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 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!