of relevant books. It would also mean that if you had a specific class in for a research lesson then they wouldn’t have to waste time browsing the shelves looking for books but could all just go to the appropriate section. And those students who were lazy and couldn’t be bothered looking up the Dewey number would also be well served. You’d not have to bother making up resource boxes and your issue statistics might also go up. But is this the sole reason we have information resources? I know one of our functions is to support the curriculum but we also exist for a lot of other reasons. And we all know that issue statistics do not reflect book use. In fact, it would be quite easy to increase our stats artificially … not that I’m saying we should spend a couple of hours each week issuing and returning books to random students, but you get my point?
By arranging our resources in this way, are we actually doing the students any favours? Or are we just adding to the “spoon feeding” culture in education that focuses on targets and results, and not equipping students with the research skills needed to function effectively in society?  Arranging resources in this way may have some advantages but I think the disadvantages outweigh these: what of those year 9 boys who are fascinated or obsessed by a topic that happens to be part of the year 7 curriculum, are they going to borrow books from a shelf labelled for younger students? And what about cross-curricular subjects, something I’ve already talked about. Not to mention all those resources that link with personal interests and hobbies that aren’t covered by the curriculum … the list is endless … cars, aliens, dragons, zombies, extreme sports, horse riding, ice hockey, wrestling …
Libraries should be for discovery. For wandering around and browsing and finding something intriguing, strange, unusual, something that you probably wouldn’t find if you just went to the “curriculum section” for your year group. When I do my Dewey exercise with year 7s, I have them roving around all over the place and it’s surprising how many “find” books that they then borrow … books on things that they’re already into but that they “never realised I had these in the Library” or books on something that “just looked interesting so I’m going to borrow it.” This is how we nurture children’s imaginations, dreams, aspirations … by letting them discover for themselves.

The world is full of systems; if I want to buy macaroni then I know I have to go to the pasta section of my local supermarket. Which isn’t much different from knowing that if I want a book on castles then I have to go to the section on buildings and architecture …



Saturday 15 June 2013


I was originally planning to write about library related things in my next blog but a lot of my time the past couple of weeks has been spent talking to people about the CILIP rebranding so I thought I may as well continue with that …

Those of you who have been following developments will know that the date of the meeting has been changed; this is so that, according to the constitution, members are contacted by post 21 days in advance – you should have received the letters by now! And I do sympathise with those having to sort all this out, I’ve had constitutional dealings within both my SLA branch and SLG London & SE group, and it can be a nightmare to interpret!

I’ve been meeting members recently at various workshops and events, and it’s interesting to get their perceptions on all this. One thing that comes across is that people thought the original survey was actually a ballot and that the new name would be taken from the presented list. I hope by now people realise that this is not the case … and that you’ve completed the second survey where it asked for three suggestions; it will be interesting to see what the results of this are.

The vote on Monday 8 July is simply a choice between halting the rebranding or carrying on with it. That’s it! It will not be a vote on a possible new name; that vote will be taken later after further discussion and consultation.

I do think that calling this a “rebrand” is slightly misleading though. When companies rebrand, they streamline their organisational structure, look at their market placement and assess future opportunities, creating a vision that is fit for purpose; and then they “rename” … usually with a media launch to promote and advocate the new image.

As CILIP have already done most of this, they have, effectively, more or less completed the rebranding so it is just the “renaming” left to discuss. A vote to stop this will not result in CILIP reverting back to the organisation it used to be. All it will mean is that we will have a forward-looking organisation that has worked hard to reflect the needs of its members in the 21st century, that has instigated a change programme to ensure the organisation is inclusive to the wider membership and all areas of the profession but that will have the public and media perceptions of the old name. Something that will be very difficult to advocate and promote because people will immediately associate “CILIP” with whatever views they already hold about it.

Stopping the rebranding process will effectively be stopping members’ right to vote on whether they want a new name or to stay with CILIP. This is a decision that should not be made by a few but by all members, and halting the rebranding now would deprive members of making that choice.

So … if you can’t make the meeting then please use your vote. You can ask anyone attending the meeting to vote on your behalf or the Chair, and you can tell them how you want to vote or leave it up to them. The online form is here and takes little time to complete:

I can’t make the new date as I’m accompanying a group of students to a Wolf Sanctuary as part of our activities week; I’m giving my vote to Phil Bradley.


Friday 31 May 2013


Last week, CILIP launched a survey to ascertain people’s views on its rebranding which generated a lot of comments and, after I did the survey myself, I can understand why. I’ve been chatting to people about this and many of them are angry, upset and confused; for all sorts of reasons. Some of these are instinctive reactions to change, some are because of misunderstandings and others are because people feel somehow let down so I’ve decided to put down my thoughts about the situation. This is my personal blog (although I’ve chosen to focus on Library Stuff) rather than an official CILIP Vice President one but I do recognise that I’m in a bit of a unique position regarding this matter.
CILIP has, is and will continue to change; it has to! It is not the same organisation it was ten years ago when it was formed by the amalgamation of the Library Association and the Institute of Information Professionals (and goodness, I can remember the fuss when that happened!). If we were a profession that had remained much the same, such as accountancy (and I’m only using this as an example so if there are any accountants reading this please don’t get upset but when I look at a balance sheet today, it looks much the same as it did many years ago), I could understand our professional association staying static. But the library world/information profession has NOT been inert. Resources and the way they are delivered, how people access information, the way they use it, the amount of information available – all this has changed and if CILIP does not transform with the profession then it will become irrelevant to its members. Even in my brief career as a school librarian (only 20 years which is quite short compared to some who have been in the sector for 40 years or more), I’ve seen tremendous transformations not only in the resources within libraries but also the scope of the work.

I know that some people feel that CILIP hasn’t being open about this process. I guess if you didn’t read last year’s annual review or browse through Update then all this may have come as a surprise but CILIP have been completely upfront about all the changes in the organisation; from the new organisational structure, the new vision and mission statements through to the revised Professional Knowledge and Skills Base and the review of Governance, and the rebrand is part of this. The changes in CILIP during the past few years have resulted in a more effective organisation that focuses on its members via the branches and groups structure, one that is now responsive and approachable.

When I organised the Mass Lobby for School Libraries last year, I had a tremendous amount of help from CILIP and I’m sure it wouldn’t have been as successful if I hadn’t received this (and remember the Lobby was not a CILIP initiative so they didn’t have to get involved). Thus when I was asked if I would put my name forward for Vice President I was happy to do so because I recognised that the changes within CILIP meant it was focusing on the members, that it was forward-thinking and interacting with various stakeholders and authorities that could secure the future of the information profession; basically it is an organisation that I want to support and am happy to give my time to.
It’s important to remember that this is a survey, designed to obtain people’s responses and reactions, which is certainly has. Neither Phil nor I saw the survey before it was released (even if people think we should have done – sorry, despite our lofty titles, we don’t actually see everything that comes out of CILIP in advance in order to veto it, that’s not our role) and I suspect that my reaction to the list of suggested names was much the same as everyone else’s! I’d be interested to know what Spencer Du Bois’ guidelines were and how they came up with the suggestions. Also whether anyone told them that 45% of the members consider themselves librarians so to include the words “library/librarian” in one of the choices would have been a good idea but then their job is to create a new brand name so they would be coming at this from a different angle. A bit like those architects who design school libraries that look good but never think about the practicalities of teenagers using them. The results and everybody’s comments will be fed back to Spencer Du Bois for analysis and further consultation which is why it’s important for people to do the survey; and the final decision will be voted on by the members at the AGM.

I know a lot of people don’t see the need for a name change but the current name doesn’t work. Yes, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals says what it does on the tin but it’s rather a mouthful and the acronym doesn’t mean anything to anyone outside the profession. There can’t be a single one of us that hasn’t had to explain what “CILIP” stands for. In my first position within libraries, I was a “Media Resources Officer” totally ridiculous title as I ran what was a traditional school library and the only media involved was one computer running the BBC Doomsday project (when it worked). Now I have all sorts of wonderful resources at my disposal and the job is very different from that first one but I’m called a librarian, something I’m totally happy and comfortable with. Mind you, my students and staff know that being a librarian involves more than just dealing with books because they see all the different things I do as part of the job (and I’m always telling them anyway). But librarian is also a title everyone understands. When you talk about libraries and librarians, the general public know what you mean, even if they don’t necessarily appreciate exactly what we do.
There is no way that whatever we come up with is going to please everyone. Some people want library or librarian, others don’t; some say the word professional is important, others want Chartered … and if we incorporate all of these then what we do end up with … CILIP! And it’s already been agreed that it doesn’t work so I think it’s going to have to be a compromise.  Plus it’s going to have to be something short enough to convey who we are because the danger is that we’ll end up with an acronym again that doesn’t mean anything and that we’re going to have to explain to everyone. A lot of people are information professionals and don’t work in any sort of library so I can see why the term librarian isn’t relevant to them but are there any librarians who aren’t information professionals? Possibly not. Yes, I’m an information professional but I’m also a library manager, teacher, literacy expert, storyteller … the term information professional doesn’t cover those other aspects of my job whereas librarian does. It’s also important to remember that many libraries are more than just about information, especially those that the public have access to as opposed to specialist units working within a narrowly defined sector. The public value libraries and librarians, and we need to use that. No-one can be unaware that libraries are under threat and I think the danger is that if we do away with the “L” word completely then we are giving more ammunition to those who think that anyone can do our job and it could have a detrimental effect on how the public perceive the value of the profession.

So why rebrand? Rebranding is not just about changing a name and logo; it usually involves the restructuring of an organisation, can be a response to changing needs of customers (ie: members) and can be used to revitalise a company. We need to ask: Is CILIP pigeonholed as something members have outgrown? Have their needs changed? Does CILIP’s brand tell an outdated story? Is CILIP still relevant in changing times? CILIP has already started on this route with the changes mentioned above thus the name/logo is just another step in the process and it would be a bit of a shame to put effort and expense into creating an organisation ready to move forward that was held back by media and public perceptions. Rebranding is also a marketing tool, a means of promotion, and the rebranding launch will be an excellent opportunity for further advocacy.
This issue has opened up discussion and generated a lot of passion which is fantastic. People that are enthusiastic and care about their profession are more likely to become involved which is much better than apathy but it’s important to ensure that this energy is directly positively towards supporting CILIP rather than negatively towards just trying to keep the status quo. Change is scary but it can also be empowering and this is a tremendous opportunity to reposition the organisation; it’s up to us to ensure that we take on this challenge because we cannot grow and become stronger without it.


Tuesday 21 May 2013


So far I’ve tended to write about issues surrounding school libraries, librarians, reading, etc. but I was delighted to be invited to the CILIP Wales Conference last week (May 16 – 17) in my role as Vice President so thought I’d share the experience! Most of the conferences I’ve attended in the past have focused on school libraries or children’s literature so it was interesting to be part of something that involved a wider library sector plus I had already decided that I would try to accept as many invitations as possible during this year, not only to represent CILIP at various functions but also to use the opportunity to promote school libraries, school librarians and the work we do (even if this took me out my comfort zone).

The theme of the conference was “Rising to the Challenge: Developing Library and Information Services through Partnership and Collaboration”and it opened with a keynote address from Liz McGettigan, Head of Libraries, Edinburgh, who spoke about the challenges facing public libraries in a changing information world and how Edinburgh libraries have faced these by creating new partnerships. This set the scene for the whole conference with, amongst others, Nottingham Health librarians talking about working with the local community, the National Library of Wales detailing cooperative ventures and Annie Mauger delivering the message that we need to form partnerships with users and other professionals.
As is usual at these events, I can never make up my mind what workshops to attend as they all sound so interesting. In the end I went to a session delivered by Macmillan Support Services about wellbeing knitting workshops they run within libraries to support cancer patients; a presentation on the refurbishment of Cardiff Metropolitan University Library (which I thought was rather appropriate as I’m in the middle of a library refurbishment myself), and an interactive activity involving the Kate Greenaway shortlisted titles (this one was definitely within my comfort zone). The conference also included the announcement of the winner of the Tir na n-Og Award for the best English language book (Tree of Leaf and Flame, written by Daniel Morden and illustrated by Brett Breckon) and the inaugural CILIP Welsh Librarian of the Year Award. The public library category was won by Bethan Huges of Denbighshire libraries and the academic sector category won by Lori Havard, librarian at Swansea University, who was also the overall winner. It’s great to see another award that celebrates librarians and recognises the work they do.

Collaboration and partnership is something that I think is very important. None of us can exist in isolation, even if we’re a solo worker – we still have users, colleagues, stakeholders to consider. And we cannot stay insular within our own library walls, even if this does feel like the safest place sometimes! If we are to grow as a profession, to continue our CPD, and to advocate for our services and organisations, then we need to collaborate; with other librarians, with libraries, with organisations – in fact, almost anyone we can find to join forces with. I know this is not always easy. Sometimes we are so busy doing the day-to-day tasks that there’s no time to think about anything else, let alone plan and devise joint projects with others. Some of us have little support in our work place and so get scarce recognition for anything we do, which makes it hard to find the impetus to do anything above and beyond. But collaboration doesn’t have to be something huge and life-changing. Start with smaller projects and look for opportunities where, perhaps, both parties would benefit from working together. Just do it – because if we don’t then someone else will see the opportunity and step in, and we will have lost the chance.

Meanwhile, I’m off to see about setting up a knitting group within my library …


Monday 13 May 2013


I was rather intrigued by the title of this article because, as most school librarians would agree, there isn’t a wrong sort of book, every book has its reader – you just have to try and put the two together, easier said than done! I’m not bothered with what my students read as long as they actually do read – which means I’m happy them picking up newspapers, magazines, reading from websites, e-books, car manuals, even White Dwarf which could be written in another language for all the sense I can make of it!

Although there is actually a “wrong sort of book” …. it’s the one that is not right for the student at that time. So many of them just grab the nearest book when they are told to find something to read. Some will choose a book based on the cover (and let’s face it, that’s the first thing you make your decision on which is why they’re so important … publishers please note), a few will read the blurb. The problem is, if they select a book that is too easy for them they’ll be bored with it; if it’s too hard, they won’t understand it; and if it’s the sort of genre they don’t enjoy then they just won’t connect with the book at all. And if they do this time and time again, then eventually they’ll come to the decision that reading is boring. So yes … it is possible to have the wrong sort of book because the right sort will engage the reader, make them want to read it and then make them want to repeat the experience.

In an ideal world, all children would be readers. But even if they were, they wouldn’t pick “literary” titles every time. Adults don’t yet I’m always surprised at how people expect this sort of reading from teenagers, even though, when you look at adult patterns of reading, they dip and meander through a whole myriad of titles. Over the past couple of months, my reading has gone from the Carnegie and Greenaway shortlist through a thriller by Linwood Barclay, The Humans by Matt Haig, delved into some non-fiction on the London Underground and Venice, and I’m now working my way through the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist ... oh and then there’s the newspapers I skim whilst I’m having coffee, the magazines I buy, and even the free ones from the high-street supermarkets get read. Not to mention my professional journals, various enewsletters and blogs … I did mention that I was rather obsessed with reading, didn’t I?

What I pick up depends on the mood I’m in, how much time I’ve got and how much I want to concentrate on what I’m reading. At times I like to struggle with ideas and concepts, words that stop me reading and set me off on a train of thought, sometimes I want to disappear inside my book and ignore the world, other times I just want to chill out and relax but still engage with those around me. This isn’t right or wrong, it’s just the way I connect with words. And surely we should allow teenagers and young adults the same concessions when they read?

Mr Gove would have us believe that he spent his youth immersed in worthy works but this cannot be true. Children don’t learn to read with Dickens, Hardy and Eliot. Is he expecting us to accept that he never read a Beano or Hotspur comic? If he didn’t, then no wonder he has such a warped sense of books, reading and libraries. He is also forgetting the fact that when he was a teenager, he didn’t have the choice of entertainment that is around today – 24 hour TV, films on demand, the internet, social networking, phones with free unlimited texts – you can’t ignore these and expect teenagers not to be involved with today’s technology, which means working with it to promote and encourage reading.

My advice would be … if you find a teenager immersed in a book, leave them.  Go and read the same book then, when they’ve finished it, you can discuss it together!

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.

Thursday 2 May 2013


I’ve been waiting with slight trepidation for the Bookbuzz titles to be released as I had the pleasure of chairing the selection panel this year and, knowing how discerning and outspoken school librarians can be (myself included!!!), I wasn’t sure what their reactions would be! Not that I don’t think we’ve chosen some fantastic titles but it’s hard to please everyone.
I’ve been on selection panels before and, whilst enjoyable, it’s not an easy task. People probably assume that we get the whole range of every published title to choose from but that’s not the case. As this initiative relies on the generosity and support of publishing companies, those participating send a variety of books for us to select from. This year we had over 80 titles to read; every book was read by at least two members of the panel but, as chair, I tried to read as many as I could in the time available  and yes, it’s most definitely possible to have “too many” books in the pile.

Selecting the shortlist (of 36) was relatively easy but when it came down to choosing the final twelve, it was much more difficult. In a way, what we had to do was pick books that reflected the whole of a school library’s stock: titles that would appeal to both boys and girls, books that would stretch a more-able reader, ones that would appeal to both the reluctant and less-able readers; novels that covered a range of genres. If we, experienced librarians and authors, found this difficult, it makes you wonder how authorities could ever consider that volunteers could run libraries; after all, what skills and knowledge would they apply to stock selection?  

We even looked at the visual effect of all the covers together. If we felt that one title wasn’t quite right and replaced it with another then this seemed to affect the balance of the whole list so we ended up shifting books around until we considered we had the best mix. I’m certainly very excited about what was finally selected; a range of both newly published and familiar titles that I’m looking forward to introducing to my students.

I also read books that normally I wouldn’t have chosen. Books that, perhaps, were not my favourite genres or that seemed a bit boring on first impression but when you’re part of a selection panel and those books are on the list, you don’t have much option. Some of those books I thoroughly enjoyed and will be recommending – and isn’t this what we all hope? That by taking part in a shadowing scheme or browsing through a shortlist of titles, students will try something new, something outside their comfort zone that stretches them, that introduces them to a new reading experience and that increases their reading for pleasure.

Hope you enjoy the list …. I look forward to hearing what you think about the selections …

Sunday 28 April 2013


A couple of weeks ago the TES published the Top 100 Teachers’ Favourite Books and, in response, school librarians created their own list (see blog below). Since then, we’ve taken the top ten and put together a further list with an overall winner! The final list is interesting and, again, shows the diversity of school librarians’ reading with books ranging from both adult and children’s classics through to contemporary novels and, unsurprisingly, including several crossover books. The results were very close but the final list, in order, is:

The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak
His Dark Materials trilogy – Philip Pullman
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Chaos Walking trilogy – Patrick Ness
The Lord of the Rings trilogy – JRR Tolkien
The Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
Noughts and Crosses series – Malorie Blackman
Private Peaceful – Michael Morpurgo
Harry Potter series – JK Rowling
Black Beauty – Anna Sewell

I wonder how many teachers have heard of some of these books, let alone read them? And yet I know from my own experience that most school librarians and several of my students will have read the majority of them. With a whole-school approach to literacy being high on the Ofsted agenda, perhaps it’s time for schools and teachers to recognise that their librarians are the experts when it comes to books for children rather than just rely on the English department, and for PGCE courses to include a module on children’s and young adult publishing?

Saturday 27 April 2013


Today I had the pleasure of attending the first Libmeet organised by CILIP’s SLG London & SE group. I had been looking forward to this for several reasons; firstly, it’s always a pleasure to spend time in the company of other school librarians, talking “shop”; secondly, I love visiting other libraries as I invariably pick up ideas from them; and thirdly, it made a change from refurbishing my own library!

It was held at Lilian Baylis Technology School in South London, which I have to say was absolutely amazing; such a wonderful use of space and colour, and I wish I had been able to wander around the school a bit more. There was even a rather magnificent gilt mirror in the toilets! And it was also very good value, thanks to sponsorship from Brown’s Books for students.

The day was jam packed with sessions. We began with a Library Surgery; attendees had previously suggested topics to cover and these were discussed in small groups, very similar to what happens at Unconferences. Although it was an organised session with each group discussing every topic for a short time, its unstructured and informal nature enabled us to allow the conversation to develop into relevant areas according to the concerns of the group. Thus our general topic of behaviour in the library ended up as a discussion on how to deal with sixth form students. This was followed by a session on self-promotion and advocacy, something we all do to a certain extent but which is so important for our status and profile within schools. We need to market our services to all our stakeholders - students, staff, parents and governors – because if we don’t then nobody else will, which means telling everybody what you do, why you do it and what impact it has.

After lunch there were two sessions to choose from; one on e-books and resources, the other on the VLE and the library. I attended the latter, partly because (I have to confess) that the school website and VLE is low on my list. It’s not that I even have to do it myself as we have a member of staff who is responsible for them both but I still need to tell them what to put on it. However, talking to other librarians about their websites has given me the impetus to do something about this and I think I’m going to start with a write-up and some photos of the newly refurbished library as this will be a perfect way to tell both students and parents what we’ve done and how the school has invested in the library - that self-promotion idea.

If you get a chance to attend a Libmeet I would thoroughly recommend it. They are an ideal prospect for networking, for gaining further knowledge and ideas, and for CPD. You will usually come away with at least one practical task that you decide to implement, if not more, but I think one of the most useful aspects is the opportunity to talk to other librarians and to share expertise. Something invaluable if you work as a solo librarian.

I had an extremely enjoyable and productive day, and look forward to this becoming a regular feature in the SLG London & SE calendar but there was one question I totally forgot to ask: where on earth did they get those sublime brownies from?

Sunday 21 April 2013



Librarians are always fascinated by book lists so when the TES recently published the top 100 teachers’ favourite books, it generated a lot of discussion amongst the online school library community. However, it was also felt that school librarians should produce their own list as we are the people that actually deal with books on a daily basis. The list we came up with is as varied as the teachers’ list; it’s in alphabetical order rather than by popularity although the top ten are highlighted. The problem is, ask a school librarian to name their favourite book and they’re likely to give you about fifty titles including their personal favourites as a child, their favourites as an adult, their favourite teenage/young adult titles, not to mention a list of picture books and graphic novels. So, whilst many of the titles listed are similar to those on the teachers’ list, they also reflect the wider reading that most librarians do and the list shows not only the varied range of books but also a more contemporary collection.

Keeping up-to-date with what is published, what’s being read and trends is part of our job. It enables us to select our stock to cater for the needs of our user group and also to match that stock more accurately with individual readers. We know how to entice a reluctant reader, what to suggest next for a Wimpy Kid fan and how to challenge a more-able reader whilst ensuring the content is suitable for their age.

Schools that ignore and do not use their libraries and librarians are wasting this expertise and experience; schools that don’t even have a library are preventing their students from accessing the resources and benefits that only a school library can provide. And when it comes to books and reading, the person to ask really is your school librarian.

Barbara Band

Skellig – David Almond

Flowers in the Attic – Virginia Andrews

Atkins’ Molecules – Peter Atkins

The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen *

The Crow Road – Iain Banks

Rebecca’s Tale – Sally Beauman

Noughts and Crosses series – Malorie Blackman *

Junk – Melvin Burgess

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey

Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

Looking for JJ – Anne Cassidy

Wild Swans – Jung Chang

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke

Artemis Fowl series – Eoin Colfer

The Hunger Games trilogy – Suzanne Collins

The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

The Dark is Rising series – Susan Cooper

Framed – Frank Cottrell Boyce

Gatty’s Tale - Kevin Crossley-Holland

Matilda – Roald Dahl

Everything Happens for a Reason – Kaista Daswani

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

The Hare with Amber Eyes – Edmund De Waal

The Gruffalo – Julie Donaldson

A Gathering Light – Jennifer Donnelly

Frenchman’s Creek – Daphne Du Maurier

Middlemarch – George Eliot

Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

A Room with a View – EM Forster

The Diary of Anne Frank – Anne Frank

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend – Matthew Green

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

The Raw Shark Texts – Stephen Hall

Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

Black Daisies for the Bride – Tony Harrison

Tales of the Otori series – Lian Hearn

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

The Strange Meeting – Susan Hill

The Outsiders – SE Hinton

The Island – Victoria Hislop

Stravaganza series – Mary Hoffman

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner – James Hogg

High Fidelity – Nick Hornby

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

The 13th Horseman – Barry Hutchinson

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Journey to the River Sea – Eva Ibbotson

A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving

The Summer Book – Tove Jansson

Howl’s Moving Castle – Diana Wynne Jones

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry – Rachel Joyce

The Fionavar Tapestry series – Guy Gavriel Kay

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

The Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis *

The Giver – Lois Lowry

Goodnight Mister Tom – Michelle Magorian

A Song of Fire and Ice series – George RR Martin

I Carried you on Eagle’s Wings – Sue Mayfield

Atonement – Ian McEwan

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things – Jon McGregor

Breathe – Cliff McNish

Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell

Anne of Green Gables – L Montgomery

Private Peaceful – Michael Morpurgo *

War Horse – Michael Morpurgo

Trash – Andy Mulligan

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Chaos Walking trilogy – Patrick Ness *

The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

The Abhorsen trilogy – Garth Nix

Z for Zachariah – Robert C O’Brien

1984 – George Orwell

The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series – Michelle Paver

Seeing the Blossom – Dennis Potter

Tom’s Midnight Garden – Philippa Pearce

Tamar – Mal Peet

Soul Music – Terry Pratchett

His Dark Materials trilogy – Philip Pullman *

The Long Walk – Slavomir Rawicz

Mortal Engines series – Philip Reeve

The Wave – Morton Rhue

Harry Potter series – JK Rowling *

Holes – Louis Sachar

The Invention of Hugo Cabret – Brian Selznick

Black Beauty – Anna Sewell *

Mahabharata – Margaret Simpson

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie – Muriel Spark

The Help – Katherine Stockett

Under Milk Wood – Dylan Thomas

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy – JRR Tolkien*

The Enchanted April – Elizabeth Von Arnim

Out of Shadows – Jason Wallace

The Tadpole’s Promise – Jean Willis

The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak *