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 …