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 .

Moving English Forward – Ofsted, Literacy and the School Librarian

In 2012 Ofsted published the document – Moving English Forward. Their concept behind the document was to attempt to answer the question: how can attainment in English be raised in order to move English forward in schools? CILIP School Libraries Group for London and the South East felt that this was such a huge and complicated issue that it warranted a training day to help us understand what these new changes meant for school librarians.

We invited Adam Lancaster (2012 School Librarian of the Year and literacy champion) to be our guest speaker to help shed some light on this issue and introduce us to the implementation of the document.  It was a fantastic and incredibly interesting day and I have taken the time to summarise the key points here, but there was so much in the day it was very difficult to encapsulate it all. I hope I have done the day justice.

We had as our starting point the new Ofsted inspection criteria and the latest government White Papers as well as Moving English Forward. The new Ofsted framework has been updated to take into account the falling and low literacy levels of young adults and children in our country.  The Ofsted inspection framework now makes specific mention of reading for pleasure, and of creating a specific reading for pleasure policy within schools. Ofsted inspectors will now be reading with children (with a particular focus on year 7 and 8 pupils of high and low ability) and are expecting pupils to be reading materials “deemed appropriate for their age.” (Ofsted quote) The biggest change in the framework is the push to ensure that literacy is interwoven with every single subject on the curriculum. Literacy should now be considered everyone’s business and not just an issue for the English department.

With that all in mind we welcomed Adam to CILIP HQ to help us understand what this all means for school librarians.

Firstly, Adam talked about Literacy in schools and the need for teachers to be preparing pupils in advance for all subjects that they will study. “Teachers talking to pupils about their research beforehand makes their work more purposeful” This all makes sense, and we know that a prepared pupil comes to the library with the tools that they need to help themselves. To support this Adam recommended the PLUS method of learning at these stages – Purpose, Location, Use, Self evaluation. The concept behind this is at the root of the guidelines for what makes outstanding teaching – the development of a pupil who is a successful independent learner.

We then talked about how we see ourselves as school librarians. In the discussion we saw ourselves as nurturers, supporters, facilitators, energisers, readers, presenters, event managers, organisers and general dogsbody! But it was clear that not many of us see ourselves primarily as educators. Adam discussed how we should raise our profile within the school and engage fully with the educational process.

“Know the game and play it!” Every school is different and has a different feel, it is vital for school librarians to know who can be helpful to you and why. It is also important to be reading all available policies and documents on the teaching of literacy. Be informed. Link what you do to what others in the school are doing, intermesh your work with theirs. This is not just about sticking with the English department – as we say, literacy is everyone’s business and it is important to work with other departments. Map your aims against the school’s policies – and be certain that you can always deliver, and over-deliver!

Something that came through very strongly was the need for school librarians to be more pro-active in their schools. “Don’t be, or be perceived to be a victim!” It is time for school librarians to take a stronger stance for what they can do, and to show what they are capable of. To do this the key is obviously to be fully informed about literacy issues, and about documents like Moving English Forward.

School librarians should know and be able to quickly identify low level readers and have a strategy to deal with them. They should also know how these pupils are being taught in class, and how they are being assessed. What is specifically being done by you to raise the reading levels of pupils? To know this it makes sense to understand the assessment process in school, and to feel comfortable using higher level linguistic and literary terms – just like a teacher.

It wouldn’t be a challenging talk without a bit of controversy, and Adam does believe that school librarians need to take on a role that is more intermeshed with the teaching of reading and literacy within the school and to change the way we see the school library. Librarian as teacher is a hot topic at the moment, particularly in these days of performance related pay. Personally I feel that the school library is part of an educational establishment and therefore needs to be part of a pupil’s education. I do feel that school librarians should see themselves as educators. There is an average of twenty five teaching hours a week in school, and every single moment should be getting something new into a child’s head. It is a tiny part of their lives – and I don’t feel that it is unrealistic for them to be learning for every bit of the time that we have them – including in the library.

That is not to say that these need to be lessons in the strict sense, as school librarians we are using our knowledge and passion to inspire and enthuse pupils about reading, and that’s still learning. We want them to enjoy reading and to form the habits for it so that they progress and always have reading in their lives. To do this we must understand the educational nature of progression, as well as still making it fun and enjoyable. We are school librarians, and thankfully the nature of our job is one of multitasking!

A bit more controversy…. Dewey (brace yourselves) does not always suit your pupils, and so be prepared to arrange your library to suit your pupils. Ok, now this one raises a lot of eyebrows and is a detailed issue that I will cover in a longer post later. I’ll just say that I have seen Adam’s shelving scheme in action at another school and it really does work. He has rearranged the stock according to termly requirements and the demands of the curriculum. The books do still have their spine labels, but are split into a number of parallel arrangements around the library. Pupils can come in and quickly work out where the books that they need are, and take them out. Simple. Adam’s argument for this is that we should be teaching pupils that when they enter a library they should first be aware that the room has an organisation system, and next they look at the plan to see how it is arranged.

As I say, it’s a contentious issue and one that I will give more space to in a longer blog post – but I warn you in advance, you’ll be looking at Dewey very differently after!

And on to Ofsted inspections. I know how frustrating it is for librarians to work flat out and then, when the inspectors come, they don’t even step in the library…. Adam says they shouldn’t have to! Now, this sounds like more controversy, but hear me out, it makes perfect sense and is a bit revelatory. A fully integrated and successful school library is evident from the moment the inspector walks in the building. The positive impact of the library should be evident in the building and in the teaching and it should show. The library will be referenced in teaching and in the very fabric of the building – in posters, displays, but also in the written work that the children generate. Before the inspectors come they will have researched the school and the library should be on the website so they can take a look at the space there, but they have a very limited amount of time inside the building and a visit to the library will not always be top on their lists. If you are doing it all right and the library is a vital part of the school, and an essential cog in the machine of their education, it will show in every classroom they enter.

Almost all schools now would claim to have a whole school reading ethos – but do they really? Are pupils actually reading for pleasure and can this be seen in every classroom and in every teacher? Does the school genuinely and actively embrace reading or is it lip-service? We need ALL teachers from every subject to be actively demonstrating their enthusiasm and love for books and reading in every classroom and every lesson.

So, summing up the key points of Adam’s talk…

As school librarians we need to prioritise – are we spending time on things that will have a positive impact on learning? That is why we are there after all. This is an educational establishment, not a public library and so our priorities should be different.

Show the impact of your actions – has it made a difference? We need to ensure that everything that we do links into teaching and learning. Make it enjoyable! When a child says “I don’t like reading” what they are actually saying is “I don’t like the process that I’ve been put through in the pursuit of reading success.” Is it all working? Are we having a positive impact on the reading in our school? Would your reading ideas work better than those currently in place?

Be informed about literacy teaching. You are part of this process and therefore you should understand fully how the pupils are taught and assessed. Stay on top of government and Ofsted changes and reform, read the White Papers. We have opted to work in an educational environment and that should have an impact on how we do our jobs. Being informed means that you are talking the educational language that the children are accustomed to, and it makes it easier to find things that they will enjoy and yet still be considered part of their reading progression. We need to use everything we can to set up reading habits that they will carry for life.

Use individual teachers. We have a tendency to assume that the SLT are going to be the ones that will help us to implement policies and library related engagement, but why are we doing that? I for one was sagely nodding at the “get the SLT on board” comment  from others – but I was wrong!  Adam is on the SLT and knows how hard it is to get teachers to take on a scheme that they are not fully engaged with. At a grassroots level the only schemes that really work in schools are the ones that the teachers like and support. If you want something done it is far better to show individual teachers how it can benefit them and have them support your ideas up the chain. Work your way up the chain, not down, and you’ll have better success than yet another policy or idea mooted out by the SLT to resistant teachers. Understand the politics, remember, know the game and play it!

And one of the most important points – don’t be precious! You have to be prepared to separate what you think is best for the library, from what might be best for the educational needs of the pupils in your school. It’s not personal, and it’s not about you, it’s about what is best for the educational needs of these pupils.

The most important point though – believe in the importance of what you do! What we do as school librarians is incredibly important. We are giving these young people the ultimate transferable skill to vastly improve the quality of their lives – reading.

 

Footnote – the afternoon of this day was spent on library policy documents, Reading for Pleasure policies, and evidence gathering and these will be covered in separate blog posts so please follow this blog for further info, and on twitter follow @dawnafinch or use #slgtraining.

To find out more about Adam Lancaster please visit his website and follow him on twitter @dusty_jacket

12 Words Of Winter competition.

I do love a good story competition for children, and this one is inspired. The 12 Words of Winter competition from the School Library Association asks children to write a festive or seasonal story in just twelve words.
Impossible you say?
Here is an example from their site – and it’s last year’s winner!

Mr Snowman needed a cuddle, the sun agreed, now he’s a puddle.

See, it can be done!

Schools should run their own competition in-house and decide on a winner to send through to the national entries. Award winning writer for children Alan Gibbons is part of the judging team, and there are masses of fantastic prizes.

This would make a wonderful quick competition to get everyone in the mood for Christmas, and it takes almost no prep or set up. You can announce it in assembly and have the entries in a day or too later. It’s free to enter – but get moving because the closing date is Dec 6th so you’ll need to email the entries in sharpish!! If you are a parent, draw attention to this as the prizes for the school are wonderful and I know how much children love this sort of thing. The idea of telling a story in just a few words suits children of all abilities, and I’ve always found results from this sort of task both rewarding and entertaining. For a child who feels that they can’t write stories, this little task dips a toe in the waters and can be a huge boost to literary self-esteem.

All the details can be found on the SLA website.

Looking forward to seeing what comes out of it this year!

A magical gift

This gallery contains 11 photos.

November 25th is the start of Book Week Scotland, and the beginning of a week celebrating not only Scottish literature, but Scotland’s important position in the world literary scene. There are hundreds of events going on all over Scotland to celebrate books, reading and libraries, but one in particular caught my eye. Last year I […]

Ask a librarian.

As a children’s librarian I have been asked a lot of the same questions over the last decade. I know that parents often have similar concerns about their child’s reading, and so I thought I would share some of those questions with you, and my answers.

I hope you find them helpful.

I have a child in infant school and they don’t seem to be reading as well as the other children, what can I do? Some of the other children are on much higher books, why is my child not the same?

This needs a longer answer, but I’ve already covered in a longer post, and I’ve covered a lot of the issues that cause stress in parents about their child’s reading. Relax, it’ll be fine, they are all different and taking the pressure off is the first step to reading enjoyment.

 My daughter is seven and has read the first two of the Harry Potter books, but I think the next ones will start to get too scary for her. I don’t want to stop her reading or censor the books, but she’s only seven and easily scared!

People tend to forget that just because small people can read a book, it doesn’t mean they are emotionally ready for the content. After all, I’m sure your eight year old boy is more than linguistically capable of tackling all of the words printed in Nuts and Loaded magazines, but would you give him a copy?

The Harry Potter books are a good example of this desire to push books to bright readers too early (not that I’m comparing Harry to Loaded!) Remember that Harry is eleven in the first book, and so his life experience is based around the life of an eleven year old (albeit an extraordinary one!) Some seven and eight year olds are absolutely fine with a story that features an abused orphan who is locked in a cupboard and not allowed to deal with the death of his parents, but many are not. Children are often fine with scary magical elements, but it is the emotional content that may disturb and upset some young children.

You know if your child is emotionally ready for certain books or not, just don’t ever make the mistake of choosing books for much older children simply because you have a bright reader. Take advice, ask a librarian (ask me!), ask a good bookseller (not one that just wants to sell you the latest bestseller.) This is not about censorship, it is about guidance. If in doubt, read it yourself and ask yourself if your child is ready for this material. If your child is too young to emotionally deal with certain material, or too young to bond with the characters in the book, then you will only succeed in putting them off. Save these books for when they are ready to really enjoy them, and are able to fully appreciate the complexities of the plots. Don’t give in to parental snobbery or pushiness (“my daughter is only eight and has already read Twilight/Hunger Games/War and Peace…”) Go with what you know about your child, and be honest about what might upset them and what they might not be emotionally ready for. There is a vast amount of material to choose from, you just might need a bit of assistance to navigate the choice. Take them to a good library and a good bookshop and you’ll find all the help you need. Encourage them to read what they will enjoy, not what they feel under pressure to say they have read.

 The only thing my boy wants to read is comics and comic books, how can I stop him?

Why would you want to?

I almost left that answer there, but I do need to make a bit of an effort to convince you all!

Comics are AMAZING!! Don’t stop your child from reading anything, and don’t be critical unless you have dipped your toe in the water yourself. I grew up on comics and progressed to graphic novels and I’m still hooked. Reading is reading, and comics are a fantastic way for children to contextualise higher level vocabulary using visual prompts.

And they’re cool.

My child’s school doesn’t have a school librarian, does it matter?

Yes. 

OK, so I should say more than that – but it seems glaringly obvious that your child deserves the very best for their education, and you have every right to expect your school to provide that. A good school employs staff members who are qualified for the job. A school librarian has a very specific skill-set that goes far beyond handing out a book. They are supportive of your child’s reading and involved in their progression. They provide the expert advice and support that you and your child require for them to progress with their literacy, and engage in books and reading.  A librarian should be there to ensure that reading is a pleasure, a lifelong habit, and this in itself will have a massive positive effect on your child’s life.

Why would you not want this for your child?

Good literacy will vastly improve your child’s life and their opportunities in the future. Quite simply, they will be smarter if they read more. Fact.

If your child’s school does not have a library and a librarian, ask why.

This leaflet will give you all the reasons why your child deserves this, and what to look for in prospective schools.

 Ok, that’s it for now – more soon!

If you are not lucky enough to have a school librarian, you can always ask me a question.

Essential School Library Training – London – November

 

 

Moving English Forward

Paperwork, Policies, Performance and You

Friday, 29 November 2013 – 9:30am

In 2012 Ofsted published the document ‘Moving English Forward’.  This report set out to answer the question: how can attainment in English be raised in order to move English forward in schools?  But what does it mean to you?  This course aims to address some of the key issues raised by this document, and to support you in your CPD and your school library policy documents and development.

The day will consist of a morning talk and presentation from our speaker (Adam Lancaster) followed by an afternoon of workshops and development activities.

Speaker – Adam Lancaster (School Librarian of the Year 2012)

To book a place contact sconstantinou@apsch.org.uk putting SLG Winter Course as the subject line and giving your contact details.

The cost of the booking includes lunch and refreshments.

The training will begin at 9.30am and end at 4pm.

Booking Information

Event Cost: 
£80 for CILIP members.
£100 for non-members.

 

 

 

CILIP
7 Ridgmount Street
London
WC1 7AE
TEL 0207 255 0500

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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

 

Why your child deserves a school librarian.

Dawn Finch, Vice President CILIP, YA author, school library and literacy consultant.
Follow @dawnafinch

With over a decade of UK school libraries under my belt, and as a YA author, it is easy for me to see why your child needs a school library with a trained professional to run it. I’ve seen first-hand the positive difference this makes not only to your child’s development in literacy, but also to their enjoyment of reading and their linguistic progression. It’s not just about stamping books out, it’s about understanding and nurturing your child’s reading, guiding them so that they can successfully navigate the maze of reading and emerge triumphant and in charge. So much more than Biff and Chip and struggling to the end of a scheme. It’s about becoming a lifelong reader and having something in your life that will change it for the better. That’s what school librarians do, and they do it because it’s their passion and it’s important to them. Your child deserves that person in their life.

You can read the research for yourself – try this survey from Australia that shows the impact school libraries have on children’s literacy.
Or maybe look at what’s being said in the House of Lords.
Or just some common sense from a writer who knows a thing or two about reading. Neil Gaiman’s lecture for the Reading Agency is well worth a watch.

But I know I don’t really need to convince parents that their child deserves a well stocked library run by a qualified librarian. You know it makes a positive difference to their education, and their lives.

Sadly it seems that increasingly the people we need to prove this to are head teachers and SLT members. As parents you need some evidence to prove your case and to get what your children deserve. So, when you are visiting schools to decide which one to commit to for your child’s future – take this leaflet with you. This explains exactly why your child deserves a good school library with a professional librarian. Download it here from the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, print it and take it with you when visiting prospective schools. It will help you to see if the library you are being shown is a successful and supportive place, or just a room full of books. The leaflet will give you key points to look out for, and questions to ask. This way you can be sure that your child will be getting the support and materials that they require, and deserve.

This is not about a librarian banging on about her profession, it is about your child’s one shot at a brighter future. Their next school might make or break them, so why not expect the best? It is a simple fact that their literacy levels will be much higher if they have access to a real library. We’re not talking a room with books in – this is about real libraries run by professional people who have the right training for the job. This is a highly skilled profession, and your child deserves the right support from trained people. This is your child’s right to a better future, don’t stand for anything less.

A poster from the incredibly talented Sarah McIntyre says it all – a powerful search engine with a heart.

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Not so Current Archaeology.

I normally enjoy Current Archaeology Magazine but was more than a little annoyed at a small piece in the November issue written by magazine editor Chris Cattling.  To ensure that my readers fully understand my reaction to this I felt that I should put the full piece here so that you can judge for yourselves.  This is verbatim…..

“Personality Problems In The Library

You might think that libraries and archives are the one place where you might find refuge from the kind of defiant behaviour that broke out on some of England’s streets earlier this year.  And yet, clearing out the ‘spam’ folder recently, Sherd’s eye was caught by an unsolicited email from an organisation called ‘Excellence in the Classroom’, offering workshops on ‘Coping with Challenging Behaviour in the Library’.

The circular listed some of the types of behaviour that today’s librarians have to cope with in places that should be havens of quiet study: they include ‘arrogance, pack behaviour, people who won’t put away mobile phones or vacate computers when asked or act a little more quietly and those who decide it would be good fun to take out their frustrations on library staff’.

For £275 a go, the organisation promises a ‘fast-paced and exciting one-day workshop’, conjuring comic-book visions of meek and bespectacled librarians emerging from the course transformed into Supermen and Superwomen, ready to deal firmly with all the forms of anti-social behaviour that dog our society.  Once they are trained, perhaps we can persuade some of those Superlibrarians to patrol our railway system and deal appropriately with the ill-mannered louts who choose to travel in the ‘quiet carriage’ but behave as if the rules apply to everyone but themselves.”

 

This incensed me for a number of reasons – meek and bespectacled I am not and this patronising and stereotypical view of librarians is so hackneyed that I can hardly even bring myself to challenge it. – but that is not the real issue here.

 The main problem with this cheap and dismissive little piece is that it is so monumentally ignorant of the daily difficulties faced by librarians.  Government and budgetary cuts and library closures have left librarians working largely alone in both schools and public libraries. This is a situation that is easily exploited and librarians daily face more than just the sort of people who are a little noisy in the quiet carriage.

I have worked in libraries in both the education and public sector for almost 25 years and in that time I have personally had to deal with violent threats against me and other staff I have worked with. I have cleared the shelves of needles after the methadone clinic nearby has had a drop-in session.  I have faced down drunken and aggressive teens and adults and stood up to violenty abusive grown-men twice my size. 

I know of a number of people who have been attacked or faced violent threats of physical assaults. To list just a few – a colleague who suffered broken nose and fractured cheekbone after being punched in the face, another who was stabbed in a row over fines and another who was stalked by an obsessive customer and who had to obtain a restraining order to prevent his access to the library.

Sadly is the tip of the iceberg in this type of incident connected to libraries.  I teach school librarians and am consulted a great deal about how to tackle the behaviour of abusive  and confrontational young people in school libraries – largely because School Librarians almost always work alone.

Libraries have always attracted both the right and the wrong sort of customer, but there was a time when staffing levels allowed librarians to feel more protected because they had other people do help them deal with it and the police were quicker to attend. Now they work predominantly alone in warm, free and open-access places and it is all too easy for the worst members of society to work that out and to take advantage of it.

I was stunned that an academic (such as Mr Cattling is assumed to be) should demean librarians in such a patronising fashion.  I can only guess that Mr Cattling did all of his research in a private school academic library, or maybe on the internet, and has never used a public library and witnessed the issues that librarians have to deal with.  All this piece does is show how little people understand the job that we do and the pressure that we are under.

Bespectacled some of us may be…. but none of us are meek, we can’t afford to be.