Building the Reader of Tomorrow Today

The penultimate post in the current series on the importance of school libraries is by Matt Imrie, from Farringtons School in Kent. Matt quite rightly points out that school librarians help make tomorrows reader today by encouraging and developing a love of reading in pupils.

Literacy is the single most essential life skill and the importance of a good education in enabling social mobility cannot be over-emphasised. One of the ways the government can encourage this is to fund school libraries.

The Importance of School Libraries

Often overlooked by campaigners and just about everybody not actively involved in schools and education, it is easy to underestimate the importance of School Libraries and their contribution to learning, literacy and reading for pleasure.

In recent years (since the advent of austerity) many former Public Librarians unwilling to leave the work they love have found alternate employment as School Librarians. The irony that a non-statutory service is marginally safer for employment than a statutory service is not lost on many. It is akin to jumping out of a collapsing building and landing on a field composed largely of quicksand, but even with uncertain futures School Librarians do press forward with their duties.

Building the Reader of Tomorrow Today

School Libraries often work in intangibles, ‘reading for pleasure’ is one such example – impossible to measure but easy to identify. I do not think there is a school librarian alive that has not seen the look in a reader’s face when they find the book/magazine/comic/fan-fic that makes their love for reading come alive. Nurturing this tender and fragile love can be done at home and in public libraries but for children with parents that do not read or take them to the local library and in areas where the local library has closed, it is usually their School Library that first opens their eyes to reading as a pleasurable activity.

Once children get too old for the Summer Reading Challenge and they enter their teens, their library use often tapers off and for many it stops entirely. For these students it is often the School Library that remains their only regular access to books, information and professional assistance in using them.
School Libraries have a captive audience, and unlike public and university libraries, many of the students that come in for reading and library lessons do not want to be there. Integrating a class consisting of students that want to be there, others that may be ambivalent and some that indulge in active disruption is a skill that School Librarians learn fairly quickly. Turning the latter two groups into the former is an activity that takes time and individual attention; this is something that School Librarians are well-equipped to do as they see the same students regularly and can work on breaking down the barriers that troubled students have towards reading and learning.

Once the School Librarian gets to know their students they are able to recommend books that cater to their individual tastes and for those that struggle with reading many school libraries use programmes such as Accelerated Reader to help them improve their reading levels.

Returning to the Summer Reading Scheme briefly, in the run up to the end of the summer term, Children’s Librarians often visit schools to promote the SRC. These visits are usually organised with the School Librarian as the initial point of contact. If the library service is unable to provide a librarian to visit a school then usually posters and joining forms are sent to the School Librarian to distribute to the classes old (or young) enough to participate.

Transferable Skills

Most School Librarians offer regular Library Lessons to equip students with information literacy skills that work on a cross-curricular level. From introducing research skills (finding and using information as well as citing sources) to identifying fake news, making use of reliable online resources, becoming aware of and avoiding plagiarism and enabling students to use the library catalogue and Dewey Decimal System to find the books they are looking for and locating the information required within the book in as short a space of time as possible. Included with these skills are critical thinking, improved social skills from teamwork to taking responsibility for completing ones work and more.

It is best to embed these skills early and this is where School Librarians that work with primary school students can get involved with making sure that their students do not fall into the trap of seeing the internet in general and Wikipedia in particular as the be-all and end-all of research.

These skills not only enable them to do homework for school but also prepares them for college or university where they will often not have a librarian on hand to help them locate everything they need. These skills are also usable in public libraries, as school librarians and teachers often recommend that their students broaden their access to resources by making use of their local library where possible.

Connecting Students with Technology in the School Library

The third in a series of posts on school libraries is from Lucas Maxwell, school librarian at Glenthorne High School, Surrey. Lucas highlights the effective use of technology to enhance the student experience and challenge the apathy many students feel towards reading both for pleasure and educational purposes.

Connecting Students with Technology in the School Library

In the school library I manage, I use educational technology on a daily basis. My hope is that it will connect students to their favourite books, authors and other students around the world with similar tastes and interests. Over the past few years I have identified some effective ways to use technology in the school library. These tools have been very effective in the war against boredom, apathy and line every school librarian hears: “I hate reading.”

Skype
Skype has been an amazing tool and we use it in several different ways. One way is to bring authors from around the world into the library. Most authors will Skype with your library for free, so it’s worth taking the time to seek them out. Many of the books our students love are written by authors living in the United States and getting them on a plane to visit would be almost impossible. However, using Skype we can bring them straight to our door for no cost. It’s a good idea to have students prepare questions in advance and to promote the author’s books heavily before the visit. This will ensure a much more enjoyable experience for all.

We also take part in several Mystery Skypes every year. We bring in Geography classes to Skype with other classes around the world, asking Yes or No questions to try and determine where they are in the world. It combines both new and old technology as students use the library’s geography collection along with iPads to try to narrow down the other school’s location. I also appoint student leaders to organise and collect the information gathered about the other schools. It’s a great way to put leadership in the hands of the students and to create a memorable experience where students get to know other parts of the world.

 

World Read Aloud is also another great use of Skype. Our Year 7 and 8 students read picture books to four and five year old students in the United States. Last school year we took part in several of these and they were some of my favourite programs.

Twitter
Twitter has been a huge asset to my own professional development but our students also use it to connect to their favourite authors. Every month our students take over the Library’s Twitter account to ask an author a series of questions. We attach #booklingschat to every question because our book club call themselves The Booklings. This is a completely student-lead program with our Student Library Assistants taking the lead, organising and typing the questions that we project on a large screen for everyone to see. We have had some amazing discussions about writing advice, surviving high school and of course tons of recommended reads!

Padlet
Our students love Padlet. We use it primarily to connect with other book clubs around the world. We recently shared our favourite book recommendations with a class in Colorado and in Scotland. In Padlet, you create a “Wall” where students can add text, images and videos. As an administrator, you are sent an alert whenever a new post arrives. You can also protect your wall with a password that only you and the other book clubs can access. I have also used Padlet to allow students to recommend books that the library should purchase and our Manga Club has used to it to share their artwork with others. The best part is that Padlet is updated in real time so you can instantly see what your students are adding to the wall.

 

Nearpod
Nearpod allows you to create fully interactive library lessons for your students. We have used Nearpod to teach students digital literacy skills. One feature of Nearpod allows you to pose a question to your students. Using its interface you can monitor which students have responded and what they have written. After all responses have been submitted you can share a student’s response with the entire class. Whether on tablets or computer screens, all students using Nearpod are viewing the same thing. Students also have the option to dra

FlipGrid
I cannot recommend Flipgrid enough, it’s a video discussion forum that is perfect for school libraries. Administrators can create their own space on Flipgrid (called a Grid). Within each Grid you can create a topic of your choice. Students can then respond to the topic by recording 90-second videos. We have used Flipgrid to share facts about our hometowns and cities with places around the world, recommend our favourite books and also as a Mystery Flipgrid where we provide hints with other groups as to where we are in the world. Just like the Mystery Skype, we try to guess where in the world they are. In the future, we plan to use Flipgrid to connect with experts in different professions to assist our eleven and twelve-year-old students with various research projects. For more information on Flipgrid and libraries, Librarian John Iona has published a great article in the School Librarian magazine.

I’d love to hear about your favourite ed-tech tools and how you use them to connect your students with others?

(Lucas can be found on Twitter @lucasjmaxwell )

Where does it go from here?

Well, despite the best of intentions to write more widely about politics I have actually found, after numerous aborted attempts, that the only area I really enjoy blogging about is libraries. So with that in mind Leon’s Library Blog is once again up and running.

I still firmly believe that the fight for public services is the fight the libraries. The genuine despondency felt by many staff struggling to deliver public services is summed up in a heart-felt letter by Corinna Edwards-Colledge, a Brighton and Hove Council Officer. In it she accuses David Cameron of deliberate contempt for council workers, outlines the devastating cuts to public services, and the negative impact on local communities.

Libraries are part and parcel of the struggle to deliver meaningful services to some of the most vulnerable members of our communities: from the housebound, to the job seeker who cannot afford internet access, and the families who are unable to buy books to effect the many positive benefits that reading for pleasure brings.

In fact the ‘reading for pleasure’ element of libraries has been poorly regarded and often disparaged by politicians. However, a recent report, The Impact of Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, by the Reading Agency demonstrates the real, tangible benefits of reading for pleasure. As such, the loaning of books, in all formats, should remain a mainstay of library provision. An excellent blog by Dawn Finch outlines the main aspects of the report and why reading for pleasure is so important.

We are faced with 5 more years of ideologically driven austerity, the dismantling of public services, and the almost certain continuing reduction and fragmentation of public libraries. So the fight continues and I have decided to return to my musings mainly on the political and campaigning aspects of the ever changing library landscape (and yes, you can accuse me of doing a ‘Farage’ like u-turn!).

I cling to the hope that despite the changes to come we can continue to articulate a vision for public libraries, that while perhaps being a long way from the reality of current provision, nevertheless should be the ideal we aspire to, and which we will one day hopefully achieve.

Illiteracy and the Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg recently pledged that the Liberal Democrats would eliminate child illiteracy by 2025, which while a worthy sentiment has to be taken with a pinch of salt from the Deputy Prime Minister.

During his time in office – and unequivocal support for overly stringent austerity measures – the gap between the rich and poor has become a chasm. Research by Poverty & Social Exclusion UK revealed:

  • Almost 18 million cannot afford adequate housing conditions.
  • 1.5 million children live in households that cannot afford to heat the home
  • 2.5 million kids live in properties that are damp
  • More than half a million children live in families who cannot afford to feed them properly
  • 12 million people are too poor to have a social life
  • 5.5 million adults go without essential clothing
  • One in every six adults in paid work is still poor

The link between poverty and low educational attainment has long been acknowledged so it seems almost absurd to boast of eliminating illiteracy on one hand while creating the conditions for illiteracy to flourish in the first place.

Even in the lead up to the general election when we expect the political rhetoric to flow thick and fast Nick Clegg’s statement appears crass in the face of increasing social inequality, driven in no small part by the government’s economic policies.

Equally, one of the historical cornerstones to challenging illiteracy – free access to books and reading via public libraries – has been consistently undermined by the coalition. Public libraries have long been concerned with raising literacy standards and the current Reading Offer is the latest in a long line of literacy based initiatives.

Despite incredible efforts by the profession to raise standards and instill the habit and pleasure of reading in children the Liberal Democrats have helped to create an environment in which there have been hundreds of branch closures, substantial job losses, and communities forced to take over libraries or face losing them.

John Leech, Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Culture, stated that he supports the ‘…creation of volunteer managed libraries as a last resort in the event of the closure of a local authority funded library’ and ‘that a volunteer run library is better than no library at all, though I would not like to see this to become the norm.’ Unfortunately, under the coalition this has very much become the ‘norm’ with libraries being handed over to volunteers almost daily.

Even in his own constituency Nick Clegg was unable to convince fellow minister, Ed Vaizey, to intervene in Sheffield’s mass handover of libraries to volunteers. Despite initially questioning the Council’s plans Vaizey quickly back-tracked and would not order an inquiry into library provision in Sheffield.

As such, it is difficult to reconcile the avowed intent to end illiteracy from a man who has been an integral part of a government that has also overseen significant library closures and the replacement of expert staff with uninformed volunteers.

No wonder author Cathy Cassidy has stated:

“Does Britain really want to add the loss of libraries to an already shocking decimation of services? At a time when far too many British kids are subsisting on food bank handouts, will we take away their ladder to learning, imagination and opportunity as well?” 

So the question is, how exactly do you end illiteracy by closing libraries?

Education, education, education: why libraries should love learning

Two interesting articles caught my attention this week. The first by philosopher Roger Scruton in which he argues that education should not be left to teachers and the state and advocates that a variety of individuals and bodies should contribute to the overall learning and education of children.  The second shows the worrying reading divide in England and the negative socio-economic impact this can have for non-readers.

This raises the issue of what the educational role of libraries should be, not simply as an abstract question but a real and fundamental challenge as to who we are and what we do, particularly around the principles of widening access, opportunity, and helping disadvantaged individuals and communities.

Traditionally libraries have always prided themselves on providing access to knowledge and learning but slowly – exacerbated by the current austerity programme – this principle is being eroded.

Many decision makers see libraries as subordinate to a wider leisure agenda, with reading viewed as a ‘past-time’ for the middle-classes rather than an essential skill for all, while nationally ACE continuously tries to push an arts agenda onto libraries. Worse still, many see libraries as little more than book-swaps, needing limited professional input, or as a shop front for other council services.

This is not the evolution of the library movement towards modernity, as some would have it, but rather a degradation of its original purpose, which is the opportunity of learning for all.

For me, the true mission of the library movement lies in promoting education in its broadest sense through the provision of a dynamic learning environment. This should be the guiding principle of all we do.

In a constantly changing social, economic and technological environment libraries are ideally placed to alleviate the effects of deprivation and disadvantage by acting as hubs for community learning and helping individuals update skills and knowledge. Equally, learning can alleviate the sense of exclusion and isolation that many young people feel about society, feelings that played a large part in the riots of 2011.

Rather than endeavouring to mould us into their image ACE should recognise that libraries have a different character and remit and should manage and provide funding accordingly. Instead of bids based around art projects they should support educational initiatives and partnerships, particularly around the universal offers. They should also encourage more development between public libraries, schools, colleges and universities, of which the Hive in Worcester is a shining example.  Similar ideas are explored in The university of the public library.

Libraries can be many things delivering many different types of opportunity  – see 10 ideas to reinvent the library by Francesca Wakefield – they can support business and innovation, job information, health information, digital inclusion, and social cohesion, but most of all – reflecting both their founding principles and core mission – they should remain places of knowledge, learning, and education.

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Update: Interesting post from Ian Clark questioning the results of the reading divide survey.

Library quotes (2)

A house without books is like a room without windows. No man has a right to bring up children without surrounding them with books…. Children learn to read being in the presence of books – Horace MANN (1796-1859)

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I suspect Horace would have been a great supporter of the Summer Reading Challenge. It’s a pity that studies show so many children growing up in homes with few or no books

  • To read a book for the first time is to make an acquaintance with a new friend; to read it for a second time is to meet an old one – Anonymous, Chinese saying
  • There’s nothing to match curling up with a good book when there’s a repair job to be done around the house – Joe RYAN

Why Reading Matters

It’s been well attested how libraries can change lives for the better by supporting educational and work aspirations. Even, provide an escape for a short time, from the reality of poverty and social deprivation.

Therefore, it saddened me greatly to see the OECD report that stated young adults in England have scored among the lowest results in the industrialised world in literacy and numeracy tests . Not only that but younger people are actually falling behind the older generation in such skills.

Now I know that in many ways this reflects failings within the education system, perhaps even poor parenting, but it also highlights the huge role public libraries still have to play in providing literacy opportunities for children and young people.

This is further reinforced by the recent IOE report that shows reading for pleasure in children increases both literacy and numeracy skills.

Such a pity then that public libraries are in such crisis with many community libraries closing in areas of social deprivation, precisely the areas that need them the most.

As I saw recently on a library protester’s placard  ‘cut libraries and see wot happens’.