This weekend was spent at the Lighting the Future joint School Library Association/School Libraries Group/Youth Libraries Group conference and what an exhausting and interesting weekend it was. One of the first highlights for me was listening to Prof. Stephen Heppell opening the conference and astounding us with all the possibilities there are out there for creating an exciting, personalised learning future for young people. I have heard Stephen speak on many occasions but there's always something new to hear.
My own 'appearance' was later in the day and I was slightly nervous to be on a stage with Jonathan Douglas (NLT) and Dave Coplin (Microsoft) but it seemed to go well ......luckily I am rarely lost for words and the subject of new technologies is of course very close to my heart.
Planned barbecue became an indoor one due to the inclement weather and after it we were treated to storytelling and poetry from Liz Weir, John Agard, Atinuke, Alec Williams and Tony Mitton. They were all fantastic but I have to say that Atinuke stood out for me, despite appearing last she had the audience in the palm of her hand.
The group session on Saturday morning chaired by Simon Mayo was very interesting with many a tallying call heard and I loved Aiden Chambers decision that a group of librarians should be called a liberation! I attended a few workshops that day, Nicola McNee's on new media, Adam Lancaster's on the subject of tracking progress and Nikki Heath's on working with public libraries and enjoyed them all but the best thing about any conference like this is the chats that go on in between sessions I think. It's always great to be with like minded people and share ideas. Morris Gleitzman's after dinner speech told us about his life and ended with a wonderful quote about librarians being the storykeepers.
All in all it was a learning and chatter packed weekend and I'm very much looking forward to next year's SLA conference in Belfast. (This is only a brief blog post because I was tweeting most of the weekend so more detail can be found on the Storify stream for conference, produced by John Iona).
I have just begun my celebrations for National libraries day by pre ordering the Library Book from Amazon. Looks like it will be a genuinely good read and with profits going to the Reading Agency it should provide that glow inside of doing something good at the same time. I was shocked to read on a blog from Ian Clark (http://infoism.co.uk/blog/2012/01/no-national-libraries-day-in-kent/ )that the Kent Libraries will not be celebrating National Libraries Day .....or was I? My local library is in Greenhithe, it's in a small building that is set back from the road and is extremely easy to miss. Once you do realise that it exists a warm welcome greets you when you go in. The staff are friendly and helpful and I always enjoy chatting to them. The stock however wouldn't encourage anyone to pop in - to be honest I often struggle to find anything vaguely current to read and the books are looking tired and uncared for. Their funding in the last few years must have been nearly non existent and the books are sadly out of date. There are always people there when I visit but then as the library is only open for 2 afternoons and 1 morning a week I suppose they are making the most of it.
The library is just opposite the entrance of Ingress Park estate and I would have thought that it would be overrun with customers. Apparently one of the staff approached the libraries service with a plan to leaflet the area to make people more aware of the resource they have on their doorstep, but this plan was denied as any literature has to be standardised and approved - so nothing was done. The neglect of the library is saddening and a crying shame but as there are plans afoot to close some Kent libraries it's not hard to see why no effort at promotion has been made by the council.
The fact that there is no mention of a day that has been organised to celebrate the contribution libraries make on the Kent Libraries webpage is an utter disgrace - and seems to be a cynical political decision. Kent County Council you should be very ashamed!
Now, I am not a political animal. Politics and politicians normally do not impinge on my life at all - yes I know that is a shameful admission but to quote Bob Dylan 'the times they are a changing'. This government seems to be contradicting themselves at every point, one moment saying literacy for all is one of their key goals, in the next breath taking away funding from organisations that promote reading and writing to young people. The latest ridiculous idea is that primary schools are to be given a set list of the books they must study - what a sensible idea that is ...not! http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-13320661 How can you decide on certain books that will appeal to all children, boys and girls from every area and cultural diversity and who is going to make this decision? Surely we should have faith in teachers and librarians to have the specialist and local knowledge to be able to choose books to study that will appeal to children in their school without dictating to them about their book choices - after all they know the kids in their school best. Children are not 'one size fits all' and they are all at different stages in their reading journey, will this be taken into account? I suspect not. Having set texts at secondary school has had the effect of turning lots of young people away from reading - even a great work of literature that would normally appeal to a certain age group becomes boring and tedious when one 'has' to read and indeed, dissect it endlessly. Yes we should be encouraging children to read widely, there are so very many fantastic books written for primary kids from brilliant authors that really understand how to enthrall kids but to generalise and say 'all seven year olds should read this book' is quite ludicrous and will not encourage students to explore authors and genres to find things that excite, amuse maybe even terrify them and 'turn them on' to reading as a pleasure for life . If the government want to encourage more primary school kids to learn to love books perhaps they should be looking to ensure that every school has a visit every week from a knowledgeable, enthusiastic, qualified librarian - this would have far more impact than dictating which books should be studied.
This weekend I was lucky enough to attend the CILIP School Libraries Group weekend course, having been asked to lead a seminar and to deliver a keynote speech. This was a little daunting because of the very high calibre of my fellow keynote speakers, Geoff Barton, Phil Bradley and Adam Lancaster to name but a few so I started the course in a rather tentative frame of mind. Of course I was silly to worry, I was soon surrounded by old friends and making new ones and my lovely new iPad 2 was getting a lot of interest! I managed to get to several seminars run by excellent practitioners (Ingrid Hopson, Barbara Band and Lesley Martin) and attended a session on Storyshaping which was extremely interesting. The only complaint I had with the seminars was that there were so many fantastic ones, it was hard to choose which ones to go to. Excellent author talks too, my favourite had to be Robert Muchamore - irreverent, cheeky, funny and totally engaging.
I will admit when I left my job as a school librarian I did not renew my CILIP membership as at that time I did not feel the Institute did enough for school librarians, and that we were rather the forgotten section of the profession but this weekend has restored my faith and I will be renewing my membership today. All of the SLG committee deserve heartfelt thanks for their efforts in organising the course, especially my good friend Laura Taylor who seems tireless and whom I have forgiven for persuading me to speak in the first place ;0) .
I am feeling inspired and re energised after talking and listening to so many amazing people and I'm proud to be a part of this talented group. Yes colleagues are feeling a little worried and apprehensive due to all of the cuts but most of them are also defiant and ready to fight for their jobs, not just for their own sakes but for the young people they work with, whose education would be sadly poorer without dedicated, caring, knowledgeable librarians to help guide them. Very much looking forward to next years conference which will hopefully be a joint one with School Library Association and Youth Libraries Group but it seems much too far away!
Today to show my support for Save Libraries Day I joined my local public library which is only 10 minutes walk away. I'm ashamed that I have not done so before, but in my defence it is only open for roughly 9 hours a week and is very poorly publicised. It is small, rather shabby outside and sits back from the road and I'd be surprised if many of the other residents are aware that it even exists. The residents association website doesn't mention the library and apparently the council publicity department are aware of this but haven't yet got round to writing anything. (Funny that, you would almost think they don't want to increase loans............) . Whilst I was there a young girl was getting some help from the librarian to choose books from different genres that she had on a list and two people were engrossed in surfing the internet.
The stock shows a lack of funding for the last few years at least but there are still gems to be found - I took out 14 books of the possible 30 I am allowed. Browsing the shelves encouraged me to break out of my usual favourite genres (although naturally some slipped into the bag!) and I'm looking forward to curling up with them. Didn't borrow any DVDs this time but will do in the future.
The librarian was lovely, so welcoming and she lives very local to the library so is a mine of information. She told me that a new toddler group they have recently set up is very well attended. The area around is full of new housing and there must be hundreds of potential borrowers but they do need to be shown that the library is there!
At the moment I don't think the library is at threat of closure but the policy of making libraries in the area self service will inevitably have an effect. The librarian, Ms Jones is the biggest asset this poor forgotten library has - long may we keep her in Greenhithe!
I've just finished listening to a programme on Radio 4 with Letts discussing libraries and it has left me disheartened, annoyed and generally shouting at the radio. The entire programme gave such an old fashioned, elitist view of libraries as silent places with worthy books and none of that annoying technology to spoil them. The short quotes from Alan Gibbons helped a little but apart from that the impression that libraries should continue to stagnate and not try to attract younger people or move with the times was quite ludicrous and extremely irritating. Letts patronising and snobbish tone did the save our libraries campaign no favours at all , indeed the damage done will put back the cause.
Why get caught up in semantics - whether a library is called a learning zone, learning resources centre or dream zone it still does the same thing - provide reading material, research opportunities and support to the community, no matter their age or reading tastes. Of course that's just a few functions and to list all of them would take more time than I have. To suggest that libraries being run by volunteers is a good idea is insulting to professional colleagues and devalues the vital role they fulfil.
Think this was the first time I've listened to Radio 4 - will probably be the last too! Let's hope the day improves....... can't possibly get more depressing one would hope.
Twitter hashtag - #r4lettsdoeslibraries