Tuesday 18 November 2014

Reading as a Cultural Activity?

I was delighted to attend the recent ASCEL conference on “Libraries – Reading- Culture – Creativity” (although I missed the group of young readers speaking so passionately about what books and libraries meant to them http://www.nicolamorgan.com/heartsong-blog/3265/ you can read what they said on Nicola Morgan’s blog).

I took part in a question time panel about “children’s reading and its role within the artistic, cultural and creative life of the nation.” The panel was chaired by John Dolan (consultant, Libraries and Regeneration and a CILIP board member) with the other panellists being Philip Ardagh (author), Hedley Swain (Arts Council), Dawn Williams (Bridge North East) and Sue Wilkinson (TRA). We didn’t have any idea of the questions in advance but each one could easily have filled the whole 90 minutes as they were all so interesting.

Reading as an art form is a fascinating concept. Knowing I was attending this event got me thinking about this aspect ... reading is such a basic requirement, far more than the ability to recognise different musical forms or art genres. And often, if you were to list the proponents of culture, then books would possibly not be included, reading is not generally thought of as a cultural activity. Yet stories are one of the oldest art forms, that oral tradition that has been handed down through the centuries ... and which eventually translated into writing stories.  But the actual cultural form needs to be acted on to become a cultural activity. Thus we have music being played and listened to, art being created and looked at, and books written and read.

I can’t help feeling that reading, if it is counted as a cultural activity, is somehow lower down in the pecking order. If it wasn’t then we would not be having libraries closing. Maybe it’s because it is not as exclusive as the other forms, because it is such a basic necessity? Yet it plays a major role in people’s lives bringing many benefits. And it isn’t just the act of reading (even though doing so reduces blood pressure and stress), it is what you read and the effects that are important … escapism, self-improvement, relaxation, increased knowledge …effects that can be both immediate and long-term; how many other cultural activities can lay claim to all this?

As a school librarian I see the consequences of reading all the time. Those students that develop into readers become more confident and better at articulating themselves, both verbally and in writing. Research shows that children who read attain better grades in all subjects. But it’s hard to measure the impact we have. If I turn a student into a reader and they then get better grades in two years time. ... that achievement will be assumed to be down to their teachers. The effect of this improved and wider reading will not be taken into account and yet reading impacts on everything.

Until this, and the role that librarians play in the process, is acknowledged … we will never have reading recognised as the important cultural activity it is.


Sunday 21 September 2014


Have been asked to make the text of my speech for the CILIP Big Day available. Easiest way is to put it here ... this is what I wrote to read out. It was originally longer but as I was aware that we were running late and people had trains to catch (plus it had been a long busy day with many members getting up early to be there) I cut bits out so haven't included those. I also paraphrased some bits as I was talking - if you've ever given any sort of presentation, you'll know that sometimes things do come out differently than how you've written them!
CILIP BIG DAY – President Speech

This morning, I said that today was going to be a day for celebration, inspiration and challenges and it’s certainly been that!

We have watched three remarkable videos showing the work of some inspirational librarians, people who really do make a difference:

·         The Kids Hub in Hertfordshire that runs closed sessions with tailored activities for children with additional needs.

·         Studio 12 in Leeds that is encouraging young people from the local BME community to express themselves and grow in their personal development.

·         And the Enterprize Hubs in Northamptonshire who are providing support for the self-employed and job seekers to get back into the job market.


All of these projects are working collaboratively with other partners to open up libraries to areas of the community that are not regular users, projects that have an influence beyond their initial impact. And they are not only changing people’s lives, they are changing the public’s perception of libraries as well which is so important. Well done to all the finalists and congratulations to the winner: Enterprize Hubs - as William Sieghart said, “copy them”!

All of the candidates should rightly feel proud of the work they do. When you see the outreach these projects have and know that similar activities are happening across the country, you wonder how anyone can ever question or doubt the importance or necessity of libraries. How people can think they are just rooms full of books that are irrelevant and that nobody uses is beyond me.
We have heard about the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards and the incredibly successful Shadowing Scheme, – a reminder of the figures involved – over 5000 groups, over 100,000 children. What a wonderful example of the pull of books and reading. This is a venture that inspires children to enjoy a wide range of authors and genres and I have first-hand experience of the impact a shadowing group can have on students and how it can motivate and enthuse their reading. My students are still talking about this year’s winner and recommending the book to their friends 3 months after the event (despite the media accusation of it being dark and disturbing) … and that’s a long time in the life of a teenager where “what’s in” changes almost weekly.  
We have also congratulated a phenomenal number of members who have achieved Certification and Chartership during the year … around 180 in total, not to mention over 100 members revalidating. This isn’t a sign of a failing organisation; it’s an indication of a group of active and engaged professionals who, by progressing with their CPD, are helping to advocate, raise the level of the profession and build a stronger organisation. I wish every one of you success with your career, whatever stage you are at, and it was my pleasure celebrate your achievements with you today. 
If that wasn’t enough … we have awarded six Fellowships and a further six Honorary Fellowships to members in recognition of their contribution to the profession. I was honoured to be involved in the selection process for the first time this year and understand that there was rather a lot more than usual nominations resulting in an extremely strong field of candidates thus making the final decisions difficult. Thank you to all of you who make such a significant impact to the information profession.
And, last but not least, we have celebrated the Mentor of the Year Award, congratulations to Sam Wiggins. As a CILIP mentor myself, I know how much time and commitment it can take to help a fellow professional through the registration process but I also know how rewarding it can be and how it can help you to focus on and think about your own CPD. As Sam said, it’s a reciprocal process where both parties benefit. It’s also an opportunity to give something back to CILIP by helping those with less experience than you grow and develop, and, with the increase in candidates for professional registration that we’ve heard about today, we are certainly going to be needing a lot more mentors so perhaps this is something that some of you may want to consider.
I’m delighted to be able to officially launch the CILIP Digital Inclusion Statement today, entitled “Driving Digital Inclusion: the role of library and information professionals”. It has been produced by the Information Literacy Project Board, of which I am Chair, and we hope this will be the first of several statements dealing with this important aspect of our work. One of CILIP’s aims is to be seen as a key stakeholder and participant in the wider Information Literacy agenda across a range of issues; only by being visible in this way will we be included in any strategies and decision making. The purpose of this statement is for it to be used with external stakeholders as an advocacy tool, showing the part information professionals play in the digital itinerary. Please take a copy away with you today and use it to support your roles. When you read statements such as the fact that 11 million people in the UK are offline and you know that professionally led library and information services are essential in helping these people, not only to get physical access to technology but to gain the necessary digital skills, you again wonder how libraries can be considered unnecessary and be closed. Where are these 11 million expected to go to get internet access? And who is going to help them do that?
Today has definitely been inspiring. And I’m not just talking about all the wonderful award winners but also about our two keynote speakers: William Sieghart and Jan Parry. I found William’s comments encouraging and positive and look forward to the report coming out. Let’s ensure that it really doesn’t end up on a shelf somewhere like so many of them do. What was interesting was his comment that he was “flabbergasted” when he found out the sort of things that librarians actually do and that he didn’t realise this. You have to ask, why don’t people know? If ever there was a call for us to get out there and tell them then this is it. CILIP can and does do this but they can’t do that unless we tell them what we do. So pass on your success stories to Mark, I’m sure he’ll be happy to receive them.
And Jan – what an extremely emotional talk. I was transfixed and I’m sure you all felt the same, the room was totally still and silent, you could hear a pin drop. But what a powerful example of the difference the correct information makes and the trust people have in our profession.
So that’s the celebration and inspiration part of the day. But what about the challenges?
Well, I guess I’d better mention the AGM – and with the Scottish referendum happening during the same week, I feel that my life has been dominated by voting! CILIP is a democratic member institution, despite what some people may think. It is run by a council who are members themselves, they discuss and put forward what they consider to be the best options for the organisation and these are made looking at the whole picture, allowing for various factors, often things that members are not aware of. Before I became part of the Presidential team, I certainly didn’t realise how many aspects had to be taken into account. Some decisions require member approval … council hope that members will agree with their suggestions but if they don’t then, as is the way of any sort of democratic process, the majority decision is abided by.

Today we had an important vote on the Governance proposals. There has been much written and said about these so I’m not going to go into any detail here but members have decided not to accept all of them. CILIP is a strong organisation and it will carry on with the excellent work it has been doing, advocating for the profession and supporting those who work in it. We “lost” two votes at the last AGM and still went on to have a great year. 2015 will be no different.
However, I’m sure no-one will disagree with me when I say that we all face challenges of one sort or another.
In 2010, CILIP began a five year strategic plan to introduce changes and improvements and I know from talking to members that many have noticed the difference within the organisation. If we look at some of the aims of the current plan, they include growing the membership, increasing the range of members, recognising the different routes people take into the profession, and having an active, engaged and positive member community. And there is still a further year to go before the end of this period although the Strategy Board are currently working on the plan that will take us up to 2020, which sounds like it should be the title of an Arthur C Clarke novel!
So what’s been happening? The branch and group structure has been rationalised and we have heard from various members about their involvement at this level; the VLE was implemented and the PKSB has exceeded everyone’s expectations. We now have a core of student members – the Chartership and Fellowship candidates of the future? – and almost 100 new members from the Government Knowledge and Information Management community. There has also been an increased focus on advocacy as anyone who receives the monthly media update is aware.
I’ve already mentioned the quantity of people going through various stages of professional registration, committed and dedicated members who want to be part of their profession: from January to August 2014, a 34% increase in those enrolling for Chartership, a 43% increase in enrolment for Fellowship compared to the whole of 2013 and a 700% increase in members revalidating in 2014. I always feel a bit guilty when I mention revalidation because I’ve registered but so far haven’t submitted any evidence - I’m sure you understand when I say I’ve been a little bit busy this year!
No doubt some will say that this isn’t enough. That membership numbers are at their lowest since CILIP began, that these low figures foretell doom and gloom for the organisation. I disagree. Yes, we need members to exist, they bring in money in the form of membership fees but our current financial situation is stable and CILIP’s income is derived from many sources including Facet Publishing and lettings. In an ideal world, all librarians and information professionals would belong to CILIP – how fantastic would that be? But let’s be realistic; we know that’s not going to happen. That’s not to say that we don’t need or want new members, we do ... new members are important to the organisation and CILIP has put several strategies in place to attract and retain members. One of these is increasing support and benefits, things that members want. However, many of these are delivered via the branches and groups structure, and this is driven by the membership - without members getting involved, much of this wouldn’t happen. So I think it is better to have a smaller number of pro-active and engaged members, the sort we have heard speak to us today, supporting each other, advocating for the profession, and working with CILIP to make their organisation stronger than having a larger number dis-engaged and not connecting with anybody. Do we want quantity or quality?
To me, as a school librarian, one of the most important functions of a library is that of supporting reading. Apart from people needing basic literacy skills, there’s a lot of research showing the benefits of reading including increased well-being and improved life chances. But you cannot read without access to books and other reading material, and the most obvious place to access those is in a library. This is not a difficult concept to grasp yet the decision-makers still think they can raise literacy levels without having school or public libraries nor any sort of professional librarian managing them. However ... whilst my school library may be a centre for reading, it is also so much more than that and this is true of public libraries. Many who visit libraries, don’t want a book! The concept of what a library is, what it does, is going through a period of transition. We cannot be part of people’s lives in the 21st century without change – and yet change is uncomfortable, some people feel threatened by it rather than seeing it as an opportunity. We are here to serve our communities– and if we don’t do that then what is our purpose? If we don’t provide what people want they will get their needs met from elsewhere and we will become irrelevant.
I’m not saying that we throw out all the old traditions and I love those huge quiet libraries with rows and rows of wooden shelves full of books but their place isn’t within a living evolving community …
The digital revolution has transformed the information world. Nevertheless libraries still have a significant role within society, they will always be linked to literature and reading but they are also important for creating cultural content and they must be social centres engendering a sense of ownership by involving the local community – be it school, business or the general population - and embracing the needs of all generations by encompassing equality and access.
It’s also no good just saying libraries are important - we have to show how we affect the issues within our locality. We have seen how libraries are doing that today with the Libraries Change Lives Award. But we cannot do this by remaining static, we have to both move out into the world and bring that outside world into the library. It’s a two-way process. Work with trends, pro-actively seek groups and engage with them. The more we do this, the more our voices are heard, the more impact we have.
Many people are confused as to what a library is in 2014, they hold that conventional view and are unaware of the amazing work that we do – as William said - so they don’t see us as being part of their lives.
It doesn’t help that we, as a profession, also don’t agree on what constitutes a library and if those of us who work in them cannot concur on what they are, how can we expect anyone else to? This is a challenge because “one size doesn’t fit all” … and that’s also true of CILIP members. We are drawn from a very diverse range of experiences and occupations yet we need to have a unified vision because that will make us stronger. This means recognising and accepting that other members may well have different priorities, needs and concerns than yours.
It also means realising that CILIP, the organisation, cannot totally focus on just one issue or sector. It has limited resources – time, money, staff. And the latter, whilst they are all passionate about their jobs - I’ve worked with them for the past two years and know how much they care - are not volunteers.
Social media is wonderful. It connects us, it allows us to share things, to communicate, to use it as a force for good – I couldn’t have organised the Mass Lobby for School Libraries or the Guinness World Record in support of National Libraries day without it.
But it has a downside.
Things are taken out of context. Only part of a message is passed on. Words can be manipulated to give them a different meaning. People tend to criticise without being productive. However, as Aristotle said “there is only one way to avoid criticism: do nothing, say nothing, be nothing” which doesn’t exactly help our cause.
So I prefer the words of Hilary Clinton, who said, “I try to take criticism seriously but not personally.” Nevertheless, there’s more than one way to give criticism and it has more value if it’s given constructively. Discussion is essential and necessary as it’s a way of ascertaining people’s views, of questioning and asking for explanations but generalised statements without evidence is not good professional practise.
I also wonder what impression someone joining the information profession would get about its members from looking at comments on social media. If I was joining any organisation, I would not only check out the official stuff but I’d also want to know what the members were like, would I be connecting with a supportive, enquiring community, one that acknowledges the achievements and works together with its professional body, one I felt compelled to join?  Perhaps this message is something we all need to think about?
One of the things that has surprised me during the year is how often people have been confused over the role of President and forgotten it’s voluntary. As are all the council member positions. And I’ve definitely met an “us and them” attitude - I’m used to this in a school with teaching staff verses support staff but when I became President I didn’t realise I was going to become part of the “them”. I certainly don’t consider myself like that.
Doing this isn’t like being the Queen, I wasn’t trained from birth! I didn’t even think about it when I became a librarian as I had no aspirations for this office. So I balance this voluntary work with my interests, my family (which now includes an adorable granddaughter who most definitely is going to become a reader, she has no choice about that!) and the day job of being a school librarian.
Yes, I’m obsessed with books and reading – when I’m out shopping with my daughters they drag me across the road if they spy a bookshop ahead as they know I’ll get distracted – and libraries, in all their wonderful guises from old archives to modern community spaces to the downright quirky.  And I wish I could get everyone to love libraries the way I do. To appreciate their benefits. To recognise that a room full of books is not a library; that it needs that special person – the librarian – to bring out its secrets and marvels. To see how important a library is to its community, in so many ways.
I don’t have all the answers. I wish I did. I wanted the answers before I became President and I want them even more now because of the responsibility I feel in representing all of you. Wearing this medal hasn’t suddenly made me different and I’m sure the same goes for anyone who is elected to council. Underneath it I’m the same school librarian as before, fighting to get that message out there. Fighting to get people to believe in libraries. But I’m not perfect and all I can do is my best.
I challenged you earlier to find somebody to talk to who you didn’t know and I’m now going to leave you with another challenge. Which ties in with what William Sieghart was saying – about people not knowing what we do.
I would like you to identify somebody who inspires you, somebody you admire, who has used what they do to advocate about the profession, speaking out about the benefits of libraries and librarians. Somebody who has spread that positive message outside their circle into the wider world. You don’t have to know them, it can be somebody you connect with online or even just somebody you follow.
And I want you to do the same. Use what you do, your commitment to the profession – and I know you’re all committed because you’ve given up your Saturday to be here today - your passion for libraries, to spread that important message …. that libraries matter because libraries make a difference!

Saturday 19 July 2014

CILIP Governance Review

I have decided to blog about the recent events surrounding the proposed changes in CILIP Governance … even though I’d much rather be talking about school libraries, books or reading initiatives and I’d much rather be spending my time reading or knitting. But there have been a lot of online comments about this recently, following the resignation of a council member, many of which are half-truths and misconceptions and, as an information professional, I’m appalled at how some people (who are information professionals themselves) are assuming these are correct and retweeting without checking or verify the facts. I tell my students from the age of 11 years to always verify anything you read online and this is certainly true of anything written in blogs or on Twitter (so please don’t assume that what I’m saying is the truth … verify it with other people!).
I’m also aware that people will assume that I’m “following the party line” as I’m currently CILIP President but those that know me will know that I try to explain how I see situations from my own perspective. If I was writing this as President then I could understand that reaction but I’m not. This is MY blog and, whilst I’m tactful and try not to be rude or offensive to anyone, I try to write honestly … and I’m also very good at seeing the other side (this trait is not always an advantage I may add)!
So … I am going to try and address some of the issues that have come up recently …
Last year, when I became VP, it was only meant to be for a year as the Governance review was due to be voted on in 2013 and introduced in 2014. However, after the renaming episode, CILIP decided to postpone it for a year to ensure that members were informed, consulted and able to respond. Thus began an extensive round of meetings, emails, articles in Update, etc. I don’t have the exact figures to hand but I know that CILIP SMT, together with trustees, have engaged with as many Member Network groups and SIGs as possible, going to meetings to give presentations on the Governance Review and gathering feedback. I attended 4 myself in an official capacity and spoke unofficially at several others. As well as asking for questions, I also said I would be happy to answer any emails and pushed for members to send comments (positive or negative) to CILIP. And CILIP have taken on board these comments, producing an online FAQ, although some of them were unable to be answered immediately as the legal situation needed to be checked. And I know that CILIP have engaged with branches over this, being proactive and pushing for a response rather than just sending information out. There have also been regular emails sent out to members and articles in Update so for anyone to say now, at this late stage, that they have not been consulted is ludicrous. If they really think like that then I would suggest that they are not engaged with or connected to any of their branches or SIGs, are not registered for email newsletters and do not read Update regularly. And if this is the case then why are they so upset about any changes in CILIP as they are obviously not that bothered about the organisation?
When I became VP, I wasn’t really involved in CILIP other than being on the SLG London & SE committee and attending occasional branch meetings. It was a steep learning curve! And I can remember, at my first meeting, discussions about the Governance Review … so this has been under consideration for a long time. I am not an expert on governance although I have sat on various committees, been involved in several charities and am currently a school governor. And, although I have had training on governance and included this aspect in my CPD this year, I do not consider myself an expert which means I am completely happy to accept the recommendations of the Governance Review Board. These people have far more experience than I do and I could not imagine why they would suggest a structure that would be damaging or detrimental to CILIP. The Chair of the review board was Phil Bradley and I will not accept that he would suggest anything untoward or undemocratic. Further, these proposals have been scrutinised by the Privy Council and Charities Commission and they find them acceptable. And who am I to argue with them?
Much has been said about these discussions happening in secret. As I see it, there are various reasons for this. One is that they were just proposals and ideas, and needed to be firmed up after consultation regarding their legality. If these were made public then we would end up with the situation we have now with everyone putting in their ideas as to what we should have … and I have to say that I’ve read about so many variations on this that I am totally confused! It wouldn’t be so bad if everyone wanted the same thing but they don’t! I also think it’s important for council to be able to discuss things in a private conversation, especially if it’s at the development stage. Sadly there are people who are quite happy to take statements out of context giving the words a completely different meaning. And the problem with this is that a tweet of just a few words is often taken as being the definitive statement on something … a lot of damage can be done this way and it is hard to redress the balance. And what about somebody who may originally be against an idea and says so but, after discussion and research, changes their mind? There’s bound to be somebody who picks this up and attacks them with being indecisive! Besides, I don’t want to have to spend my time defending myself against a malicious tweet or blog comment. Because, let’s face it, if people think it will help their cause then they’ll happily twist words and statistics. Politicians do it all the time!
The Governance Review was discussed at the July council meeting, not for the first time but in detail, because this was when we were taking into account the member feedback received (and if anyone didn’t feedback their objections or concerns then it’s a bit late to do it now … everyone has had several opportunities to do so). And the majority of this was positive. Yes, there were a few who didn’t like certain aspects of what was proposed but you can’t please all of the people all of the time. Again I don’t have the statistics to hand but they will show that of all the responses, very few were negative. Council listen to these responses and have changed the proposals so that the Chair/President will now only be elected from those council members who have been elected and not appointed.
So … let’s have a think about the office of the President. There has been much made of the fact that if the changes go through then the President would not be elected by the members. Well, I’m sorry to inform you but I wasn’t elected by members and neither was our Vice President, Jan Parry. The reason being … that no-one else stood for the position! And I’m not sure what members think the President does? Judging by various comments I think a lot of people are confused over this role, that of the trustees and the fact that CILIP also have a paid staff who carry out the strategic decisions of council. But it’s an ambassadorial role, the President doesn’t have any voting rights and yes, I do speak up at meetings but I don’t have any power or influence. At least under the proposals you’d end up with a President who had actually been elected! And, as political analogies have been used by various people, I’m going to use one now … people do not vote for the Prime Minister, he is selected by other MPs who have been elected by the public. If it’s good enough for parliament then it should be good enough for us!
Another issue that has arisen is membership figures. The statistics being quoted have obviously been taken at a time when the figures were at their highest (lies, damn lies and statistics people!!!) … if I went far enough back I’m sure I could find a year when the figures were lower than they are now! And these are taken completely out of context. How many libraries have closed since then (280 school libraries closed last year) or professionals replace with para-professionals or jobs downgraded so that you no longer need to be Chartered? And I’m not getting into the discussion about libraries closing as it’s not what this blog is about but I’m also tempted to ask how many of those are members who have died because we seem to be in danger of becoming a top-age heavy organisation with fewer younger professionals joining us … and no wonder when all they hear is this in-fighting and bickering! That said the CILIP staff responsible for membership are doing a fantastic job with a range of strategies and initiatives, and to suggest that CILIP aren’t doing anything about this is not only rather insulting to all their hard work but shows a lack of knowledge. Maybe instead of focusing on numbers we need to think about quality over quantity?
There are a lot of other things that I’d like to comment on but I’m aware that this blog is becoming rather long.
Things like the fact that, once a decision has been made by a council or committee, then it’s not usual practise to reopen the discussion when new members join. If you did this then you’d never move on from anything. I’ve been in this situation and it is so frustrating to rehash everything!
Things like the fact that every committee runs along the lines of a majority decision. How else could you do it? If you insisted on a complete majority then you could find yourself in a situation when nothing moved forward. I’ve been on committees where I don’t agree with everyone else but accepted the final decision – this is part of what being on a committee is about. And if it’s something you feel strongly about then you build up relationships with other committee members (which takes time) so that you can discuss issues from a stronger position – advocacy doesn’t happen overnight!
Things like the fact that much has been made of the four appointed council members and yet the current constitution already allows for three appointed members so it’s not really such a big change (and check on the CILIP website if you don’t believe me). Anyway, every committee has appointed members … can you imagine what it would be like if a school governing body consisted of just parents and teachers? And yes, I know we could buy in the expertise but the costs could become prohibitive … much better for the finances (ie: member’s money) if people could be co-opted. This would also mean a much better engagement from them than if someone was paid to deliver a service.
The final thing I would like to say (and well done if you have read this far!) is that why on earth do people think that council would appoint people who would damage CILIP. We are all volunteers, giving up our time (and yes we do get our expenses paid but is that so bad? My salary as a school librarian is not exactly huge and I would not be able to do my Presidential activities if I had to pay for my own travel) and any appointments would be scrutinised by the Audit panel anyway.
Throughout society people elect committees to make decisions on their behalf. There are times when you have to let go and trust those people to make the right decision for the whole. It may not be what you personally want but most people aren’t in a position to see the complete picture. There are also times when you have to let go of the past …

Tuesday 24 June 2014

My Carnegie Greenaway Speech

On Monday I had the extreme pleasure of being at the Carnegie Greenaway Awards ceremony although this time I was attending as CILIP President and was due to give a speech. Normally I get asked if I could talk about something specific or I pick up the theme of the event but this time I was told I could talk about school libraries. I didn’t need to be told twice!

During the past few months I’ve got quite used to talking in public, delivering keynotes and workshops but this 8 minute slot has been harder to write than anything else I’ve done so far. Why? Because I was aware that the event attracted a lot of media coverage and it was an opportunity to deliver an important message …. and I wanted to make sure that I got it right. Not so much for me but for all the wonderful school librarians I know who do such a fantastic job in their schools; working way beyond their contracted hours, delivering services outside their job descriptions, and often for a rather low salary (management please note – if you advertise for a qualified or Chartered librarian then what you are getting is a professional who deserves a salary and status that recognises this). And all for the benefit of the students …

The speech was live streamed but I’m not sure if it’s available anymore so, as promised, I have replicated my speech below for those who didn’t manage to see it.

I am extremely excited and honoured to be here today. Of all the events I have in my diary, the Carnegie Greenaway Awards is top of the list.

Last year somebody remarked that they had never been to a children’s book award at which there were so few children and so many adults but what I think they failed to realise was that the audience was comprised of people who live and breathe children’s books, who are surrounded by them every day and for whom the Carnegie and Greenaway Awards are one of the highlights of the year.

When the nominated titles, both the longlist and shortlist, are announced it causes a flurry of discussion amongst children’s librarians which increases in intensity as we work our way through the books. Discussion that is mirrored in the 5000 groups that have been participating in the shadowing scheme this year. 5000 groups! How amazing is that???

And what a wonderful array of titles there are? All very different and each with its own merits. I have been reading them alongside my shadowing group and, as is usually the case, we have agreed to disagree as to which we think will win. I’m rather glad I’m not on the judging panel as I think they have an almost impossible task. Besides, every year I make a start on the longlist and I haven’t yet managed to select anything that then makes it onto the shortlist … I suspect because I choose my favourite authors or genres … so I probably wouldn’t be a very good judge. And I find the Kate Greenaway award even harder as I’m in total awe of these artists who produce such incredible work.

But how about some more statistics? These 5000 groups have involved 95 – 100,000 children reading books with over 10,000 reviews being posted on the website. That’s a lot of children reading a lot of words yet without school librarians most of this wouldn’t happen because we are the people who organise the majority of the shadowing groups in schools throughout the UK.

Mr Gove has stated that he wants all children to leave primary school fully literate and I actually think this is a commendable idea.

Children need a certain level of literacy to be able to access the curriculum, to achieve academically in both further and higher education, and to be successful in their career choices. A child that leaves school with a low level of literacy becomes an adult with literacy problems. Someone who is unlikely to become an involved, informed and socially mobile member of society. Someone who is excluded.

One of the main components of increasing literacy is reading. And I may be stating the obvious but in order to read you have to have access to books and other reading material.  Books that will start a child on its reading journey, that will enable them to advance their skills, challenge them as they increase in confidence and help them to discover the pleasure of reading. Because it is this last thing, the pleasure of reading, that will turn them into lifelong readers and give them  the manifold and well documented benefits of reading – things like increased attainment across the curriculum, increased self-confidence and communication skills, improved concentration and an impact on their wellbeing, together with helping them become independent learners.

But this is where we have a problem because, even though access to books is implicit in children’s literacy development, not all children have equal access and some actually have none.

National Literacy Trust research shows that 1 in 3 children do not have a book of their own at home.

Studies by The Reading Agency indicate that 40% of 5 – 10 year olds and 23% of 11 - 15 year olds do not visit public libraries.

Which means the only place that many children encounter books is at school. To encourage them to read they have to be able to browse and make their own choices so they need, not just a few books on a shelf, or even a list of 50 titles but a wide range of books at different levels for all abilities, encompassing a variety of genres and formats. Books that have been selected by someone who has the knowledge and expertise to ensure a balanced stock and who can guide a child towards the right book. This is why school libraries and school librarians are so important – because they are at the forefront of developing children’s literacy and have an impact on their lives in such a fundamental way. But school libraries are not statutory so many schools do not have libraries at all. Others think they have libraries when all they have is a room full of books. And some have wonderfully stocked libraries and even librarians but the children never have a chance to explore them fully. All these situations are denying children the means to increase their literacy skills via reading.

The provision of school libraries must not be left to chance because it is children who are the ultimate losers.

They should be embedded in the Ofsted framework with a minimum level of provision underpinned by statutory requirements. And I know the government response to this is that they cannot tell schools how to spend their budgets yet they are quite happy to tell them what children ought to be eating or drinking and what books they should be studying.

School libraries should be strategically supported by senior management, an integral part of the School Improvement Plan and their use secured in schemes of work for every department. It is no good saying that the library is open to use at breaktimes because the only visitors you will get then are readers and those looking for a safe environment. The ones you need to get into the library, the non-readers and reluctant readers will be nowhere near it. I work in a library that is supported within the school and where the younger students have timetabled lessons giving them that opportunity to explore and browse, and make their own selections … for many this will be the only time outside the classroom that they encounter reading material or actually sit down and read. These lessons also enable me to work with those that need encouragement and direction, where the barriers of “being in the library” and “reading is not cool” can be broken down.

School libraries need to be run by a professional librarian – somebody whose tools of the trade are books; who knows their stock and the children; who, every day, sees the difference school libraries make. Someone who is aware of the value of running a Carnegie or Greenaway Shadowing group and the impact this can have on encouraging children to read more challenging titles, introducing them to a wider range of authors and, perhaps, moving them outside their comfort zone.

We are asking that people who work with books - in education, libraries and publishing; people who work outside this environment - in businesses and organisations, - in fact, everyone who recognises the value of reading, its role in literacy and the importance of having a literate society to get behind school libraries and support us.

Einstein said “Not everything that counts can be counted” …

School libraries count.


Sunday 11 May 2014

The Necessity of Life - the benefits of reading

I recently gave a presentation, entitled “The Necessity of Life” to the CILIP YLG South East Unconference in which I spoke about reading and its many benefits: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8FBwOgn-Y-8V0lNWUlMSnh5dFU/edit?usp=sharing

To me, reading is as essential as breathing and an immensely pleasurable activity. I have always been an avid reader, one of those people who, if they don’t have a book or magazine (which is rare) will read anything: that abandoned newspaper on the underground, adverts, cereal packets – and it’s hard to explain to a non-reader quite how wonderful it is. That feeling of settling down with the latest title from a favourite author, the thrill of opening a new book that you’ve been looking forward to reading, the way you get immersed in the story, the way it takes over your brain so that all you want to do is carrying on reading to find out what happens next …

Reading is also a basic life skill. It is needed for education, employment, to be able to become an active, involved member of society - without a basic literacy level you are excluded, on the outside and not able to participate in so many things – and research has shown that reading increases literacy. And surely reading needs access to books (or a source of reading material – I use the term “books” generically) and books equals libraries. Yet this reason doesn’t seem to be a good enough argument for keeping libraries, and therefore access to reading material, open.

So what about the other benefits of reading? Below are links to those I mentioned in my presentation and more … I only had about 45 minutes and there were far too many for me to use them all, you could spend the whole day researching and investigating this topic – but if you need evidence, then it’s here.

·         Interesting article on reading facts from The Reading Agency: http://readingagency.org.uk/news/reading-facts003/

·         National Survey of Culture, Leisure and Sport, DCMS, 2011: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/77395/Taking_Part_Y6_Release.pdf

·         Children who read for pleasure do better at school: http://www.ioe.ac.uk/newsEvents/89938.html

·         Literacy levels of adults (16 – 65): http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-24433320 and if you want to read the whole document: http://skills.oecd.org/OECD_Skills_Outlook_2013.pdf

·         Deep reading (as opposed to superficial reading such as we do on the internet) exercises the brain and increases capacity for empathy: http://ideas.time.com/2013/06/03/why-we-should-read-literature/

·         Can help with depression: http://www.bmj.com/content/346/bmj.f540

·         Reading books is only out of school activity linked to getting managerial or professional job: http://www.ox.ac.uk/media/news_stories/2011/110804.html


Saturday 19 April 2014

Eread or Eloan?

One of the current CILIP campaigns is the “Right to E-Read” http://www.cilip.org.uk/cilip/advocacy-campaigns-awards/advocacy-campaigns/ebooks/let-libraries-lend-ebooks which has generated a lot of interest and comments. I have to admit that some of these are about semantics - as in “this is a right to e-loan rather than a right to e-read campaign” – which is quite ironic as the very business itself (ie: publishing) plays around with words to attract people. After all, how many of us have picked up a book with a rather interesting title and tagline only to discover that the story itself bears no resemblance? Besides, the campaign has a byline “let libraries lend e-books” which is self-explanatory.

This campaign is nothing to do with the desires of librarians, it is to do with people’s right to borrow and read books, regardless of their format. Imagine if a publisher decided not to let school libraries buy and loan books by a specific author? There’s probably enough other authors that we could use to stock our shelves but I would not be happy with the fact that my students were being discriminated against and I would argue for their right to be able to borrow said books. And what if a book is only published electronically? By preventing it from being borrowed, you are, effectively, preventing people from reading it.

I’ve also read comments such as “there’s nothing stopping anyone in our country reading words electronically generated” … but there is. It’s the same thing that inhibits people from just going out and buying any books they want whenever they want them, and that’s money. And, once again, it’s the disadvantaged and vulnerable that will lose out. Not to mention the disabled, those who physically cannot get to their local library. It’s also important not to assume that because somebody has an ereader they can afford to buy ebooks. Ereaders are relatively cheap and most electronic gadgets are capable of downloading ebooks. Besides, anyone who lives with or works with a voracious reader will know that there’s no way you can financially keep up with their book consumption – I’m a good example of this. I couldn’t afford to buy all the books I read. And I know many students with ereaders who still borrow numerous books from their school library each week; and I’m sure their parents could not pay for all these books outright.

We do need to think about the financial impact on authors and publishers but I’m not sure why this would be difficult. Borrowing of ebooks could be done in the same way as physical books (ie: with a certain number of “copies” bought by the library for loan and each book loaned for a specific time) and borrowing statistics could be generated by the LMS, regardless of where the reader was when the book was borrowed, thus enabling payments to be made under PLR. But it’s a fact that libraries create readers and readers become book buyers so how can an author not benefit from having their books available to loan as ebooks? Surely this opens their work to a wider audience?

And would having ebooks available for loan reduce the number of physical visits to libraries? Maybe, for some of the public. But many would still go to the library, for all sorts of reasons. You’d think, working in a library and having access to all sorts of books (I’m often sent proof copies to read and books to review) that I wouldn’t need to use my public library. But I do. Frequently. And often I don’t really know what I’m looking for, I go in to browse, have a mooch around and always come out with an armful of random titles! I have also, subsequently, bought books that I have borrowed and read, books that I have decided I want to own personally. So the argument that if you could borrow ebooks then you’d never ever buy a book again isn’t quite true. Because I’m sure that I’m not the only person who does this …

Sunday 16 March 2014

Reading Changes Lives conference

I recently attended the Booktrust “Reading Changes Lives” conference in London. Two pieces of research were presented, by DJS Research and the University of Sheffield, which showed that there were significant minorities of adults with negative attitudes towards reading, those who did not read had lower literacy levels, and were more likely to be from disadvantaged backgrounds and lower socio-economic groups. The research also highlighted that a person’s reading history impacted on their habits and attitudes. The reports can be found here:   http://www.booktrust.org.uk/news-and-blogs/news/270/

This research hasn’t really told us anything new; studies by the National Literacy Trust have said much the same thing as have enquiries from the US, Canada and Australia, although I guess it’s good to have UK-based results that are up-to-date and that have been established using a higher sample of the population than previously.

But I have to admit that my immediate response was “what next?” Because it seems to me that it’s a bit pointless and a waste of both time and money if nothing is done, if no-one utilises the results to inform policy regarding libraries and if all they lead to is lots of well-meaning conversations.

The presentations were followed by a panel discussion with Children’s Laureate, Malorie Blackman; the Commissioner of Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, Anne Marie Carrie; former Education Secretary, Alan Johnson MP; NIACE Director of Research and Development, Carol Taylor; and Liam Fox MP. This started off well with all of the panellists singing the praises of libraries and telling us how they used them when younger and what differences they’d made to their lives. But as the conversation progressed, I found myself having to bite my tongue at some of the comments made – I didn’t dare put my hand up to respond for fear of not being about to stop the tirade!

For example, the suggestion made by Liam Fox that perhaps it would be cheaper to order everyone books from Amazon rather than have a public library system. Putting aside the fact that a library is NOT just about books, what would people do when they’ve finished with them? They could hardly just pile them up on the coffee table as they’d soon run out of room (and yes, I know my coffee table not to mention three bookcases and several random places around the house have huge piles of books filling them but I think librarians are an exception) so I guess we’d have to organise some sort of swapping arrangement, whereby they could bring their books and exchange them for something else. Oh … hang on … isn’t that what people do in a library?

Liam then suggested that we could give every child an e-reader instead of access to a range of books! Despite the fact that not every book is available as an e-book, that a physical library gives children contact with a much larger number of books than can be stored on an e-reader, that you would lose the wonderful art of browsing and self-discovery, and that somebody would have to select the books (and I dread to think what would be chosen if the Government were involved … Mr Gove’s 50 books comes to mind … shudder!). This comment from a man who only minutes before had told us how he’d benefited personally from libraries. Malorie Blackman was her usual magnificent self, the voice of reason amongst this lunacy, supporting books and libraries, both school and public.

Research shows that people with low literacy levels are at a disadvantage both socially and economically; research shows that reading increases literacy levels; research shows that access to libraries increases reading. If the decision-makers are really concerned about literacy, then they would invest in public libraries and not close them, and they would ensure that every child has access to a school library managed by a professional librarian. When is someone going to join the dots?

Sunday 12 January 2014

Why school libraries should support NLD14

I wrote this last January in support of National Libraries Day 2013. UK school librarians and their students organised a successful Guinness World Record attempt of "the most people writing a story at multiple locations" which generated a lot of media interest and raised the profile of libraries. This year we are organising a Big Library Takeover whereby we hope to take the library out to as many departments as possible using this as an opportunity to promote NLD14. What I wrote then remains equally valid now ...

Most people associate National Libraries Day with public libraries and, being on a Saturday, the majority of schools will be closed so you may wonder why school libraries should get involved. Nonetheless, according to the website http://www.nationallibrariesday.org.uk/ it is “a culmination of a week’s worth of celebrations in school, college, university, workplace and public libraries across the UK” which encompasses almost every sort of library. But there’s a wider issue here why school libraries should participate.

The library profession across many sectors is facing a crisis, with libraries being closed, hours being cut and professional staff being replaced by volunteers. There has been public outcry about this but there have also been comments such as why do we need libraries when people can read books online, books are dead because everyone is going to have an eBook reader and people can get books from a charity shop if they don’t have a local library or can’t afford them. These comments show the lack of understanding that many people have as to what a library is and what it does. Those that work in them know that they are more than just a room full of books – from the small local public library that provides a focal point for the community to the school library that offers a safe haven for vulnerable children but the only way we are going to get more support is by educating people about what we do … and that means taking every opportunity to participate in events that publicize libraries. Of any sort!

For many children, their only access to reading material is via their school library. If we can encourage those children to become readers and users of libraries at school then they are more inclined to use their public library both whilst they are still students and when they become adults. Going to a library for books to read, for information, for research will be automatic to them and if their local library (or any other type of library they use) is threatened with closure, they are more likely to protest because they’ll know, firsthand, the value and benefits of a library. However, school libraries are not statutory and many are under threat so taking part in National Libraries Day is a chance to promote and raise awareness of them.

Many school librarians use their public and other libraries. Despite wide access to books and other material, I regularly browse my local library and always discover something new. I use it professionally, for my own research, as well as collaborating with staff on a range of projects from encouraging Year 7 to participate in the Summer Reading Challenge to taking my Year 9 HPQ students on a visit for extended research. I have also used other libraries outside school, such as arranging a visit for A level students to the local university library to assist them with investigations for their coursework and encouraging others to visit the Women’s Library (now sadly no longer in existence) and the BFI library. By working collaboratively, we can all expand the services we provide and sustain each other.

In the words of John Donne “No man is an island, entire of itself” and thus no library or librarian operates in isolation. If we all stand together, regardless of what sort of library we work in, we become stronger and our collective voice is louder because we are a more cohesive  group, rather than an assortment of unrelated, random libraries.

Thursday 2 January 2014

Children's Laureate Special

I have just listened to Radio 4's “Open Book” on iPlayer (originally broadcast on 2.1.13 at 3.30pm) – I don’t normally catch this programme as usually I’m at work at this time but it was a Children’s Laureate Special featuring Malorie Blackman, Michael Rosen and Jacqueline Wilson, so I was quite interested to find out what they were going to talk about.
As you’d expect, much of it was around the Children’s Laureate position, how it came about and what it was for. All three said that they felt children’s books needed champions (the more the merrier, I say); they also mentioned that it was necessary to “go on the attack” regarding children’s books and Michael Rosen declared that they needed “passionate people” for this.

There then followed some discussion about reading for pleasure and why it was essential due to the result of various studies showing all sorts of benefits. I was amused when Jacqueline Wilson said that reading aloud was also important although you couldn’t do it to “hulking teenagers” … she obviously hasn’t been in my library! I often read to my lower school library classes – sometimes a book extract, sometimes a short story or a picture book – and, when I do, every other student in my library stops what they are doing to listen, including the hulking teenagers and the sixth formers. It’s not as if I’m reading that loud as my library is sectioned into zones to allow for different activities! I know they should be getting on with their own work but I don’t have the heart to tell them to do so and judging by the pleasure they get from this activity, I often wonder if they were ever read to as children or whether the last time this happened was when they were in Junior School.
The programme wound up with a conversation about how teachers often don’t have the time to read to children, about how authors in schools reach those who don’t like reading and how important it is to change the attitudes of those who think reading is “boring” … to try and find that one book that will connect with them.

It’s great that children’s books have been given this media time BUT … not once was there a mention of the school librarian. The very person who is passionate about children’s books and reading, the champion that is so important, the person who usually organises the author visits and who  has the time and expertise to connect children with books, to change that attitude from “boring” to “this book is cool”!
I cannot understand this. Each of those authors has openly supported school libraries and librarians. Each of them must have met many librarians and been into many school libraries so it’s not as if they have no idea about the sort of work we do. Therefore why did none of them even hint at the fact that a school librarian is the one person you need to fulfil all of those things that they mentioned as being so important. Why are we so invisible … even to our supporters?

Malorie, Michael and Jacqueline … I love your books, the children love your books, I will tell anybody who cares to listen (and even those who don’t) about the importance of author visits and the impact they have. I also tell them about how vital a school library and librarian is but it would have more impact if you could also pass this message on!