Tuesday 8 November 2016


There’s been a lot in the media recently about teacher work overload and it’s well known that the teaching profession work many hours outside the school day but there are very few school librarians I know of that also don’t work beyond their contracted hours, either taking work home or coming in early/staying late. Every single week. That’s a lot of librarians doing a lot of extra hours.
Fine if you’re paid full-time because you can balance the additional hours worked during term-time with days off in the school holidays; however, most school librarians are on term-time only contracts, which would be fine if the job was either “librarian” or “library manager” – and believe me, these two roles are very different – so, as solo librarians, they have to combine them and fit everything into their 37 or whatever hours a week. Almost impossible to do.
It’s a bit like expecting the doctor or nurse at your local surgery to also staff the reception desk, answer phones and deal with patient paperwork. Think about it … school librarians keep the library open during the school day and are permanently “on call” behind the issue desk, they have regular classes timetabled as well as ad hoc lessons (and I had several days when every lesson was booked), and are on duty at breaks as well as before and after school. You are also likely to have a constant stream of interruptions from students coming into the library looking for books and information, from phone calls and emails. So, no time to do any of those manager-type tasks that are needed to ensure the library runs smoothly, that resources are up-to-date and relevant, displays changed, activities organised, no planning or long-term strategic development work … it’s an endless list which never gets completed. No wonder that stuff gets taken home.
Sure, we could walk out at the end of the day and leave it all behind but I didn’t. Why? Because I love my job, I wanted to provide the best service I could and I would have felt that I was selling myself, the students and the profession short if I didn’t. I also knew that working in the evening meant a less stressful day to follow. But there were a few things I learnt to try and keep work in perspective and under control. It probably helped that, before I became a librarian, I was a project manager and even way before that I was one of those people who organised things … cake sales at school, the sixth form charity concert, PTA jumble sales. So how do you manage a crazy workload?
Time management (TM)  – ie: organising and planning your time between specific activities. Sounds easy although is actually quite involved with several aspects to consider, and sometimes the thought of stopping and taking a step back can make you feel a bit panicky when you’re already overworked. But getting yourself organised will result in greater productivity, increased efficiency, less stress and you’ll also work smarter. Most school librarians are very good at managing their time – they have to be! Nevertheless, it can help to rethink the process:
·         Write down everything you need to do, no matter how large or small. Break down larger tasks because just having something like “weed books” will never get done whereas “weed fiction books authors A-C, weed D – F, etc.” is more attainable. You are also far more likely to do something when you feel you actually have a chance of finishing it.

·         A to-do list is fine but the temptation is just to work through it which may mean that the important tasks get left. So prioritise the list. This will ensure you work on the most urgent/important tasks first (more about that shortly) and it will also help you remember what needs to be done. However, don’t just carry the list on from one day to the next; it needs to be dynamic with items added/taken away and re-prioritised.

·         Note: this is your list – there’s nothing wrong with deleting something that is no longer a priority or that you don’t have the time to do. The tendency is to want to carry on with initial ideas or projects but if you discover something is taking too long and eating up way too much time, causing you to fall behind with your schedule, then revise your target and/or expectations. One of my faults is that I can be a bit of a perfectionist which means I’m always convince there’s a “better” source of information to find or that I can improve a poster with a different font … if I took this to the extreme, it would mean I’d never actually “finish” anything! So I’ve had to accept that the important thing is that the task is completed and that no-one will notice whether I use green or grey as a background colour!

·         Think about why you are doing things. What is the purpose of your tasks, what are you trying to achieve? You should be focusing on results, undertaking activities tied into your goals as sometimes we carry on with actions automatically. If you’ve always ran a specific competition, for example, it’s very hard to stop doing it but if you only get a couple of entries, perhaps it’s time to rethink. Things have a sell-by date!

·         Break the library development plan down into actions and assign targets to each one. This is important because your activities should link into these actions and the targets will enable you to identify when you have succeeded. Be ruthless about sticking to tasks that feed into your goals; there’s always something new coming along and it’s easy to get distracted but make a note and put it to one side if it’s not relevant right now.

·         Actions need to be SMART – specific, measurable, agreed on, realistic, time-based. Having a phrase such as “supporting teaching and learning” is too broad because everything we do could be put into this category. “Source book review trailers” could actually be never-ending so give the action a time limit (60 minutes) or an explicit number (20 trailers). The problem is that although we have goals specifically for the library, for example, we may want to increase our graphic novel collection by 50% (to attract reluctant readers, to provide a wider range of graphic novels, to purchase graphic novels that link with films, etc.) because we are a whole-school resource, our tendency is to take on board ALL the school goals. Don’t even try …

·         Look at your list and decide which activities are: important and urgent – these are usually things left to the last minute, planning will help to reduce the number of these although there are always unpredictable actions that turn up; important but not urgent – these are the activities that will help you achieve your goals and if you don’t give yourself time to do them they are likely to become urgent; not important but urgent – these often prevent you from achieving your goals and usually come from other people; and finally, activities that are not important or not urgent. Ignore these! I do an exercise with my Extended Project students based around this and it’s interesting how many unimportant and non-urgent tasks they put at the top of their to-do lists!

·         Having got your tasks sorted, schedule them into your week. The easiest way to do this is by using your school timetable (with additional spaces for outside hours work) although as I’m a sucker for stationery, I use a nice colourful weekly planning pad for this purpose. Enter the lessons you have booked and then slot in when you’ll do your other tasks from your list (and include your own outside interests), making sure you start with the top priority ones. Be realistic as to how long things will take you and allow for contingency time because you’re bound to be interrupted.

·         Although tasks have been given a priority rating, think about which ones you need to do without interruptions as it’s unlikely you’ll be able to work on them during the day, even if they are top of the list. Look at other actions that need to be done but that you can stop and start … and slot those into your timetable. This will ensure you effectively use your time. One of the worst time-wasting activities is trying to do something that needs your concentration and being interrupted so that you have to almost restart it every time.

·         Keep these timetables as evidence of what you’ve done, make a note of interruptions and what’s prevented you from completing tasks, jot down any ideas that occur to you (having a space to note down those random thoughts that occur will ensure you won’t forget anything and will reduce stress) AND make sure you add any additional hours worked. These will be useful for informing meetings with your line manager, appraisals, future planning or even just to give you an idea of who or what is consistently stopping you from working.

·         Managing interruptions is almost impossible in a school library! I regularly had teachers come and “hide” in the library when they had work that had to be done but I didn’t have the luxury of going off to another space myself. One trick, which sometimes works, is to move out from your desk to a table in the library. When I’ve done that, staff have said “oh, you’re busy, I don’t want to interrupt” and don’t … didn’t have the same effect if I stayed behind my desk. However, be aware that we can also create our own interruptions … checking emails, looking at the latest publisher’s catalogue that arrived in the post … and try to minimise switching between tasks.

·         Learn to say no. I find this hard myself but I’ve had to get better at it otherwise I would have been horrendously overloaded at times. One trick when asked to do something is to say “yes but I can’t do it until Monday (insert day of your choice here depending on your workload) as I need to get XZY done for Mrs Smith and I have library lessons to plan for tomorrow”. If the person can’t wait that long then they’ll probably do it themselves … or find somebody else. Keep in mind that your tasks should be linked to your library goals not to somebody else’s. Our mindset is to help everyone that asks us as we work in a “service” but you also have your own job to do so it’s a matter of balance.

·         Delegate. To your student librarians. Yes, I know they may not complete tasks to the same standard but in the long run it’s not really important if the date label is crooked. I know it’s hard, I’ve had to make myself step back at times and just let them get on with the job but it can help to cut down on non-essential chores. Use their strengths. I had a boy who went pale at the thought of sticky-back plastic (and having seen his attempts at book covering I can understand why) but he loved sorting the magazines into order so I let him get on with that.
TM is obviously an extensive topic that I usually cover in a workshop rather than a blog (and I haven’t even mentioned procrastination!) but I don’t want to make this too long so I’m going to finish with a summary:
·         Set SMART goals

·         To-do list linked to your goals

·         Prioritise and schedule

·         (Try to) manage distractions and interruptions

·         Don’t take on too much

The work-life balance is different for everyone so you have to create your own, find whatever works for you. I recently went on the National Libraries Demonstration in London and, whilst some people might consider that work, I didn’t think of it as such. Likewise author events and book launches … sure, I’m invited as a school librarian but I’d still go even if I wasn’t in this profession because I love books and reading. We cannot buy time so make sure you use yours efficiently and don’t forget to add the things you’d “like to do” to the list … these often get pushed aside by the things we have to do and the things we are expected to do but without them, the job can become lacklustre and monotonous. 
Finally … accept that some days will just be chaotic and the list will go out of the window … my solution to this is a large glass of red wine!

Tuesday 11 October 2016


I’ve always been a reader for as long as I can remember and will read (almost) anything; I’ll read the back of cereal packets or adverts on the underground if nothing else is available. I’m also never short of things to read … I have piles of books all over the house and keep a TBR list on Goodreads. Then there are the post-it notes with recommendations from friends plus photos on my phone of books I’ve seen in shops and libraries.
Just setting the scene … lifetime reader, librarian, house full of books, never short of something to read …
So why did I join a book group a few years ago?
Over time, most of my reading has veered towards teen/YA with the occasional new novel by a favourite adult writer thrown in during the holidays. Nothing wrong with that but it wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time I read only adult novels, wasn’t even aware that teen/YA books existed but exposure to these writers as a school librarian meant that slowly things changed and I wanted to extend my adult reading again, discover new authors, try something different. I know I could have done this by asking for recommendations or browsing the shelves in my public library but there’s something about sharing the experience of reading a book. Whilst reading itself is a solitary activity, each book will tell a different story to every person who discovers it and listening to others talking about what they got out of a book, how they identified with the characters, what they picked up on and noticed, adds additional dimensions to your own reading experience. It’s good to share.
It worked. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed every book we read and some of them I wouldn’t have finished if I hadn’t been listening to an audio version during my daily commute. But there were certainly a few books which encouraged me to read more by the same author.
Then I moved, joined a new book group and it’s been a bit of a disaster!
I have struggled with every book. Every single one! Even when I was able to find an audio version, I would not connect in any way with the story and my thoughts would drift off so that I missed chunks of it. I found myself resenting the time I had to spend reading these books for the next meeting, glaring at them sitting on my bedside table and covering (aka hiding) them with other, more appealing, tomes.
This surprised me. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such animosity towards a book in my life before plus I found myself not wanting to go to the book group, which got me thinking about why? How had something that was such an integral part of me, something that was as natural as breathing, been turned into something I was actively avoiding?
I recognised it was because I didn’t want any more books that would result in a bad reading experience as each of these felt like a failure. Everyone else was able to read the book, and most of the group enjoyed them, so why not me?  There was also an element of guilt involved as I felt I was letting down the other members of the book group. And I realised how awful it must be for those children who really couldn’t seem to find a book that they connected with and yet were forced to read. How, if they tried book after book after book, only to give up half way through, or only ever read books chosen by their teachers and which they didn’t like or enjoy, they would soon come to the conclusion that all books were the same and that they hated reading. I don’t think I’d ever really been able to truly understand this because I’ve never felt like that towards reading.
Students today have huge demands on their time so reading often isn’t a high priority and if they don’t find it a pleasant experience, why would they actually choose to do it? This makes connecting the right book with the right child so important. It also means that they need to be able to try, and give up, books that they don’t enjoy … without any pressure. And they need to be able to choose their own books, not be directed by a reading scheme or a book list or a teacher’s choice for the whole class. Sure, guidance from a knowledgeable librarian helps but ultimately, it has to be their choice because they will be the one reading it.
As for my reading group, a busy time and the summer holidays provided a natural break, and the next book was one that I actually wanted to read so that aided a natural move back into it. I have also given myself permission to “not” read a book if I don’t want to …  

Wednesday 7 September 2016


It’s the beginning of another school year; teachers will be getting to know their new students, even if they only see them for a few minutes each day during tutor time or for a couple of lessons a week, learning their names, finding out about their interests and anything relevant in their background.

But what of school librarians? They are part of the school community with the majority getting to know the whole of year 7, seeing them on a regular basis to introduce them to the library, books and the pleasures of reading. Many will also be getting re-acquainted with year 8 students, finding out what they’ve been up to over the holidays and marvelling at how much they’ve grown in six weeks. Then there’s year 9 and above … all of whom librarians will have seen throughout the past two years and many of whom will continue to be library users, either individually or in classes, within and outside the curriculum.

Librarians are one of the few staff within a school who have contact with all students; other than a Head of Year, transition manager and careers co-ordinator, it is likely that no other person will deal with the whole of a year group or the whole student body. This gives school librarians a unique position.

There’s the obvious benefit of the library having a curriculum overview, of knowing that whilst History study the causes and outcomes of World War 1, English look at the background to World War 1 poetry so they’re interested in similar resources, that both Geography and Cultural Studies investigate other countries. You would not believe how often I’ve had students borrow books for a homework assignment, leaving me with about 2 items on the topic, only to have another department book the library for research on that very same subject! And yes, I know there’s the internet but often the reason for a research lesson is to try and get students looking beyond Google. A co-ordinated approach would ensure an efficient use of resources as well as avoiding such clashes and the librarian can provide this. One argument for including them in curriculum meetings and involving them when planning topics to study. Librarians are also very aware of trends be they superheroes, Minecraft or Pokemon (though it’s hard to miss the latter). This information can be used to inform lessons; how much more interesting would gothic art or literature be if it coincided with the vampire obsession?

But the librarian has a wider remit than that of curriculum co-ordinator, one that involves us in a pastoral role, a position that is often overlooked and undervalued.

The library is a safe environment, with a member of staff who is not a teacher, and students quickly recognise this. During breaktimes, there’s no pressure on them to complete specific tasks within a timeframe (unless they happen to be trying to get their homework done before the next lesson), they can sit and read, browse and take a step back from their busy schedule. At the end of lessons, both students and teachers are usually rushing off allowing no time or opportunity to talk during the day but this isn’t true in the library, which means students will often hang about the issue desk, chatting about all sorts of inconsequential matters and this is often when a seemingly innocent remark will set off a trigger, an internal alarm that makes you think “there’s more to this”. It’s hard to explain but those who work with children will know what I’m talking about.

Librarians will have undergone safeguarding training so are aware of issues to look out for and the people within a school to contact if we have any concerns. This may seem a bit “big brother”-ish but it’s not. The mental health and well-being of all the students we work with is important, worries and fears they have need to be dealt with in order that they can develop, not only academically, but also emotionally. If a child is being bullied, has issues with gender identity or is trying to deal with family illness, it will impact on their behaviour and attainment. Thus it’s helpful for librarians to know any relevant background information yet I’ve known schools where this is withheld on a “need-to-know” basis. Surely if a student has a parent with cancer or a grandparent recently deceased, anyone working with them should be informed so we can ensure they receive the right care and response?

Seeing students regularly means that librarians are quick to notice when things are not right – the student that is suddenly quiet and withdrawn; the one that isn’t included in their usual friendship groups. Often a quiet reassuring word is all that is needed and you discover that the problem is minor and transient but sometimes it’s more serious and then we’ll pass on concerns. Schools need to have “the complete picture” when dealing with students and they can only get this is everyone feeds into the system.

It’s also interesting how often a teacher has a completely different view of a student than that of the librarian. Many assume that if they’re not borrowing books from the library they are not reading and yet I always notice whenever students bring in their own books from home or the public library. I’ve had students focus and concentrate in the library whilst their teachers have remarked “they don’t behave like that in the classroom”. Students with Asperger’s that keep to themselves for most of the time will join in library activities. Others will happily take on library duties and responsibilities yet not want to be involved in anything else within the school.

So what can school librarians do about this? A few suggestions:

·         Ensure you are on the mailing list to receive relevant information including any SEN and IEP details.

·         Create a curriculum overview to highlight where departments study similar topics and share it with your curriculum manager and Heads of Departments.

·         Make friends with your pastoral team and pass on details about any useful resources you’ve purchased or websites you’ve come across.

·         Email tutors of individual students if you have any concerns but also share positive news.

·         Keep an eye on trends such as a reduction in book borrowing in a particular year group or a drop-off in the use of subject-specific resources and share this with the appropriate staff including the literacy co-ordinator.

The librarian’s knowledge and viewpoint of students is extremely valuable and is underused by most schools, which is a shame as these observations, carried out in a totally different environment from that of a classroom, allow us to get a complete picture of each student, building up a relationship and getting to know them as individuals. It is important to remember that a school community works best as a team involving all of its members, including their librarian.

Sunday 10 July 2016


A school library is (or should be) a whole-school facility, enabling the learning needs of all students, supporting staff to deliver the curriculum, and providing resources for reading and information within a unique space. That’s the theory. The reality, however, is likely to be a librarian constantly juggling between the diverse needs of various groups; library lessons full of hands-on activities, busy research lessons using a multitude of resources, quiet periods of study and times of silent personal reading. All this usually in one room during one day! It is said that you can’t be all things to all people and yet that is exactly what a school librarian tries to do.

Most of the time this works although it does depend on what sort of space you have – an area that lends itself to being “zoned” will be more accommodating to differing needs than a large square room – and it also requires tolerance, recognition of diverse needs and flexibility but it is no surprise that sometimes the needs of one group override another’s. This is not usually a problem if it’s short-term, such as during the intense exam period when students may need a quiet place to revise but when the school library is permanently designated for a specific use, it means the rest of the school population lose out.

There have been a couple of trends I’ve noticed recently in many schools: one is to use the library as a dedicated sixth form space, making it a silent study area often with the librarian supervising students (a waste of their skills and expertise) and preventing other groups from accessing resources and services. The other is to stop regular library lessons, deeming them lacking in progress and learning, with the often-heard comments that “students don’t need to read in the library because they read in English” and the general consensus that the library is open at breaks for them to visit.

Does this matter? Do students need regular library lessons? What do they lose when these don’t happen?

·         Library induction delivered in one or two sessions does not work. The beginning of a school year is a busy time, even more so for new students who have to cope with finding their way around a huge site and integrating with their peers whilst remembering what to bring each day, where to go for each lesson and what their teacher’s name is! So it’s no surprise that the Dewey Decimal Classification system is low down on their list of priorities. How to use the library and where to find resources needs reinforcing via several lessons not delivered in a quick session fitted in between other subjects.

·         Regular library lessons mean that students become comfortable with both the space and their librarian. They soon recognise that the library is somewhere “different” in the school; it’s not a classroom - and the librarian is not a teacher yet has that authority of being a member of the school staff. Students also learn that whilst certain behaviours are expected of them during lessons, the library can, and often is, a much altered room at breaktimes.  Every school librarian I know will tell you that their library is a safe haven for the vulnerable, for those students who have not found their niche within school, and for those who are not easy with the masses. This pastoral role is much undervalued yet so important as the library provides a unique space for such students within the school.

·         Library lessons mean exposure to books! Even if a library is accessible at breaks, those visiting it are likely to already be readers and comfortable with being surrounded by books. The students that you want to lure into the library – the reluctant and non-readers – are unlikely to be anywhere near the library. And contact with books on a regular basis sends an important message – that the school values reading and considers it important.

·         Regular library lessons are SO important! They enable the librarian to develop relationships with each student, to find out what type of reader they are, what sort of texts (if any) they like to read and what their interests are. They allow us to guide each student in selecting books, something even the more-able readers need at times. They expose students to a wide range of genres, medium and authors and, essentially, give students “permission” to read. In an environment where reading is often seen as “not cool”, regular library lessons incorporating time for reading enable those who enjoy books to do so knowing that this behaviour is expected of them and they won’t be disparaged. Without library lessons, you are unlikely to turn non-readers into readers for pleasure.

·         A lack of regular library lessons means it is difficult to organise and promote many of the activities that encourage reading and boost literacy levels such as competitions, book talks and author visits as well as participation in both local and national initiatives. Communication via tutors and posters dotted around the school site has a limited reach.

·         In addition to library skills, many librarians deliver an information skills programme teaching basic competences that are essential for both further education and the workplace, and that create independent learners with the capabilities to cope with further and higher education. These skills are sometimes taught via the curriculum albeit in a piecemeal fashion so the librarian is able to incorporate all of them into a cross-curricular programme using research lessons designed in collaboration with teaching staff. Restricting use of the library limits the delivery of such a programme.

Basically, reduced access to books (which is what happens when the library is used exclusively for one group of students or library lessons are not part of the timetable) means a reduction in reading. This impacts on reading for pleasure which needs choice AND access as well as discouraging students to use the library for their information needs. A school that allows this to happen is not using its librarian or library efficiently or effectively, and is providing a much diminished service to its students..

Tuesday 5 April 2016


A week ago, #libraries was trending for over 8 hours on Twitter, that’s a long time in world of social media. This was started by a BBC article linked to research they had carried out regarding the closure of public libraries and the resulting loss of jobs. If you’re interested, 8,000 jobs in UK libraries over 6 years with 343 libraries being closed during the same period. And a further 111 closures planned for this year.

Following the publication of the article, several “library” people had interviews with media around the country including Nick Poole, Phil Bradley, Alan Gibbons, and Philip Pullman amongst others. And people tweeted links, comments, responses; I would like to say that all of them showed “library love” but sadly, many didn’t and some of the misconceptions, half-truths and even lies that were spouted amazed me. What was even more astounding was that when these people were given correct information, data that was accurate and could be verified, they still continued to believe their own message. Or perhaps they decided to ignore the fact they were wrong in the first place as the truth didn’t suit their cause. I think many of the comments were made to gain attention and get media coverage but, unfortunately, such negative messages don’t do libraries any good; too often it’s the first message that seen and believed – not the follow-up responses.

Things like:

·         People don’t use libraries anymore – there were actually 224.6 million visits to public libraries in England in 2015, that’s more than visits to Premier League football matches, the cinema and the top ten tourist attractions combined.

·         Everything is on the internet – which it isn’t. Even assuming what you want is online, you have to have internet access in the first place and know how to find it. It was also pointed out that, as libraries have the internet together with resources you can’t find online, then libraries actually have more than is on the internet. I don’t think people tweeting quite grasped this concept though.

·         You can buy books online for a few pennies – that may well be true but you still have to pay postage which brings them up to a few pounds. Besides, people don’t want to own every book they read – I certainly don’t, apart from anything else I’d never have room for them all. This also supposes that the book you want is available to buy for pennies. So this attitude is basically saying that any book will do, that you have to take what you can find rather than choosing what to read.

·         Library visits are declining – well, I guess if you close libraries, reduce opening hours and decimate the book stock then you may well find less people visit. This really is a catch-22 situation as people can’t visit libraries if they no longer exist and yet the fall in visits is being used as an excuse to close even more libraries. Mind you, even with a decline 224.6 visits is still quite a lot.

·         I don’t use them so why should I pay for them out of my taxes, if the demand is there then let people voluntarily donate to keep libraries open – I found this attitude the most shocking and wasn’t quite sure how to respond politely, and it’s not often I’m lost for words J. I did point out that I’m a tax payer myself and wanted my taxes spent on libraries. I also suggested that there were likely to be services that the tweeter used which I didn’t yet was funding them via my taxes. A good example of this is the local skatepark – as I’ve never been on a skateboard in my life I could argue that the numerous youths who use it could voluntarily pay for it. There will be times in all of our lives when we use different local services and the fact that we personally have no need of them now doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be provided for others.

·         People don’t read books anymore – this isn’t quite true either, 9.8 million people borrowed books from libraries last year. But then libraries aren’t just about books as those of us who use them know, they are social and safe places where you can learn, study, relax, escape; for many they are a lifeline. Also this generic use of “people” is rather discriminating … babies and children do read books, they NEED books in order to learn how to read and to discover the pleasure of reading. The 787,547 children who participated in the 2015 Summer Reading Challenge demonstrated this.

·         Libraries don’t make any money – libraries aren’t meant to be income-generators although sadly we seem to be heading towards a society whereby, if something doesn’t make money, then it’s considered worthless and useless. Emptying our rubbish bins and repairing potholes doesn’t make money either but nobody suggests that the council stops providing these services. However, Enterprising Libraries added value of £38M to the UK economy in 2013 – 2015 and £27.5M of savings was made to the NHS through public library services so libraries do bring financial benefits to other areas. Plus I wonder how much value having a literate workforce is worth?

What was clear from all this is that we still have a long way to go to inform the public of the value and benefits of libraries. Those of us who work in them see the effect they have on a daily basis but many of those who have no reason to visit their local library are completely oblivious to how important they are. As Ian Anstice said in his Public Library News we “need to shout loud, very loud, about what is going on, or we will be drowned out by those who want libraries gone”. Let’s make sure we keep tweeting #libraries and sending out positive messages.

Sunday 20 March 2016


Every few months, there’s a discussion amongst school librarians regarding the pros and cons of reading schemes. I’ve never worked in a school that has bought into one of these although I’ve created plenty of my own to encourage wider reading of genres and authors. But the commercial schemes on the market are far more than that. They involve assessing students to ascertain their reading level then directing them to suitable books. Some have quizzes, most have competitiveness involved and some schools have even linked them to their in-house rewards system.

I’ve got nothing against reading schemes. As far as I’m concerned, anything that gets students reading is a good thing but whilst these schemes can certainly improve a student’s reading level, do they actually turn the participants into “readers” – people who choose to read above other activities because they enjoy it? If you think about what you love doing (and I’m not necessarily talking about reading here) - did you discover this pleasure through being forced to do it? Or did you come across it, was given the freedom to explore and discover its delights, and encouraged to pursue it?

Reading is a skill and like any other skill – riding a bike, playing a musical instrument, partaking in sports – you need to practise regularly to get better. You also need to challenge yourself, try something a bit harder than you did last time and push yourself. Reading schemes, if they are run properly, do all of these but in order to show any sort of progression within them, you need a system of measurement. And this is where they fall down because the minute you start tracking progression, setting reading for homework, making participation of the reading scheme part of a lesson, it becomes another subject, another chore. It is turned into a systematic and mechanical activity, and not one that is done for pleasure or through choice. It is also important to remember that students have a limited amount of time for reading. They are busy with their homework, extra-curricular activities and own interests so have to fit reading in (like most of us). If they only have time for their reading scheme reading then that’s all they’ll do. It’s the same as when I’m on a book selection panel – I do not have time to read any other books and I know this can take the pleasure out of reading (although luckily for me it doesn’t).

There are also other difficulties that can occur - students have been known to avoid reading a book that is popular with their peers because it’s not at the “right” level so it “doesn’t count”; participating in shadowing groups can be problematic with students not being allowed to select all of the shortlisted books (those levels are the reason); book-giving schemes (such as Bookbuzz) can run into difficulties with students being told they can only choose a particular book (levels again) and library lessons – which should encompass a range of activities exploring and introducing students to books (YouTube reviews, book talks, time to browse and select, etc.) – can be lost to the rigidity of reading schemes. And don’t get me started on schools who think a reading scheme is the answer to having a library with a librarian.

We need to make the distinction between reading for improvement (R4I) which is what reading schemes do and reading for pleasure (R4P) which involves a wide-range of stock, access to it and time to browse and select – without restraints. Reading schemes certainly tick all the boxes – for Ofsted, for knowing reading levels and setting targets – but it should not be an “either or” choice between R4I and R4P. Both should be found within the school timetable yet, sadly, too often the former is given priority to the detriment of the latter; however, whilst reading for improvement does not automatically result in reading for pleasure, reading for pleasure will result in an improvement in reading skills.

So perhaps it is time to start giving reading for pleasure the priority and recognition it deserves?

If you would like to read more about the benefits of R4P, try these links:


Saturday 5 March 2016


We’ve just celebrated the 19th World Book Day (WBD), this year on Thursday 3rd March which is different from International World Book and Copyright Day, organised by UNESCO, on April 23rd each year. I vaguely remember WBD occurring on Shakespeare’s birthday but then it moved. And I’m still not really sure what the difference is between “World” and “International” although the “world” in this case refers to the UK and Ireland!
WBD is the celebration of authors, illustrators, books and reading, and thousands of children, teenagers, young and older adults took part. Whilst a lot of this happened in bookshops, much of this was done in school libraries - where would these organisations and their initiatives be without school librarians? And what are they going to do when all the school librarians are gone?
It’s great fun reading about all the activities that were organised, seeing the photos and reading tweets, you really do get that sense of excitement and enjoyment that comes from being part of a much larger event. Some people were extremely inventive creating book character costumes and I’m sure there must have been quite a few parents tearing their hair out trying to think of what to do. I also wonder how many “Elsas” turned up? I guess if you wanted to argue the point you could say that there are now books available telling the story of the film.

What amazes me is the range of events and activities that were held. Some of these involved the whole school with staff and students alike dressing up, everyone taking part in book-related activities, events running throughout the day  - in fact some schools have even turned World Book Day into a Book Week – others, however, kept it low-key with a competition and the distribution of World Book Day vouchers.

I don’t think it matters what you do; one of the things I say to people is that you have to take into account your own circumstances when planning and organising anything but seeing whole schools taking part in WBD can leave you feeling a little bit flat and left out if all you’ve managed to do is get a dozen or so students doing your quiz.
It’s important to remember that for any event to be successful it needs all parties involved to get behind it. This basically means the Senior Management Team (SMT) and rest of the staff. It’s no good trying to organise a “guess who’s reading” competition if your staff aren’t interested in joining in. It’s also difficult to create a whole-school WBD event if it clashes with something else in the school calendar and yes, this happens. I find that so many people live in their own bubble and don’t think to check what else is happening when they arrange things. You organise an author talk for a whole-year group, months in advance, book it on every school calendar possible and send out numerous emails then find, two days before, another department are planning to involve half the year group in something else. Sometimes there are already long-standing events that happen each year and you just have to accept that your WBD plans are going to have to take a back seat.

The other aspect of all this is that it takes a lot of planning and effort to organise a WBD involving the whole school and not everyone has the time to do this.
So … don’t stress about not being “as good” as others or get disillusioned because nobody else in school seems interested. It’s not a competition; we can only do the best we can within our own situations.  It’s important to remember that small things can make a big impact – especially if your school doesn’t have a reading ethos.

And there’s always next year …