The Empty Shelves

As I was queueing in the post office, the line snaked past the few shelves of books for sale, and an all too familiar situation caught my eye. There were three shelves of books for children. Of these one was entirely filled with Disney franchise books, another had colouring books, and books of stickers, the third had books for older children. On this last shelf were nine different titles – all but one were by the same two celebrity authors. All were the same genre.

This upset me, but perhaps not for the reasons you expect. As an author and campaigner for the rights of authors, this does frustrate me because it limits the opportunity for other authors to get their work into the hands of readers, but it’s more than that.  As a children’s librarian my frustration is doubled.

Let me explain.

I have worked with children’s books and reading for over thirty years, and I have worked with many national groups supporting children’s literacy. I’ve sat on working groups looking at the development of readers, taught hundreds of teachers how to tackle reader development in their schools, and have personally taught almost a thousand children how to read or improve their reading. So you might say I know a thing or two about reading!

People often ask me what the key to success in reader development is, and the single best piece of advice I can give anyone – be it parent, bookseller, librarian or teacher – is that the first important thing is choice. A wide, free, voluntary choice.

I live in a small rural town and, like many other towns, we are a fifty mile round trip to a large bookshop. We are very lucky in that the community fought to keep the little bookshop open. Most small towns (and indeed many larger ones too) have no bookshop at all, and the only access to purchasable reading material is the supermarket, or the few shelves in the newsagent or post office. The few books available on these shelves do not represent a wide, free, voluntary choice because they represent what the supplier wants the retailer to sell. This limits the choice available and skews the popularity (and sales figures) of the book.

In my experience I would say that roughly 30% of children coming into the primary school library choose a funny book. That’s fantastic! As a genre, funny books certainly command a decent chunk of the market share, and feature highly in the national lending figures for libraries. The most popular funny books in my library were always the ones that were a bit smarter than basic fart gags. I love a funny book and am in awe of writers who can make a reader howl with laughter. However, farts are not the only fruit.

I was chatting to bookseller, Tamsin Rosewell from Kenilworth Books, and she says that the figures for children purchasing this genre of books is far lower, and says that around 5- 10 % ask for a funny book.

“Within that, they are very selective”, Rosewell says. “When a child comes into the bookshop, or someone asks for help choosing a book for a child, the first question is “what sort of person are they?” A great many want to see situations and characters they understand to be real.”

We talked about this difference between what is borrowed, and what is bought, and theorised that the reason for this may be that when it comes to ownership, and children have the choice, they lean towards a much wider variety of genres and therefore the money is more evenly spread across the board.

We also talked about the mass-market approach to publishing.

“I’m fascinated by the way today’s book market is polarising,” said Rosewell, “and which parts of it are the focus of deep discounting. The combination of celebrity books being heavily discounted on release, and the fact almost all children’s celeb books are humour, means we are in effect creating an environment in which one genre is having its perceived value reduced.”

Most primary school age children couldn’t care less about the celebrity of the author, and were more interested in the content than the author. This situation was changed when the only books available were from celeb authors. In some of the schools where I have worked, the only authors the children knew were the ones they saw on the telly, or in the supermarket. Their free, voluntary choice had been altered by their lack of choice. They had only the illusion of choice thanks to deprivation or lack of access to other reading materials.

“If we can accept that these celeb books are a brand,” Rosewell says, “then what we have is a high-cost brand marketing campaign targeted directly at children. If it is extremely costly marketing that drives high sales, then please let’s call it marketing and acknowledge that these books are often marketed well beyond their quality.

How many adult readers realise how the big retailers and publishers are manipulating them towards the books they want to sell? Are customers of those big bookshop chains aware that publishers have paid a lot of money to have that book on a display table, and even more to be displayed in the window? Do people realise that to get on those celeb book lists the publisher has paid a vast sum?

The big publishers offer huge discounts to retailers who stock their big names. I do some work in our small community bookshop, and I am stunned at how large the discounts are for some of the big celeb names. I’ve seen new children’s titles offered to us at up to 60% discount. This is very tempting for retailers because we can sell them at full price and make a tidy profit. Of course this does mean that many retailers feel they have no choice but to give up valuable shelf space to… you guessed it… the same limited pool of authors.

All of this means the entire system is skewed towards a very limited pool of authors, and this ends up with that shelf in the post office with only celeb authors, and only one genre of books. These books obviously appear at the top of the bestseller lists, and this is hardly surprising given they dominate available retail space and command marketing budgets that would make most authors weep with envy. Every year the pool of authors who are heavily pushed in this way seems to get smaller and smaller. This means in turn we have nothing here that is diverse, inclusive or challenging. Go into any retailer who stocks books as a sideline – be it post office, supermarket, train station or airport – and no matter where you are in the UK you will see exactly the same authors, and exactly the same books.

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What a well curated choice looks like in a small bookshop.

What this aggressive marketing means is that the majority of children looking at the shelves in any large supermarket or newsagent would only see a limited choice, and would probably not see anything that they can identify with. This does not mean they won’t end up owning these celeb or funny books, because well-meaning family will see these books occupying 90% of the available bookshelves in retailers and they buy them because they believe they are doing the right thing. If it’s there, it must be popular and what every child wants, right?

Wrong. It’s not what the child who favours fantasy, or real-life stories, or non-fiction, or poetry, or thrillers wants. For these children the shelves may as well be empty.

Reading for Pleasure has a whole range of wider benefits (as detailed in the Reading Agency’s report Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, a report for which I was honoured to sit on the steering group). However, to gain the wider benefits of reading for pleasure it must be two things – a free voluntary choice, and a pleasure. This means that to support national literacy and to wider spread the benefits of reading for pleasure, people must have more available choice.

My field is, obviously, children’s books, but I know that you will see the same limited pool of authors and genres for adult books. The books the publisher wants you to buy. The authors representing the biggest investment the publisher has made so they desperately need to claw back that huge advance. Publishing is, after all, a business and the book is not a sacred object, it is a product they need to shift in large quantities in order to help their business survive. We can’t blame a retailer for stocking what serves them the largest margin of profit either.

What can be done about this? I would suggest that the only person who can actually change this situation is the shopper. Tell the retailer that you want more choice, or shop elsewhere. Seek out a retailer who is not in the sway of the super-massive publisher. It’s not easy to find an independent bookshop, but you can always use Hive and order online. Independent bookstores are more able to make independent decisions about what they stock, and they can strike deals with indie publishers and often have a far more diverse and interesting selection of books. If you’re buying books for a child as a gift, don’t be influenced by the small number of same-olds in display, ask the child who their favourite writers are and then seek professional guidance on who else writes like that. A real bookseller or librarian will be able to help you. If you don’t have one nearby, you can find them all over social media or online. If you regularly buy books, I’d suggest using the excellent services of Who Else Writes Like….? This is often also available free via the digital offerings of your public library.

Which brings me neatly to the library.

If you really want your child to grow up to become a lifelong reader, they will need choice. Lots of it. The library is a key factor in turning your child into an accomplished reader – precisely because of that treasure trove of choice. Where else can your child stand in the midst of hundreds of different titles and grab whatever catches their eye for free? Where else can your child try loads of different things until they work out which genre suits them? The school and public library should be like a groaning buffet table where children can try loads of different tastes and flavours to work out what they want to feast on for the rest of their lives. When they’ve decided what they like, then it’s time for ownership. Then it’s time to make sure that every penny spent on books is heading in the direction of something they ACTUALLY want, and not just something marketing departments have told them they SHOULD want.

Avid and developing readers deserve to have choice, and in denying them choice we are also ignoring the fact that this should be a golden age of children’s literature. In my three decades working with children’s books, I can honestly say I have never seen books of such variety, and such a high standard, as those being published today. Books are published all the time in every genre that are dazzling, challenging, diverse, inclusive, magical and addictive. I read hundreds of books for young readers every year, and the standard in the last decade has been consistently rising. Once upon a time excellent books for children were as rare as hen’s teeth, today a dozen are published every month that I would consider future classics. So why are so many being published only to never find their way onto the shelves of bookshops or retailers?

I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for that one, all I know is that I read these books and I want to recommend them but they are not in any shops so people won’t find them. Given that over 95% of the coverage of new books in the media is for adult books and hardly any attention is given to books for younger readers, it’s not really surprising people have no idea how many outstanding books miss their moment – despite many being every bit as good as books from our own childhood that are considered classics.

It’s absolutely fine to have celeb books (and fart-funny books!) in the market. Many are great, and definitely deserve space on the shelves, but they don’t deserve all the space on the shelves. Choice. This is what every reading expert knows can turn a non-reader into a reader. It’s what every reader deserves.

This is why I rail against the same-old-same-old stuff on the ever diminishing bookshelves in our communities – because it matters to us all.

At least, it should.

Dawn Finch is a children’s author, librarian and community bookseller. She works extensively in the field of children’s books and writes both fiction and non-fiction for children. She is former president of CILIP (the UK library and information association) and a member of the Children’s Writers and Illustrators Committee for the Society of Authors.

Her most recent publications include an educational book about Hadrian’s Wall, and a book for the School Library Association about historical fiction.

@dawnafinch

www.dawnfinch.com

National Libraries Day – get in!

 

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It hardly seems like a year since the last one, but here it is again – Saturday Feb 6th is National Libraries Day! What a year its been. Despite huge evidence of the beneficial contributions that libraries and librarians make to their communities, we are still witnessing the decimation of our library service. The library campaigners have been working flat out to try to save the libraries in their communities, and we owe them a great debt of gratitude for all their hard work. National Libraries day gives us the opportunity to show our appreciation for our libraries and the people who work in, and for them.

National Libraries Day is a grassroots celebration led by library staff and library users. It is supported by CILIP and a coalition of leading literacy, reading, library and education organisations including the Reading Agency, the School Library Association and the Society of Chief Librarians, top authors, and you!

NLD is an opportunity for everyone to step up and show just what their library means to them, and here are some ideas for how you can get involved too. It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, there is a way for you to show that you value our libraries and librarians, and that you don’t want to imagine a future without them.

Retweet our message:  Send a strong message to your followers – something like “I’m sending a message that I love libraries & the wonderful work done by librarians.” RT to celebrate National Libraries Day #librariesday

Share your support on social media
Follow @NatLibrariesDay and sign up to our Thunderclap. Download the #librariesday social media frame and share your library pictures

Share a library shelfie or two with caption /comment and share or tweet it using #librariesday

Lend your talents – Write or create something – could you find the time to write a blog, letter or create a piece of work about what libraries mean to you?

Visit a library – If you can get out to a library, take some photos and show us where you are. Show us what is interesting and unique about your library.

Find an event near you – get out and get into your local libraries (with our without chocolates!). Tell them who you are and let them know that you support them. The NLD map on the website will show you where the registered events are.

Oh, and don’t forget the Elmer the Elephant competition!

As you will still feeling all passionate and full of library love – join us when we lobby Parliament to save our libraries. This event will take place on February 9th and you can find all of the details on the Speak Up For Libraries website.

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Keep the momentum going and sign the CILIP petition to legally challenge the handling of our public libraries. Support, sign and share the My Library By Right petition and use #mylibrarybyright

 

Dawn Finch

President Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP)

Children’s author and proud librarian

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading – what’s in it for me?

library in the sky image

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.

Shirley Hughes – A Lifetime’s Achievement

On 7th July 2015 Booktrust gave its first ever Lifetime Achievement Award. On a gloriously sunny day at the Orangery in Holland Park a glittering collection of children’s writers and illustrators gathered for the inaugural ceremony. Despite the salubrious gathering, there was only one person in this very literary crowd that mattered on this day, and that was the winner, Shirley Hughes.

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Michael Morpurgo gave a touching speech about Shirley’s influence and impact on the world of children’s literature, and Shirley herself spoke beautifully about how she feels about books and reading. A group of small children from a local primary school were invited and they sat in quiet rapture as she first spoke to them, and then went outside to draw for them.

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Making children fly!

I have attended countless author and book events and awards, but this one had a magical quality that I’ve never seen before. This came not just from being in the presence of someone as truly lovely as Shirley Hughes, but from listening to the stories of other people about how much her books mattered to both them and their children.

I quickly realised that the conversation at this event was not quite like that at other events. A woman standing next to me was clapping furiously as Shirley went up for the award. Afterwards, this woman told me that if it wasn’t for Dogger she never would have been able to get her autistic son to sleep. She described how he bonded so well with the story, and the fears of loss of a beloved toy, that all she had to do was read a few pages and he would become calm and fall asleep no matter where they were in the world. She said that book saved her sanity, and made her relationship with her son stronger.

I walked over to another group of people and they were talking about how important Shirley’s books are in their families too, and how they “never left home without a stack of them.” Another woman told me that she used to read the Alfie stories to her daughter when she was in hospital being treated for leukaemia and that Shirley’s books allowed them to “feel at home” when all around them was a chaos of drips and tubes and medical equipment.
Another group of people and this conversation was about how “effortlessly diverse” the books were and how much that mattered to their children. How so many books were full of white faces and didn’t represent the lives of their children, but Shirley’s books always show a more natural mix of people of all races and cultures.

The overwhelming feeling was one of love – people really love her books and the children who read them have grown up to be adults who still love books and reading, and I’m sure the next generation will too. Her books are never schmaltzy or cloying, but instead show a simple and caring world where every child is valued and listened to. She has created a place where we all want to be, and makes us all remember what it was like to be a child.

My story? Well, as a young and depressive mum I spent a lot of time in a panic that my house wasn’t tidy enough and I wasn’t doing things right and that I was a mess. I lived with a constant gnawing belief that I was a failure, that my house didn’t have the pristine gleam of perfection that other parent’s houses had, and that I was not the sort of woman that I should be. Then I picked up a copy of Alfie Gets In First at the library and took it home to my baby.

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Alfie’s house was beautifully cluttered and real, and his parents were absent minded and disorganised. Their children got muddy, and fell down, and made a mess and as parents they forgot to do things and they weren’t perfect. Alfie got himself locked inside the house alone, and it was fine, it all worked out. Alfie’s mum is not perfect, and she’s in jeans and boots with messy hair and no-make up, and she drinks endless pots of  tea, and reads books, and jumps in puddles and forgets stuff and things still work out just fine.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I needed to see that. I wasn’t perfect, and I didn’t have to be – what’s perfect anyway? It was the start of seeing myself in a different way. That’s what great books do, they take you beyond your own life experience, but they also normalise it. Reading something that shows you that you are not alone, and that other people live like you, and that others share your experiences, is enormously beneficial and has a power way beyond the page.

My daughter grew up on Shirley Hughes’ books and has become a well-rounded adult with a good degree and she still loves reading – and Alfie Gets in First is still one of her all-time favourite books. My house is still cluttered, and I never did become perfect because, thanks to Shirley, I stopped trying and allowed myself to enjoy life a bit more.
So thank you Shirley, you made life just that bit easier, and your books are truly delicious.

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Pupil Library Assistant Award

This is a matter that is very close to my heart. I’ve met some amazing pupil assistants in my time and it’s fantastic that CILIP SLG are now supporting this award.

This new Award is to recognise the contribution made by pupils who work in their school libraries, to acknowledge the skills gained and to give them the recognition they deserve, both within and outside their school community.

Nominations can be made by the School Librarian, by emailing the nomination to president@cilip.org.uk by 31 October 2014.

A shortlist of candidates will be drawn up by the Judging Panel and announced during the first week of the school term in January. Shortlisted pupils will be asked to submit a portfolio of evidence by 13th February 2015 and the shortlisted nominees will be invited to an Awards Ceremony, to be held on Thursday 12th March at a London venue.

Winners of the award will receive

£100 worth of books
£100 worth of books for their school library
Glass book trophy x 2 for the winner and for their school librarian/library
A certificate

Shortlisted nominees will receive:

£50 worth of books
A certificate

For full information about the award and the nomination criteria, please download the guidelines below.

To submit a nomination, please use the link below to download the required forms.

– See more at: http://www.cilip.org.uk/school-libraries-group/pupil-library-assistant-year-award#sthash.uca36eqI.dpuf

Tardis Destinations – Companion’s post by author Helen Grant

Helen Grant

Helen Grant

For this post we welcome aboard our Tardis YA author Helen Grant. Helen writes the most wonderfully scary and atmospheric books and her latest (Demons of Ghent) is due out today. It is the second book in her Forbidden Spaces trilogy, the first being Silent Saturday, and the latest in a rake of fabulously scary books. I am a great fan of Helen’s work and so am thrilled to read her choice for a Tardis Destination, and a tale of a delicious mystery…. over to Helen!

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Tardis Destinations from Helen Grant

 If I had a Tardis, I know exactly when and where I would go: the city of Ghent in Flanders (the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium), 1426.

 Although I spent every summer in Belgium as a teenager, I never visited Ghent until 2011, when we were living in Flanders. I fell in love with the city instantly. It has such a strong sense of times past: there are many beautiful old guild houses, magnificent churches and even castles. If you stand at the top of the keep of the Gravensteen castle, you can see the three famous towers of Sint-Baafs cathedral, the Sint-Niklaaskerk and the Belfort (city belfry).

Sint-Baafs from the Belfort

Sint-Baafs from the Belfort


It’s amazing to think that if you had stood there five centuries ago, you would have been able to see that same view.

 Ghent is also intersected with canals. There is one particularly beautiful waterfront area called the Graslei where the gorgeous old buildings are reflected in the glossy water.

Graslei, Ghent

Graslei, Ghent


Altogether, it is an enchanting city.

 When we visited it in 2011 I was working on the first of three books set in Flanders, and I decided there and then to set the second one in Ghent. It is hard to write convincingly about a place when you have only spent four hours there, so I went back for a week in December 2012, and spent days walking about, taking photographs, writing notes and asking questions.

 I loved everything I visited in Ghent, but the place that spoke to me most of all was Sint-Baafs Cathedral. Built in the 14th-16th centuries, it is a massive Gothic church with a huge square tower, a vaulted crypt and lots of interesting side chapels. Best of it, it houses the Ghent Altarpiece, the enormous panelled painting sometimes called ˝The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb.“ It was largely this painting that convinced me that I wanted to set a book in Ghent, and indeed it features in my new thriller Demons of Ghent.

 
Demons of Ghent
I’d like to go back to Ghent in 1426 because I would love to satisfy my absolutely raging curiosity about the Ghent Altarpiece! There are so many unanswered questions about it. It is described as being by ˝Van Eyck“ but there were two Van Eyck brothers, Hubert and Jan, and nobody seems to know for certain who contributed what to its creation.

 Hubert Van Eyck was the elder brother and he is thought to have been commissioned to create the Altarpiece around 1420. However, he died in 1426 and the work was apparently taken over by his younger brother, Jan. It was evidently completed by 1432 because that year it was installed in the Vijdt chapel in Sint-Baafs.

 Over the years there have been many theories about who was responsible for what part of the painting. It has been made much harder by the fact that there is virtually no other surviving work by Hubert for comparison. He is thought to have started a painting called The Three Marys at the Tomb but someone else finished it – perhaps Jan. There is  a latin verse on the painting’s frame that praises Hubert and describes Jan as ˝second in art“, but this might be a piece of brotherly generosity. In the past, Hubert’s very existence has actually been questioned, because of the lack of evidence of his work.

 There is also a weird story that Hubert Van Eyck’s right arm – presumably his painting arm – was cut off after his death and preserved in a casket over the cathedral door. The rest of him is buried somewhere else in the cathedral. How strange is that?!

 I think writers, with our overactive imaginations, make great conspiracy theorists. I heard all of these disparate details – the confusion over who painted what, the death of Hubert before the painting was finished, the severed arm thing – and some truly wild explanations suggested themselves to me. Some of those ideas became the backdrop to Demons of Ghent.

 I’d love to travel back to 1426, just before Hubert Van Eyck died, and see what was happening. Did Hubert hand over the brushes and the pots of oil paint to Jan when 95% of the painting was finished, or did he leave his younger brother with little more than sketches? If I could ask Hubert about the rest of his now vanished oeuvre, what would he tell me – perhaps even show me? Did his contemporaries really think that Hubert was the greatest and Jan was second best – or was that a piece of humblebragging from Jan? Did they really cut Hubert’s arm off his cooling corpse and stick it in a box over the door, like a particularly grotesque bit of interior decor?

 Maybe Jan stood there watching while they sawed the arm off, thinking, “Ha, that will serve you right for leaving me with a handful of sketches and six years’ work on your blimmin’ design.”

 That’s the main reason I’d go back, to find out what really happened. But there’s one other thing about the Ghent Altarpiece that fascinates me.

 The central focus of the painting is the Mystic Lamb on its red-and-gold altar. On either side of it are crowds of saints, prophets, pilgrims, hermits and so on. In total the painting has 170 figures gazing into the central panel at the Lamb, or casting their eyes down, sometimes to read holy books. Amongst the red-robed clerics at on the right, a single bishop stares out of the painting at the viewer, his head inclined, a challenging expression in his eyes.

 When I first noticed this figure, I found him distinctly creepy. Are we, the viewers, meant to notice him? Why does he, alone, attempt to connect with us? Is there some significance to his challenging gaze? I’ve often wondered – all the figures must have had models, so was there something special about that one? Did Hubert, for example, put himself into the painting? Since the only portrait of Hubert I’ve been able to find was a woodcut made long after his death, there is no way to know now. Unless….I had a Tardis.

Useful links:

 http://closertovaneyck.kikirpa.be   A website showing the Ghent Altarpiece, with the ability to zoom in on any part of it.

 http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/editions/the-demons-of-ghent-forbidden-spaces-trilogy-book-two/9780552566766   Random House website entry for Demons of Ghent, including click function to read a sample of the book.

 http://www.helengrantbooks.com   My author website.

All aboard the Blog Tour!

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So, it’s all aboard the Blog Tour as part of #mywritingprocess!

We have chugged along the line and stopped at some fantastic places and have now arrived at my little station in the woods thanks to an invite from the ever charming Sally Poyton and you pop over to visit her wonderful blog about books, reading, writing and dyslexia here!

Ok, on platform one we have the ever popular question – What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m currently working on a YA project about a serial killer, as well as the sequel to my book Brotherhood of Shades. I’m usually working on two or three projects at a time, and a few other side projects as well. I like to keep busy but I think I could do with a holiday at the moment.

My favourite project at the moment is not one of my own. I am Author in Residence at a school in Hertfordshire and there is a ten year old girl there who is currently working on an amazing novel and we spend time every week sitting in the school library sounding out her ideas. She is quite remarkable and it is great fun working with her and one day I expect her to say thanks to me by sending her private jet out to fly me to her private island when she is rich and famous.

Over to platform two and it’s – How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Errr, ummm, it’s written by me?

Ok, that’s a bit of a cop out, so let me think…. Ah, I have been told that it is unusual to have your main character die in the opening chapters. He does come back as a ghost so obviously he does need to die first. I’ve always loved ghost stories and really wanted to write a classic ghost story but in a modern setting. Mine is unusual because it does move from the past to the present day, and has a modern feel but touches on historical events like the Great Fire of London.

The locations in my book are all real and can be found in London, and there is soon to be a map of the locations so that readers can see if they can find all the places mentioned.

Platform three is ready to leave with – Why do you write what you do?

Although I write contemporary fantasy, I feel that what I’m actually writing is all about real life (and death!) experiences. When I was a small person I wanted so much to believe that there was more to the world than that which you can see. I wanted to believe that there was another world that operated just outside our reach and that has heavily influenced my writing. I always say that it’s all about the world out of the corner of your eye.

I’m sure it’s there, we just need to find a way to see it.

 Standing room only on platform four as the Blog Tour is almost ready to leave with – How does your writing process work?

Well, nothing like ending on a biggie!

I know that there is this whole Planner vs Pantster thing, but I’m honestly a bit of both. I don’t have a strict plan but I do rough a lot of the story out and know where it’s going. I often rough out dialogue and even pace out some of the scenes to be sure that they will work. I keep a timeline of events, and a whole mass of post-its with ideas that have popped into my head.

A writing day tends to start with me doing my emails and clearing the mental clutter that might rattle around in my head and stop me from concentrating. I do a bit of social networking and read the papers online in this time too, and drink tea. All of this is often done from bed with a biscuit accompaniment as I find this is a good time for consume something for energy (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.) I get to my desk by ten (which is not tricky as it’s only on the other side of the bedroom) and I get on with my work.

My desk is in a funny little wardrobe so that I can a) shut it all away at night without having to tidy it up and b)not stare out of the window. I live overlooking a street where something is always happening so it’s not wise to be facing it. When I’m stuck on something I’ll go for a walk, or I’ll get a good long chunk of vital Staring Into Space time in. I do think that a good amount of daydreaming is essential to plot development and so I feel no guilt about sitting in front of a nice breeze watching clouds and trees.

I try not to write past eight in the evening, but that’s not always possible if my characters (or deadlines) decide otherwise. I’m just a puppet in their hands and so if they are really nagging me then it is just easier to give them the attention they require rather than fight them.

I do write seven days a week, 365 a year. I’m quite bad at taking days off but I’m working on it!

Ok, as the last train of the Blog Tour chuffs out of the station with a lonesome whistle and an enigmatic whirl of steam we jump quickly on board and look forward to the next destination.

I’m passing my Blog Tour ticket on to one of my favourite writers and illustrators – the completely fantastic Thomas Taylor. Visit his blog and he’ll tell you all about himself, and his latest projects, including (and I’m so excited about this that I can hardly say it…) a collaboration with Marcus Sedgwick. Click on the Scarlett Hart link to find out more.

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 .

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