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 …