Reading – what’s in it for me?

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For those of us addicted to reading we know exactly how enjoyable it is, but in an increasingly busy world it is often hard to make time for it, so why should we bother? There is no doubt that reading improves literacy levels, and higher literacy levels allow people to gain better educational results, and in turn get better jobs, but is that enough of an incentive to make people want to read? Despite the evidence about the benefits of reading we still see reports in the news about falling national literacy levels and the decline in reading. The Reading Agency decided that in order to tackle this it was time to look beyond literacy levels and consider the wider personal benefits of reading for pleasure*.

The Reading Agency received generous funding from the Peter Sowerby Foundation for a collaborative project to develop a reading outcomes framework. The main aim of the project was to collate and summarise the findings of the most robust studies that related to non-literacy outcomes of reading for pleasure or empowerment*. A steering group was formed from the collaborative organisations and the report (conducted by BOP Consulting) was compiled. As Vice President of CILIP (the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals) I was invited to be part of the steering group, and I am delighted to now be able to share this report.

The report: The Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, contains a powerful and undeniable message – reading is good for you.

The report confirms that people who read for pleasure benefit from a huge range of wider outcomes including increased empathy, alleviation or reduction in the symptoms of depression and dementia, as well as an improved sense of wellbeing. People who read for pleasure also have a higher sense of social inclusion, a greater tolerance and awareness of other cultures and lifestyles, and better communication skills. When we looked at the impact of reading for pleasure on people with increased health needs or issues, we found that people who were reading for pleasure demonstrated better health literacy, and were more able to cope with, and access, information related to their conditions. People who read for pleasure also showed lower levels of general anxiety.

For children and young people the evidence obviously demonstrated that children who read for pleasure had higher levels of educational attainment, but what is most interesting is how it improves the overall quality of their lives. Children and young people who read demonstrate significantly enhanced emotional vocabulary. In short, the young people who read like themselves better and cope with life better. They are more likely to use positive mental self -imagery and generally used more positive vocabulary in both their work and their lives.

This shows us that reading for pleasure is an important way of helping us to tackle issues such as social isolation, teenage depression, negative self-image, and social and educational disengagement. Reading for pleasure can make an isolated and depressed young person feel better about who they are and can make them more confident about the importance of their unique role in the world.

What can we do?
A key finding of the report is that extensive studies show that enjoyment of reading is a prerequisite for all these positive outcomes: people who choose to read, and enjoy doing so in their spare time, are more likely to reap all of these wider benefits. Negative attitudes towards reading for pleasure therefore have a much wider negative impact, and it’s essential that we create a far more positive attitude towards reading. We can throw out the “haven’t got time” and “reading is a waste of time” comments because we can clearly see that if you are reading for pleasure you are doing something that will improve the long-term quality of your life and your health.

It is worth noting that this process has to be about reading that is a free and voluntary choice. This is distinctly separate from learning how to read, and it is not the same as reading that is undertaken for study or educational purposes. In order to benefit from the wider outcomes of reading for pleasure we need to focus only on one word – pleasure. At school a focus should remain on uncritical free voluntary choice reading. Children and young people should be able to read freely from a wide range of material. They should be able to choose whatever format and style of reading material they want without feeling that it is yet another lesson or form of study. To facilitate this it is simply not enough to only have reading schemes and reading lessons, pupils of all ages require access to a well stocked school library and this will give them a better chance of becoming lifelong readers. To nurture a reading for pleasure environment all children should have access to someone who can help them to navigate the maze of books and reading in a positive way – logic dictates that this should be a school librarian.

Reading is good for you, and is something that we should all do at every stage in our lives in order to benefit personally. This should start at the cradle with reading aloud and sharing stories, and should move through our lives as pastime that is perceived as enjoyable. Reading is habit forming, and the children of readers read and are more likely to accept books and reading into their lives. We cannot expect our future adults to become readers if the only books they know are those on the reading scheme.

It doesn’t have to be expensive (remember, librarians are there to help you for free), and it doesn’t have to be great works of worthy literature. The evidence shows that all that matters is that people are reading a wide range of fiction and non-fiction in any form, and that they are reading it simply because they want to. No discrimination was made about the type of reading material, or the format – all reading is good reading as long as you are doing it because you have chosen to. We need to throw out the false idea that reading is an elitist or snobby pastime that is only for the idle, and that only “good” books matter – this is simply not true.

We are bombarded with health messages that we should be acting upon, but this report shows that reading for pleasure is the simplest and most enjoyable way to gain a significant number of long-term health benefits.

So stop feeling guilty! When you’re reading you’re not wasting time, you’re working on your long-term health.
The message is simple – pick up a book, and feel better!

Dawn Finch
Vice President CILIP
CWIG Committee
Children’s author and school library consultant.
www.dawnfinch.com
@dawnafinch

Links and the technical stuff…..
The full Literature Review document can be downloaded from the Reading Agency’s website and it contains a full bibliography of all of the research used. Please share and quote the report and use #readingforpleasure to keep the conversation going.

The Reading Agency worked in collaboration with the following organisations: Arts Council England, Association of Senior Children’s and Education Librarians, Book Trust, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, Education Endowment Foundation, National Literacy Trust, Publishers Association, Scottish Library and Information Council, Society of Authors and the Society of Chief Librarians.
The report was compiled by BOP Consulting with funding from the Peter Sowerby Foundation 

* For the purposes of the report the phrases “reading for pleasure” and “recreational reading” are used interchangeably within the body of the document. We defined this as “non-goal orientated transactions with texts as a way to spend time, and for entertainment.”
The term “reading for empowerment” is (for the purposes of this report) defined as “transactions with texts as a means of self-cultivation and self-development beyond literacy”. For example reading non-fiction material such as craft or self-help books.
Both terms were used to define reading for pleasure and empowerment in all formats and media.

Full link URL – http://readingagency.org.uk/news/media/reading-for-pleasure-builds-empathy-and-improves-wellbeing-research-from-the-reading-agency-finds.html

The image used is licensed CCO public domain but courtesy credit due to bonnybbx, creator on Pixabay. Please always credit creators.

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Preparing a Reading for Pleasure policy

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In March 2012 Ofsted published the document Moving English Forward. This document was designed to tackle the problem of low and falling literacy levels in the UK and, for the first time, it mentions the need for a specific Reading For Enjoyment/Pleasure policy (see Moving English Forward, paras 65 – 71, pages 29-31) and we have seen evidence of these expectations on many Ofsted inspection reports since then. Mention of the presence of such a policy, or the lack of one, has been featuring on the front page of many returned reports since November 2012 when the new inspection framework was implemented.

To help school librarians engage with the process of implementing this policy in their schools, CILIP SLG ran a course dealing with both the document Moving English Forward, and policy preparation. Barbara Ferramosca lead a workshop on writing a Reading for Pleasure policy on this day and it proved most informative and useful.

My guest post today is written by Barbara, school librarian at Lilian Baylis Technology School in London – a school that was rated by Ofsted as “an outstanding school in all aspects” after their inspection under the new framework early in 2013.

If you have any questions about this post, please comment and they will be forwarded to Barbara.

 Preparing a Reading for Pleasure Policy

 

Every school must provide a School Reading for Pleasure Policy during an Ofsted inspection: it is a simple fact that has huge consequences for our profession and a huge potential that we cannot afford to miss.

Promoting a reading for enjoyment ethos is our field of expertise and it would not surprise me if a member of your School Leadership Team had already frantically accosted you with the question: “What are we doing to promote reading for pleasure in this school?”.  If they have not, you must take the initiative and write the policy: if you present it to them, they will probably be just grateful that it is something they do not need to think about anymore, a box ticked in their inspection checklist!

During our workshop, discussions lead to some very important points to consider in preparation for an inspection.

Find endorsement for your policy

The policy is a public document, an official school policy and it is at the heart of what you do: it explains your library commitment and beliefs in nurturing a genuine lifelong interest in reading in all your students. It does it by clearly acknowledging  the widest possible definition of the term “reading for pleasure”  and by involving different stakeholders that will give weight to the document. If it is a document whose principles are agreed upon by students, governors, members of staff and parents, it will become an important  reference document for your service.

It always sounds a daunting task to write a policy, especially if you have never written one before and it could become quite challenging and time-consuming to try to get all of these stakeholders involved. However, if time is of the essence, make sure to involve at least your students as a matter of priority.

Ensure that students are on your side

There is the possibility that Ofsted inspectors will not come and visit the library or speak to you . Your reading for pleasure policy is but a way to show what the library is doing because there is another more powerful voice that you can use to make sure that your message comes across loud and clear to them. Inspectors will speak to your students in several occasions and you must make sure that they will speak highly of the library and the impact that has on their attitude towards reading. Let them be your ambassadors. As a result of this, our advice was not to fret and spend a lot of time trying to put together a complicated and long policy but keep it simple, short and to the point.

What should a reading for pleasure policy include?

The Teachers’ organisation has some very useful guidance on how to draft a comprehensive policy. They specify that a school Reading for Pleasure Policy or Statement could include the following:

  • a statement on who/what the policy is for;
  • a clear outline of the difference between the Reading for Pleasure policy and the school literacy policy: this is absolutely necessary and we cannot underestimate the importance of reiterating this difference, especially with the Leader Management Team of our school. Literacy is a direct effect of Reading for enjoyment and we must ensure that we make clear the difference between the two in the clearest terms possible.
  • a statement about the importance of using the widest definition of reading throughout the school. This could include newspapers, e-books, comics, etc. this is the point in your policy where you decide on your school’s definition of reading for pleasure. Ideally you want to use the widest definition possible and have it officially accepted in order to challenge any possible decisions that are made in the future that threaten our students’ right to choose what they want to read.
  • a statement on the value of reading for pleasure and how it links to wider academic, social and emotional development: you must use authoritative sources and use quotes from these sources in order to give clear evidence of its impact. We have attached a brief bibliography of studies that you may want to refer to or quote for this purpose
  • access and equalities issues in relation to reading for pleasure. This should include accessible formats as well as consideration of the content of the books made available for use by the children: your policy must clearly state a commitment of the library to provide different books and resources in different formats in order to meet the needs of your students (i.e audiobooks, dyslexia-friendly publications, ebooks, books in other languages, etc.). Firstly, there must be an official acknowledgement that students may prefer to access stories in formats other than the printing. This is also particularly important in terms of the financial impact of such a statement simply because books in different formats cost more than simple paperbacks!
  • the importance of the role of the teacher and other adults in school in relation to fostering a love of reading through a wide range of activities: this is the point in your policy when you acknowledge the importance of using role models in the school to support your message and that every single member of staff is responsible for reinforcing a positive attitude towards reading for enjoyment. This is what the inspectors will look for and now is probably a good time to get your Headteacher on board with this idea!
  • links to planning for reading for pleasure across the curriculum for both the whole school and individual classes: after writing all the above, make sure to mention, maybe a series of bullet points, what the library is doing in order to give some concrete examples. As mentioned before, you can decide whether you want to write all the initiatives that you manage in detail. Discussions during the workshop lean towards writing brief descriptions rathen than complex and detailed ones.
  • information about the practical ways in which home-school links can support the school policy: links with parents and how to empower them them to support their children is on the checklist of every inspection and we cannot miss to mention how the library contribute to this. Even if you just attend parents’ evenings or academic review days with a library stand and give posters out, include this in your policy!
  • a statement about the importance of the use of the school library and making links with the local public library;
  • a commitment by the school to ensuring that all pupils have regular access to the school library, properly staffed, including the consideration of free access at break, lunchtimes and before/after school: this may sound redundant however in many occasions we have heard of colleagues’ experiences where the library was used as classroom or as an occasional venue for school events that are not led by the librarian. It is important not leave out a clear commitment from your school part to ensure that students have the opportunity to visit your library on their own free will to browse or borrow a book.
  • a statement on the budget share for reading and library resources – it should be adequately funded on an annual basis, in line with other school budget areas: budget, budget, budget… in a quick show of hands exercise, it was pretty clear that the majority of the librarians attending our course felt that the library was underfunded. After a number of considerations, we felt that we had two big weapons in our arsenal to change this situation: firstly, your school’s FEAR of Ofsted. Secondly, the fact that reading is appearing more and more often in the FIRST page of many Ofsted school reports. We must turn this fear to our advantage by asking our school Leadership Management Team these simple questions: “How confident are you that students are happy with the resources available in the library? How confident are you that they will answer positively and enthusiastically about their attitudes towards reading and the initiatives led by the school? How confident are you that ALL students are aware of the importance of reading for pleasure to their future?” Now is the time to push the point that a library which is understaffed and underfunded will never achieve these goals. To make your point even more effective, do not hesitate to mention other schools’ reports where reading is mentioned: Adam Lancaster showed us a number of examples of reports of other schools in his area so his advice for us was to find these reports and use them!
  • implications for professional development and support: is the school ready to give you opportunity to lead staff insets regarding the latest children literature or on how to promote reading for pleasure in the classroom? Is the school ready to acknowledge that you need time to attend professional courses?
  • a commitment to evaluate the Reading for Pleasure policy. A reading for Pleasure policy should be reviewed ideally once every year.

 Brief bibliography of sources that you can quote

Clark, C. & Rumbold, K. (2006) Reading for Pleasure: A Research Overview. London: National Literacy Trust. Retrieved from http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/research/nlt_

research/271_reading_for_pleasure_a_research_overview

Clark, C. (2011). Setting the baseline: The National Literacy Trust’s first annual survey into reading – 2010. London: National Literacy Trust. Retrieved from

http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0001/0336/Omnibus_reading_2010.pdf

Cliff Hodges, G. (2010). Reasons for reading: Why literature matters. Literacy, 44(2),

60-68.

Cremin, Teresa (2007). Revisiting reading for pleasure: Delight, desire and diversity. In: Goouch, Kathy and Lambirth, Andrew eds. Understanding Phonics and the Teaching of Reading: A Critical Perspective. Berkshire, UK: McGraw Hill, pp. 166–190. Retrieved from: http://oro.open.ac.uk/12950/2/

 

** ESARD (2012) Research evidence on reading for pleasure. Retrieved from: http://www.eriding.net/resources/pri_improv/121004_pri_imp_reading_for_pleasure.pdf

 Hairrell, A., Edmonds, M., Vaughn, S., & Simmons, D. (2010). Independent Silent Reading for Struggling Readers: Pitfalls and Potential. In E. H. Hiebert, & D. Reutzel (Eds.), Revisiting Silent Reading (pp. 275-289). Newark, DE: International Reading Association.

 National Endowment for the Arts. (2007). To read or not to read: A question of national consequence (Research Report #47). Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from http://www.nea.gov/research/ToRead.pdf

 OECD (2002) Reading For Change Performance And Engagement Across Countries – Results From PISA 2000. http://www.oecd.org/dataoecd/43/54/33690904.pdf

 Sullivan, A. & Brown, M. (2013) Reading for pleasure puts children ahead in the classroom. London: IOE. Retrieved from: http://www.ioe.ac.uk/89938.html

 Twist, L., Schagen, I., & Hodgson, C. (2007). Readers and Reading: The National Report for England 2006 (PIRLS: Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). Slough: NFER. Available online: http://www.nfer.ac.uk/nfer/publications/PRN01/PRN01.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

Ask A Librarian – “Help, I’m not that good at reading!”

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Over the years a lot of parents have come to me to quietly ask how they can help their child with reading when their own reading is “not good enough.”

First, let’s start by taking a little time to put that into perspective. I’m not going to bore you with depressing (and suspicious) national statistics, we’ll just have a little positive thinking instead. A lot of adults lack self-esteem in their reading due to poor or incomplete schooling in their own childhood, or lack of higher level development in their adult reading – they simply don’t do it much and so haven’t improved. Lacking self-esteem means that people see themselves as worse readers than they actually are. That is a shame, but it certainly does not mean that you lack the skills to support your child’s reading. Every parent that I’ve worked with in this situation has turned out to be a far better reader than they thought they were – they just lacked self-esteem and practice.
As an experiment I once took a group of struggling teen readers and we used school assessment guidelines to assess the reading levels of various pieces of common adult reading materials – Nuts, Loaded, Hello, OK and the red top newspapers, the kind of thing most often found in their homes. They were surprised to discover that these averaged out at a level 5 – which would be the level expected from a bright ten year old. So it’s not surprising that adults are not finding that their reading ability is improving in adulthood – the material they are reading is not going to help.
But, that’s still ok (no pun intended) you don’t have to be reading War and Peace to help your child with their reading, and you certainly don’t need to be forking out large sums of cash to buy into expensive schemes. Put the self-doubt to one side, you are the perfect person to help your child with their reading because you have the one thing that a scheme or reading package doesn’t – you have their love. Your child loves you and that means that they want to please you and make you proud. At that all important pre-reading stage they will listen to you and that is when you can get books into their lives – before they are reading at all.

Start off by setting the scene – have books in your house so that you can build a reading and booky atmosphere and environment. You can get books cheaply from charity shops and boot sales, and a library ticket is free! You can sign a tiny baby up to the library and borrow books so that they can develop their sight by looking at bright colours and wonderful images in picture books before they even know what words are. The very first step towards your child enjoying reading is to make sure that they see books around the home all the time.

Next, learn with them! If you are really not sure about how they are learning to read at school, be honest and make an appointment with the teacher to chat about it. I have never met a teacher who would not be understanding and helpful to you with this. They too want what’s best for your child’s development and they will help you to help them. They can show you how reading is handled in the school and can give you strategies to support and encourage your child.

Then, enjoy it. We are lucky enough to be living in a golden age of children’s literature. I have worked with children’s books for over a quarter of a century and I have never seen finer books than those being published today. Some people keep harking back to children’s books that were published a century ago but these (though undeniably great) will not interest a modern child. Their world is completely different to those books and reading for pleasure at a young age hinges on the ability to identify with the characters and the story. Books written today will speak to your child in a language that they understand. It doesn’t matter that your child has not read some heap of antiquated classics, maybe they will later, maybe not. In my experience most of the adults who claim to have read the classics have actually seen the movie!

Modern children’s and young adult fiction is stunningly good and varied. I haven’t read a so-called “grown up” book in ages as most of my reading material is for younger readers – and it is superb! High quality books for young readers are published all the time and some of the best writing around is to be found in books for children and young adults. Seriously, read it yourself and share the experience with your children, you won’t regret it! Challenging, thrilling, beautifully written and rewarding books fill the shelves in every bookshop and library. This means it can be a bit of a minefield choosing, so ask the librarian which books are the ones most enjoyed by readers.

Don’t rule out series books, and certainly don’t allow snobbery to creep into your choices. Boys particularly love series books, and there are some that could hook your child for a very long period of time as they wait for the next one along, and devour a huge string of stories. This is all about reading for pleasure, forming a reading habit, and it should be fun. Your child should be allowed to pick up a book that catches their eye and give it a go. It might be something you don’t like… tough!

Most of all the best thing you can do as a parent is to help your child see reading as a pleasurable and everyday activity. It’s not homework, it’s not a lesson, it’s simply something that always happens in your home. If books sit at ease in your family, then reading will become a natural part of your child’s life and a habit they carry with them always.

You do not need to be a “good” reader to support this at home, but you do need to be a book lover – and the two are not the same!

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If you are genuinely concerned about your own literacy levels, or those of someone you know, there are many courses that will support you and help adults in this situation. You are not alone and it is important to remember that. You can find out more information about adult literacy courses by using this link to the National Literacy Trust website or call the Gov.uk courses guide free on 0800 66 0800 .

NOT reading lessons!

Your dear little lad has brought home Him, you know the one, the kid who is smart and funny and who you wish you didn’t like because he seems to be perfect at everything. He has normal and regular parents and a normal and regular vocabulary…so why is he already on Gold books?

LESSON ONE…….

STEP AWAY FROM THE BOOKBAG!

And relax…

Seriously, looking at other children’s books is not helping you or your child, it is only putting more pressure on you both and turning what should be an enjoyable activity into homework.

Human beings are hardwired for reading, that’s the good news. Most children have an epiphany moment with their reading somewhere between the ages of five and ten – yes, I said TEN! The epiphany moment is quite remarkable – a child can just suddenly find the right book or the right motivation and they whoosh off with their reading.

So what does the school expect? They probably won’t tell you, but your child will be expected to comfortably reach Level 2 by the time they enter Year Three. This means that they will be assessed through a series of increasingly dull and worthy texts to ensure that they can do things like blend phonemes, understand what a text is about and answer questions about it and recognise the component parts of a book like an index and a glossary. The bare bones of reading are pretty tedious and the chances are your child will be doing this stuff long before they reach transition to Year Three. So relax.

If, however, your child is not quite there, it doesn’t mean that they won’t get there with a little help. A good number of children have issues that may impact on their reading and hold back their epiphany moment, but that doesn’t mean they can’t achieve the basics that will get them a comfortable Level2/3 at infant-primary transition.

  • Read with your child. When they hit a word that they don’t know, remember, they have never met this word before and will need an introduction. Let them try three times, no more than that because it becomes horribly frustrating.
  • Let your child read alone. No help, no input, just let them sit with words in front of their faces. These need to be their choice and it might be something you loathe. Tough!
  • Read to your child. I can’t begin to tell you how important it is for children to be read to. Not just picture books, longer books with chapters that they are not yet ready to read alone. It is a superb way of expanding their vocabulary, gives them something to aim for, and it’s lovely. Do not assume your child is too old for this, you are never too old for a bedtime story.
  • Acknowledge and draw attention to the fact that there are words everywhere. Give them reading with a purpose so that it does not feel as if you are expecting them to carry out a homework-like task. Ask them what the competition is on the cereal packet, put the subtitles on when they are watching their favourite tv show, stick post-it notes on the objects around the house that have new and exciting words to learn (such as television, radiator, refrigerator) Children have incredible powers of assimilation and suck up new words with ease – provided they see and hear them repeatedly.

The most important thing you can do for your child is to enjoy reading yourself and stop making it a chore. Make it a treat and let them soak up any words that they want (I’m a great fan of the literary qualities of the Beano) and stop putting pressure on them to be the same as others. They all learn at different paces and all come to reading in different ways. You probably don’t need to buy any special books or sign up for some expensive plan or club, just look out for reading opportunities everywhere.

Remember – only one in ten adults regularly read a book, and yet we expect 100% of small children to do it. It just might not be their thing, and there may be educational issues that need addressing, but it doesn’t mean they can’t become independent readers who enjoy diving into a book.

Most of all…RELAX!

 

Originally posted on www.beingamummy.co.uk

Dawn Finch is a YA author and for the last decade she has specialised in reading development in young children. She is vice-chair of the London and South East School Libraries Group and a published author. Her book (Brotherhood of Shades) is a contemporary ghost story and is published by Harper Collins.

You can ask her questions about books and reading at www.dawnfinch.com

 

A Sandwich on the Knee

I have had many bosses in my time, and have been bullied by a few of them. I’ve been made to do things that were not in my job description, and I’ve been treated like dirt and even driven to resign more than once. None of these bullies even come close to the worst boss of all – me.

Since I went freelance and self-employed a few years ago I have fallen foul of the worst kind of employer treatment. I am a hideous employer. The worst. I almost never give myself a day off and even insist that I work on public holidays like Christmas.  I forced myself to work through weekends, birthdays, family occasions etc. On the rare occasions I do take a holiday, I still work through. I get no sick pay, or holiday pay, and even if I am sick… I still work. If I ever take a break I spend most of it feeling guilty for not working, and know that when I return to my desk everything will have stacked up so I’ll have even more to do.

Working from home means that I don’t have a staffroom, or colleagues around me. Facebook is my staffroom and I love nipping in to have a chat and a cuppa. I look at people’s photos and “meet” up with old friends and make new ones. Twitter is one of my workspaces, and over there I campaign for libraries and literacy. There I support library workers and writers, and stay in touch with everyone else working towards similar goals. I love a bit of social media and, if you work it well, it can be a wonderful tool.

But it eats up time, and the more you do it, the more it requires of you. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – it is always there, and people need replies quickly.

I had to be quick.

Quicker…

Quickest…

But this wasn’t about the real world, it was about me and most of this was in my head. This was actually me putting pressure on myself to be perfect. To work harder. I wasn’t getting either emotionally or financially rich doing this. The harder I worked, the poorer I seemed to get. I was not only getting sick, but I was doing most of my work for free, and was not being as useful to anyone as I should be. I was overloaded with things I’d agreed to, and I wasn’t finishing things. I was late with deadlines, and was forgetting important things. I was getting sicker, and depressed, and angry.  I had to find a way to change this.

My mental health was being torn apart by my need to keep going and to reply to every message, and every email. I was gradually breaking down. Without realising it I was becoming sicker physically too. I hadn’t paid attention to my own physical health and had failed to deal with a medical problem that might have killed me.

(Spoiler – it didn’t.)

Lots of things made me reassess the kind of employer I am. I was a union rep for a long time in my workplace and if any of my colleagues had come to me with the kind of grievances I have, I would have recommended a formal complaint followed by a tribunal. Why was I doing it to myself? Everyone knows that a happy employee performs better, so why was I trying to drive myself into the ground?

I knew I had to do something about it, and in January 2018 I decided I had to force myself to take back control of my life. I decided to look at my life just as I would a real job, and to try to treat myself with more dignity and respect. I wanted to reassess my life and give myself some more quality time.

This was not easy. Library campaigns and writing deadlines don’t go away at the weekends. Things happen that need replies, government documents sneak out late at night or just before bank holiday weekends, tearful library workers email late at night and they deserve replies, huge stacks of board and committee papers won’t read themselves, journalists ask questions that require immediate answers or they say something else. Things happened that I felt I had personal responsibility for.

But something had to change

I went offline for a day. I had to hide first of all because I knew my mean-assed employer would nag me until I weakened and went back to work. That meant that I had to go somewhere I knew I had no signal. My first escapes were windswept and rainy places where I was absolutely sure that even if I totally guilt-tripped myself it wouldn’t make any difference.

That little “no signal” thing is surprisingly liberating.

That thing worked, and it started me on a bigger thing.

As I mentioned before, I’m not rich. In fact, I’m far from it. I looked on social media at all Photo 25-05-2018, 14 31 48the things that other people were doing to relax: fancy holidays, shopping, spa days, makeovers, meals in expensive restaurants…. I couldn’t afford those. I don’t drive, so my escapes were limited to where I could walk, or what I could afford on the train. I can’t afford lavish meals out, but I can afford a sandwich, and I can afford to fill my little flask with tea. I don’t have the money to travel in the lap of luxury, but my old walking boots have new laces, and they’ll do for me.

Now, every weekend I go offline and shift from the virtual world, to the actual one. I don’t switch on my laptop, and I don’t open emails. I’m not saying I threw out social media altogether. I’m still a solo worker so I still want to chat to people. I spent a few months sorting out my Facebook and made an announcement stating that I was shifting most of my campaign work to Twitter and that people should follow me there if they want only that. I warned people that my Facebook might now become a thread of “books, reading, hedgehogs in baskets and sarcastic jokes”. People seemed fine with that. At the weekends I now avoid emails and Twitter, but I still hang around Facebook a little bit.

A very little bit, because mostly I’m up a hill, or a cliff, or slightly lost in a forest.

Photo 07-04-2018, 14 27 55This brings me to #SandwichOnTheKnee

I started taking pictures of where I was eating my little sandwich because I wanted to encourage other people to stop being crappy employers and to treat themselves with a little more respect. I wanted other people to take time for themselves in any way possible. I’m pretty sure we would all make a stand against people treated poorly by their employers, why do we treat ourselves worse?

Join me in my #SandwichOnTheKnee campaign. You don’tPhoto 03-06-2018, 14 25 31 (1) have to sign anything, or pay anything, or make a banner – all you have to do is make time for yourself in a simple way. Doesn’t have to be a sandwich; it might be a bit of fruit, or a bar of chocolate, or just a bottle of water. #SandwichOnTheKnee is more of a symbol than an actual sandwich (although I will still be making my sandwich). It’s about climbing your own hill and taking time back for yourself. All you have to do is remember that you matter, and that it’s time you took back time! Drag your eyes from the screen to the horizon, and feed your brain with a blast of fresh air.

Photo 27-05-2018, 13 32 23

Tweet me your photos using the hashtag, and let’s get out there!

 

Dawn Finch is a children’s author and library campaigner. She is a trustee of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) and a member of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators committee.

You can find her on Twitter as @dawnafinch

Current campaigns include: CILIP’s Great School Libraries which works towards every child’s right to have a quality school library, the many ongoing campaigns to support your right to a comprehensive statutory public library service with paid library staff, and the Society of Authors campaign for fair dealing for writers and illustrators. Superb author and illustrator, James Mayhew has written about the campaign here.

 

Why I bother with libraries.

I am a library campaigner. I have that in my profile descriptions on social media, and I am known for this role. I campaign and write about libraries, and am a familiar face at rallies and events connected to libraries and reading. I was President of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), and now I am standing for election as a CILIP Trustee and so it is evident that I care a great deal about our libraries. Recently someone asked me that crucial question – why bother? It seems like a lot of work, and you don’t get paid for it, so why bother?

After I had calmed down, I explained that the answer was so huge that I couldn’t do it justice in a few sentences, and so I thought I would share some of my past writings to explain why it matters, and why I bother.

Why do I need libraries in the first place? Well, I want a society where people have intelligence and are informed and creative. That matters to me and that’s what libraries (and in particular school libraries) do. I wrote about that here….

Like many people, I live with an invisible disability. I manage just fine, but one day I won’t and now and again I need more help with information. I need a safe space in my community that will offer me support on an ad hoc basis. It will save my local authority a huge amount of money if I can be supported in this way. I need someone I can trust in my community – I need my librarian. I wrote about that here…

I want our children to grow up as readers and to have the skills to access education with greater ease. I want them to be prepared for life and for the onslaught of fake news and biased reporting. I want children to have empathy for others and greater understanding of the world around them. I want them to have a school librarian. I wrote about that here…. 

I want people to read more. Reading for pleasure makes people happier, more rounded as human beings, and they even earn more. I sit on the Reading Agency’s national steering group looking at the wider impact of reading for pleasure, and the evidence is clear – people who read more benefit hugely. Books are expensive. For everyone to read more, and for society to benefit from it, we need more libraries. I wrote about that here….

The provision of a “comprehensive and efficient” library service is a statutory requirement. I need my librarian, and I need skilled library workers who have signed a commitment to providing an ethical and equitable service. Personally, I want to know that when I am handing over my data in a library it is to someone who has a set of agreed ethical principles. As chair of CILIP’s Ethics Committee, I have written about that here…

But here is the big one – I passionately believe that it is vital to protect library workers. We have just had Libraries Week, and I must confess that I was dismayed to discover that many people were sharing things as if the library was some kind of sentient building that was doing all of these amazing things without any human involvement. Masses of people all talking about how astonishing libraries are… but I could count on one hand the number of high-profile media pieces that actually mentioned the library workers who make all these things happen.

Every time we talk about the work that libraries do, what we are really talking about is the work that the library workers do. None of this would happen without them. A library is, after all, just a building – bricks and mortar, cement and glass. It can’t read stories, comfort the lonely, teach digital literacy, support the sick, calm the distressed or find jobs for the jobless – that takes a library worker. Yes, we should protect libraries, but only if they house library workers. It is not right that, as a society, we pay for libraries in our taxes and are then expected to do the work ourselves. I don’t pay for a building, I pay for the people who do the work. Call me old fashioned, but I also want human beings to be fairly paid for the work they do. A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work seems like the most basic of rights to me. Why should essential services become a postcode lottery that means that libraries only exist in wealthy areas where people have the time and money to work for free? This is a rot at the heart of our society – that we are blamed for not doing all the work for free, and if we can’t work for free we somehow are less deserving of the service. People should be paid, and they should be trained, protected and they should be accountable. I have written a great deal about this issue, and these have been some of my most read and shared posts. You can read three of them here… and here… and here

This is why I bother, and this is why I can’t stop campaigning for libraries – because the societal value is huge. Libraries save society money, and improve quality of life and opportunities for millions of people. It is sheer idiocy to put them in danger. To even suggest that libraries offer anything less than extraordinary value for money is a lie. Simple as that. A lie. I don’t mind shouting that from the rooftops. Look at the stats if you don’t believe me. Nobody uses libraries? Who are all these nobodies then? 


I am standing for election as a CILIP trustee because I’ve always believed that if you are going to say a thing you should say it where people are best placed to hear it. If I don’t like a thing, then I’m prepared to step up and try to get something done about it. I can grumble and moan and shout all I like in the vacuum of social media, but it is in the corridors of power that the silence falls and the selectively deaf walk. Representing an organisation like CILIP allows us as a collective to speak louder and to shake the ivory towers. I do believe that there is strength in the collective. I’m up against some stiff competition in this election, and all of the people standing share my thoughts. Libraries will win no matter who is elected, but I can’t not stand. Making a stand is kind of my thing. I’m in excellent company. If you are a CILIP member I strongly advise you to take part in this democratic process. It’s your vote, your voice, use it! If you’re not a CILIP member, join us! Everyone with an interest in the library and information profession is welcome. 

All in all, I want to look back on my life and know that I did everything I possibly could to make a difference. This is why I bother, because it matters.

Dawn Finch, librarian and children’s author, was president of CILIP in 2016 and is the current chair of CILIP’s Ethics Committee. She is a member of a number of national committees concerned with literacy and libraries, and a member of the Society of Authors’ Children’s Writers and Illustrators committee focusing on children’s reading for pleasure, and the rights of authors.

You can read all nomination papers for the all of the people standing in the forthcoming CILIP Trustee elections here… and if you are a CILIP member voting papers will be sent to you on or around 20th October 2017. The election and manifesto site can be found here

Mind-expanding tips for twenty-somethings

Last week the Independent newspaper published a list titled “30 mind-expanding experiences you should have before you’re 30.” “Entitled” would have been more apt, as the list was one that was so dripping with privilege that it was impossible to take it seriously. As a (not rich) parent of a (not rich) twenty-something this list made me so cross that I thought I would write my own.

I have no qualifications for this advice other than being the parent of a twenty-something, and being 50 with a good memory and lots of life experience. I’ve had wild times, and bad times, good times and sad times – and these have brought me to a list of things that really are “mind-expanding” for a twenty-something.

Of course you can ignore it all and just be you – and that’s the first bit of advice that really matters. You’re not a child, make your own decisions and if it doesn’t work for you, ditch it. You’re probably doing most of this stuff already.

For what it’s worth, here is my list of twenty-something tips that might be genuinely mind-expanding for twenty-somethings. It’s not a bucket list, or a list of things to purchase or spend money on, it’s just a list of things that will make your life a bit better. They are certainly things I wish I’d known in my twenties.

Sort out your friends.

School and (possibly) university are done and now it’s time to take a long look at who you consider a friend. You are under no obligation to hang on to friends who don’t give a crap about you. History doesn’t bind you to your friends, loyalty and love does.

Learn to love your body

You’ll probably never be fitter or stronger than you are now. The shape of your body is irrelevant, so learn to stop caring about what other people think of it. Do you feel well? Then that’s a good thing and you should take the time to appreciate that.

Stop caring what other people think of your tastes

Like whatever music, books, films, art, comics, clothes etc you want to like. Stop accepting the judgement of others. If your tastes make you happy, then indulge and enjoy them. You’ll soon find other people who like and value the same things.

Get outside

You’re going to spend a lot of your life cooped up inside for one reason or another, so when you get the chance, get outside – and I mean really outside. Walk in the wild. Climb a tree. Feed the ducks. Sit in moonlight. Search in rockpools. Swim in a lake. Sleep in the open air. Breathe…

Learn how to be alone

You’ll probably spend most of your time in the company of others. This is great, but it can strip you of the ability to be truly alone. Go to see a movie alone, or eat alone, or just clear time so that you can sit in peace with your own thoughts.

Embrace silence

Our lives are very noisy. Once in a while sit with your own thoughts and do absolutely nothing. Turn everything off and learn to be comfortable in silence and to stretch your thoughts to new corners.

Stop smoking

If you’ve managed to get into your twenties never smoking – awesome. If you are a smoker, stop now. Your fifty-year-old self will thank you for it.

Make a difference

Find a cause and support it. Make a difference to the world that you will occupy in the future. Think of the bigger picture and make a stand. Volunteer for something. Don’t just moan about it, work to change it. Vote, but truly understand what you’re voting for and against. Advocacy matters.

Learn to spot fake news

The world is full of lies – learn to spot them and expose them. Don’t let fake news and lies ruin your future. The more we accept them, the worse your future will become. Always carry out the CRAAP test; currency, relevance, authority, accuracy, purpose. This link will help.

Seek advice, and learn how to take it

Don’t think or feel that you have to do everything and know everything. Ask for help before you are desperate for it. Take advice if you respect the person giving it, and be gracious when ignoring those who mean well but don’t have a clue.

Every day, be kind just for the sake of it

In every situation there is the opportunity to be kind. We have drifted into a society that is chock-full of micro-aggressions. Be aware of them, and act against them. When that lady in the lift is frantically pushing the button because she doesn’t want to share a lift with that old man shuffling towards it – stick your foot in the door. Every day think how you can stick your foot in the door.

Do something creative

Doesn’t matter what you do, just do something creative and imaginative. Doesn’t matter how bad you think you are at it, just do it. Creativity expands the imagination and a more powerful imagination will make your life better. Paint, write, knit, bake, craft, dance, sing, take photos…anything that is creative for pleasure and not function.

Read for pleasure every day

Doesn’t matter what you’re reading, just make some time every day to read just for the hell of it. Might be a book. Might be a comic. Might be a newspaper. Make sure that you read simply for the pleasure of it. Not for study or instruction, just for pleasure. Join and use your library – free books! What’s not to like?

Listen to live music

It will change your life. Hear how a band really meant you to appreciate their sound. Doesn’t matter if it’s in the back room of a pub, or in a huge stadium. Go out and listen live.

Never stop learning

Learn something new every day. Find something that pleases you and learn all about it. Your brain will thank you for it, and so will the rest of the world. Study the world in which you live because it will be yours one day, and we’d very much like you to take care of it. We really dropped the ball on that one. Sorry. 

Plan based around who you love, not on a price tag

Some of the best times you have will also be the cheapest. Make your plans around people and not prices, and acknowledge that what really makes you happy is not an expensive venue, but the people who are there with you.

Let it go

Nothing will churn you up more than bearing a grudge. Is it worth it? Are you harbouring hate over something that in ten years you won’t even remember? Let it go, you’ll thank yourself for it later.

Experiences are more important than things

That expensive thing that you have to have right now? I can guarantee that in a year it will be under dust or in the bin. Gather experiences and not belongings. Your whole life will expand because of them.

Feel the fear, and do it anyway

I know. It’s a bit cheesey. Okay, so you’re afraid of stuff, we all are, but sometimes you should just throw yourself in and do the fearful thing. My grandfather used to say that you’ll never know if you’ll walk this path again. Don’t pass up exciting opportunities because you’re afraid of them. Get out of your comfort zone. Unless it’s a plan from that one friend who is trying to get themselves mangled – then use caution. Be brave, be bold, but there is no need to be stupid.

Say sorry

Not “I’m sorry, but…” or anything that has extra strings or qualifiers. Learn how to accept when you’re wrong and to openly apologise for it.

Learn to be even more tolerant

In friendships or relationships, don’t narrow things to fit an image that you have created. Just because you have expectations for yourself, don’t apply these rules to people around you. You might reply to a text immediately, but that doesn’t mean everyone will. You might be strict and tidy, doesn’t mean your flatmates are. That work colleague might always leave their dirty cups in the sink, but does it really matter if they’re great people? You don’t have to put up with crap, but you also don’t have to pick apart every little thing. Celebrate differences.

Being embarrassed is not a bad thing

Who cares if you look a fool sometimes? The only person who looks really foolish at that Karaoke evening is the one who doesn’t join in. Care less, be foolish more often. It’s liberating.

Organise your debts, and don’t get into more if you can help it.

Don’t spend more than you have, and try to put a little aside for important things. Be brutally honest in your spending priorities. If you are lying to yourself, stop. Plan in advance and then you’ll maybe have a little leftover to be spontaneous.

Be spontaneous

See point above, but remember that spontaneity doesn’t actually have to cost you anything. It might just be calling someone to go for a walk, or having a long chat with an old friend.

Plan your independence

The bank of mum and dad can be really helpful, but ultimately it’s not going to help you to feel free or to take control of your own life. Think ahead and plan your escape.

Check your privilege

Your life has possibly been harder than some people’s, but definitely a lot easier than others. Never forget the privilege you have benefited from, and acknowledge it. Support others who have not had the opportunities that you’ve had.

Know your rights 

And stand up for them. No one has the right to walk over you. It’s not always going to be easy to stand up for your rights, but if you tolerate it, things will only get worse. Get help before you get desperate (see point on seeking help above) You really don’t have to struggle on alone. 

Look up!

Life doesn’t happen through the lens of a camera or through the veil of social media. It’s happening now, all around you. Look up and see the sky, the stars, the human race, and the real world. Walk among the living.

Don’t rush to grow up

There is a big difference between being childlike and being childish. We spend a long time being old, and serious, and carrying the worries of the world on our shoulders. Hang on to the joy of childlike pleasures, in fact hang on to that for your whole life.

Above all, to thine own self be true

Don’t pretend to be something you’re not. Don’t lie to yourself, and don’t change just to fit in with fashion or peers. Ignore lists that make you feel bad about your life. Don’t try to be like the liars and deniers who fill social media with their so-called “awesome” lives. They’re full of crap. Be honest. Be truthful. Be you.

You’re amazing.

 

Dawn Finch, author, librarian, middle-aged person.

 

 

 

Help, I want to read to my child, but…

…but why should I bother?

…but my reading isn’t so good.

….but I’m not confident about it.

….but I feel like a fool.

…but they can already read on their own.

…but I don’t have the time.

Okay, so these are some of the things that I’m most often asked about. So let’s see if we can tackle them.

Let’s start off by looking at why you should bother. Firstly, your child will do better in school. There’s loads of proof of this, and I’ve put some links in at the end if you need them. Trust me, if your child is a better reader who knows lots of words, then they’ll do better in all their other subjects at school. They’ll even earn more money when they’re older. They’ll learn quicker, and be better at explaining things, so they are less likely to get into trouble. Let’s face it, we all know that happy children do better in school, and when they read more they do better, so they’re happier. That’s just common sense!

There are loads of other good reasons too, but I’m sure you don’t want to wade through all the paperwork. You know it’s worth doing, that’s why you are taking the time to read this. Thank you! You can ask me any questions you like in the comments or by email. Get started by taking a look at the great stuff they have on the BookTrust’s website. They know all the reasons why you should make time to read. The site will give you all the facts, and lots of reading ideas and help. 

Right – next one. “My reading isn’t so good.” Let’s ditch some baggage here –  you’re not alone. Tens of thousands of people have trouble reading for one reason or another. That’s not going to stop you being an excellent parent (or grandparent, or auntie, or uncle, or carer, or foster parent… You get the idea!) Remind yourself how hard it was learning how to read when you were little. Now it’s hard for this child too. That’s not because you found it difficult, it’s because it is hard! Learning to read is like trying to solve a really hard jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box. You can be that picture. You can help them fill in the gaps. Learn with your child. Pretend they are teaching you. Most of all, if you really do find it hard (or you know someone who does) there is help out there. Go to your library, ask a friendly teacher, look on the BookTrust website. Most of all, don’t hide it. You have nothing to be ashamed of, and nothing to hide. You can make a difference to your own life, and your child’s at the same time. It’s a win-win situation.

Next up – confidence. I’d love to wave a magic wand and give you reading confidence, but the only thing that will give you that is practice. Like everything you’ve ever done in life, you were probably not brilliant from day one. I’m guessing you made a right mess of things like driving, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t let that stop you. Stick at it. That child in your life really doesn’t care. They love you and will understand that you’re really trying to do something good for both of you. 

Feeling like a fool? Excellent. Me too. Nothing wrong with that, and who cares? Your child doesn’t care. Do you seriously think a small child would stop you from making silly voices, or doing animal noises? If your child is feeling embarrassed or awkward about their reading, then by playing the fool you take the pressure off. Reading then stops being a boring lesson, and starts being fun. Honestly, the bigger the fool you are, the better you’re getting at it. If you’re embarrassed in front of the one small person who will love you with all of their heart no matter what you do, then it’s time to think about that. Be fun, be silly, be memorable. Show them that all that really matters in the world is making them laugh and making them happy. Everything else can fit in after that, and a relationship built on laughter will last their whole lives. Your child will never forget you being silly, so go ahead and enjoy it. If a person can’t be silly in front of their own child, then there is something seriously wrong with the world!

They already know how to read? Really? I’m heading towards 50 and I’m not finished learning to read yet. I come across new words all the time and I often need the whole rest of the page to help me understand the new word. Sure, your child has learnt the basics. They can sound out the words, and probably know a number of tricks that they’ve been taught to help them to say the word, but that’s only the start of reading. I can convincingly “sound out” the whole of a German newspaper – but I haven’t a clue what 90% of it is saying. I haven’t had the help to learn what the words actually mean. Most of the words we know we have learnt by accident. I mean, I doubt anyone gave you a lesson about what a table was. I’m sure you didn’t go to infant school and have a day when tables and chairs were explained to you. No, you just heard your parents call them that lots of times, and that’s how you learnt those words. Reading aloud lets your child do that with words that they might not find by accident. New and exciting words like unicorn and castle and fire breathing dragon. Words that aren’t normally dropped into their lives. Hearing words is almost as important to reading as seeing them. Hearing you say them out loud will let your child picture the word in their head, and this helps them to understand it. Later on it will help them to use it themselves. Learning how to understand letter shapes and make them into words is just the start of the lifelong adventure that is reading. Oh, and no one is ever too old for a bedtime story! Ever. 

Here’s a big one – I don’t have the time? Really? I don’t want to be mean here but… Really? What happens at bedtime? Is that game or dvd going to give them a better life? How about that that soap opera, or reality show? I’m not pretending to be the perfect mother here, my daughter fell asleep to the Home and Away theme tune every afternoon, and I’ve thanked any god that will listen for daytime cartoons, but I still read to her. She’s 23 now and I still read to her at times. We’re not embarrassed by it, that’s our normal. I missed our bedtime stories when she was about 12 and didn’t want them anymore and she instead listened to story CDs. Bedtime story time was the most wonderful thing. All of the stresses of the day were left at the bedroom door and it was just us and the story. Just us two against a world filled with magical creatures, talking animals, pirates, rescues and escapes. The memories of those stories fills me with joy, and I know her dad feels the same. For him it was a very special time because the stories and the telling of them gave both of them a bond that can’t be broken. They chose the story together and there are some that he can still recall because they were favourites that were read many times. Those moments, those cosy hours, can never be taken from them. 

So what are you really waiting for? Not enough books? The library is a treasure trove of free books. They can borrow almost as much as they can carry. We can all make excuses for why we don’t do things. I’ve done it. We all do it. The excuses will always be there, but their childhood won’t. They are grown up in the blink of an eye and your relationship with them as adults is deeply affected by what you do in these younger years. 

It doesn’t matter where you are, read a story. If you don’t read aloud for just a bit of time each day, you’re not only denying your child something that can make their life better, but you’re denying yourself something wonderful. In a world where we are all rushing around, running too fast towards the next thing on the list, take time out for you. Take time out for all of you. Not just because it will improve a child’s education or their vocabulary, but because it will make them happy. It will make them happier people who cope better in life. Oh, and it will make you happier too. 

So, when all around you is rush and chaos – stop, get quiet, get comfy, breathe deep, and open a book. 

Dawn Finch is a children’s writer and librarian who specialises in reader development. She is President of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, and a member of the Society of Authors, Children’s Writers and Illustrators Committee. 

www.dawnfinch.com

@dawnafinch

BookTrust is a charity that works hard to bring books and reading to the lives of all, and to improve the quality of life for all our children. You can find out more about them on their website

Share your ideas, stories and thoughts about the importance of making time to read by using social media and the hashtag #timetoread and following @booktrust 

You can find some research and guidance about reading for pleasure and sharing reading here and here and here.



Images copyright BookTrust. 

Columbus Metropolitan Library – treasure and tranquillity. 

One of the joys of attending international conferences, and being CILIP President, is that I’m lucky enough to visit some superb libraries. This year (2016) the location for the World Library and Information Congress is Columbus, Ohio. In June 2016 the Columbus Metropolitan Library reopened after a sixteen month closure for a refurb, and so I stopped by for a look around. Actually refurb is too small a word for the extraordinary work that has gone on at Columbus Metropolitan. The library has benefitted from an investment of 35 million dollars, and on visiting it is immediately apparent where this money has been spent. 

You enter the library through the grand and monumental entrance of the 1907 Carnegie building. The original features of this building have been preserved, and now contain art displays within the Carnegie Gallery space. On the front steps of this building, carved in stone, is the legend “My treasures are within” – what better statement could welcome us to a library? Walking through this classical space, under some dazzling art, you enter the main atrium of the library. 

 

  The new atrium has been opened up with high windows to let natural light flood in making this one of the most dramatically impressive library spaces that I have ever been in. Immediately to your right is the new children’s library, and this is no tucked away apologetic space – this is a large and bright space beautifully fitted out for children. I love the fact that there is space for reading, space for storytelling and space for looking things up…in fact there is a space for whatever a child’s imagination reaches  out for. You can see the planning process here, and it really has children at the heart of it.

The central atrium

Stairs to the upper levels

 The atrium leads through to a coffee shop and then out to the newly purchased and landscaped garden area, which in turn leads in to the wonderful Topiary Garden. If you head up the stairs (or the elevators) the first thing you’ll find is the huge reading room. This is another cathedral of natural light with towering walls of glass that overlook the park. 

The rest of the library fans out around and above this space flanked by rows of neat study rooms. The flow of the lending and reference sections feels very organic and each section leads seamlessly into another. It really is a remarkable space, and staffed by enthusiastic and helpful librarians. (Yes, every person I spoke to was a qualified librarian) 

The reading room

 As I was wandering around I bumped into Pat Losinski, the CEO of the library. I must say that I was most impressed to find the CEO walking around and chatting to library users. He is justifiably proud of what they have achieved here, and what they are working on with the other Columbus libraries. They have already fully refurbished four libraries, and within the next two years the remaining six in the project will be opened. Pat told me how much value the people of Columbus place on their libraries, and how important literacy is to a successful city, and a successful country.  

Art in the Carnegie space

 One thing really struck me about the Columbus Met Library – the overwhelming feeling of calm that the space exudes. The Columbus Met is not an echoing modern edifice, but is in fact a blissfully quiet space. This does not feel forced and stifling, it actually feels genuinely refreshing and spiritually uplifting to enter. The place was very busy as I walked around, but the design seems to deaden the noise and allows people to keep that peaceful sense of calm without feeling restricted. No one is telling people to shush, and it is clear that library users are quiet because that’s how they want to be, and that’s how they want the library to be. 

Child-sized doorway of the children’s library

I know that there is a tendency these days to voice the opinion that silence is an old-fashioned concept for libraries, but I feel that we give up our quiet public spaces at our peril. There are plenty of places in our communities in which to be noisy, but remarkably few places that are quiet havens. The world is a noisy and demanding place, and libraries can offer a peaceful balance to this. Where else can we go for quiet study, reading or just to sit and ease our mental clutter? A free and open space where we can sit and gather our thoughts is hugely beneficial to our mental health and wellbeing, and I do think that it is important that we don’t forget that. 

Columbus Metropolitan Library is a remarkable space, and I think that Pat Losinski said it best of all when I complimented him on his beautiful library. 

“Thank you,” he said, “but it’s not my library, it belongs to everyone.”

Dawn Finch

President, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP)

Children’s writer and librarian. 

@dawnafinch 

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE LIBRARIES OF COLUMBUS, OHIO – CLICK HERE.

Living with an invisible disability

Note – this post is being re-shared to explain why I campaign for libraries, and to celebrate National Libraries Week. 

About 15 years ago I was on holiday in Cornwall with my family and I was sitting on a grassy slope enjoying the sunshine and the view, when I noticed a very small black spot in my vision. I was tired and the sun was bright and so I dismissed it as eye strain. Two days later the spot was still there, but had now been joined by another one. I called my doctor and got an appointment as I thought it might be an eye infection, or maybe a scratch caused by sand blown around on windy Cornish beaches. I wasn’t worried.

My doctor was. He sent me immediately to the eye emergency clinic for an examination. They were worried too. They could see holes in my retinas and they sent me for emergency treatment. The edges of the tears were burnt with a laser to stop them from spreading any further. They can’t be fixed. After this I was sent to Moorfields so that they could explain my condition to me. All of this happened in a two week period and so I was swept along without much time to take it all in. I learnt the name of my condition (lattice degeneration) and how rare my type is. I was told that there are many types, and mine isn’t one of the good ones. I was told that my retinas were like “wet tissue”, or “over stretched balloons”, or “stockings with ladders” – my eyes were compared to a few other odd things too. I was told that it’s untreatable, and that one day it will leave me blind, or maybe blind in just one eye if I’m “lucky”. I was told that could be in ten years, or maybe twenty, or it could be tomorrow. I was told that my vision would get worse, but might plateau, or might stabilise and then get worse again. I was told that it probably wouldn’t make much difference unless I “read a lot” (it’s my job, I read around 100 books a year). I was told I had the eyes of an 80 year old. I was told I’d “probably get used to it”.

Of course even though I was told all of this, I didn’t really hear it. In fact I left various doctor’s rooms hearing only one word – blind. That was all I knew – that I was going blind.

It wasn’t the doctor who gave me the information I needed to carry on, it was the library. Thanks to the library I was able to find everything from medical text books, to advice books, to leaflets, to helplines. I found support and information and I was able to set not only my fears to rest, but the fears of my family.

It’s been years now, and my vision has at times deteriorated, and then stabilised again. My library and my librarian have both been there for me. Finding new information and keeping me supported. There really isn’t anything else in my community that can do this for me. Last year my vision took a bit of a downturn and I had new symptoms to deal with. I now find that my peripheral vision is almost nonexistent, and focussing takes so long that moving or scrolling displays are almost impossible to read. Where stairs do not have clearly marked edges I have to take great care as they can blur into one, this means that many escalators resemble a silver-grey river which can be quite alarming. Artificial light can cause eye strain that often blurs out the vision in one or both of my eyes, and can sometimes cause a visual migraine that makes me almost blind for a few hours. Those two holes left me with blind spots, and my general vision is rather like looking through a dirty net curtain.

I have adjusted (although I get very angry at organisations such as train companies who seem to refuse to understand disability awareness guidelines which would make travel much easier) There is no label to show the public my kind of disability. Thanks to many recent changes in legislation I’m not entitled to any help. I’m not visually impaired enough to qualify for registration yet. I don’t get a badge, or a stick, and no one can tell I have it. People get angry behind me on public transport when I have to stop and stare at steps, or doors. They don’t give me their seats even when I’m holding on with both hands because my peripheral vision is so poor that I can’t tell what’s next to me, or because my balance is affected by my inability to focus. I am very patient with other people who tut when I can’t see that my ticket is the wrong one, or that it’s the wrong way up, or when I have to stop for a few seconds longer than they need. It’s not their fault that they can’t see my disability, as beyond an odd tilting of my head to get objects into the clearer bits of my field of vision, they can’t know what’s wrong. Being angry with them doesn’t help me.

To give you an idea of what my vision is like, I have prepared this image. I have always taken photographs, and discovering that I have a visual impairment might confuse some people as to how I do this. I do it by learning the camera’s capabilities and then trusting it. Mostly when I’m taking photos I actually can’t see what I’m taking until I look at it on the computer screen.

This is a photograph I took recently.   

And this is a a fair approximation of what I actually see. 

I take photos of everything because it’s really the only way I can see what the view actually looks like.

One day I won’t even be able to do that. This scares me because the way the UK is going I am afraid that there will not be a care network in place to support me. I am afraid that the burden of care will fall entirely on my family, and that’s not fair. I’m a hugely independent person and it’s not the thought of being blind that scares me, it’s the thought of being a burden – of being entirely dependent on the people I love. I need something else in my community that will support my needs and keep me going. I need something to keep me sane and to allow me to hang on to my independence. I need a library, and I need a librarian. I need to know that I will have a librarian who knows me and understands me. Someone who can hold onto audio books for me, and read the back of the boxes. Someone I can trust with my private information who can look things up for me. I need a safe and reliable place that I can get to in my community where I can turn to someone for help. I need somewhere local where I can have access to materials, and information in different formats. The thought of not having that really scares me.

When we talk about all of the things that libraries do for people, we often forget all of the things that they might one day do for us. You possibly feel that you don’t need your library now, but one day you might. I hope for all of our sakes that it’s still there when you do. I know that librarians are discreetly doing this sort of supportive work in their communities every single day. I know this because for decades I did it myself for other people.

I hope you won’t ever need libraries and librarians for the same reasons I will, but just in case let’s all stand up for our right to keep them right where they belong – in the hearts of our communities.

Dawn Finch

Trustee and Past President Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP)

Children’s author and librarian