The following guest post is from Barbara Band, immediate past President of Cilip and Head of Library & Resources at Emmbrook School in Wokingham with 1,200+ students aged 11 to 18 years. Barbara has been a school librarian for over 22 years and believes vehemently in the value of libraries. She was also the driving force behind the successful Mass Lobby in support of School Libraries.
School librarians make a vital contribution in the school system towards teaching and learning, as well as helping children develop information skills and improve literacy, the subject of Barbara’s post.
In the fight to protect public libraries sometimes it is easy to forget that our colleagues in other areas; schools, FE, HE are also fighting their own battles against funding cuts. I would like to thank Barbara for reminding us of the vital importance of school libraries and the work they do in improving children’s life opportunities.
Access & Choice
If you’re reading this blog then it’s fairly safe to assume that you are interested in libraries and also that you are aware of the sorry state of affairs regarding public libraries; the decimation of a service that used to be the envy of many other countries, the erosion of a vital community facility that provides value above and beyond its costs. You’re probably also aware that I’m a professional librarian and am passionate about the benefits of libraries to the whole community. I have always been an avid library user and still am, visiting my local library around three times a month for various reasons – and yes, I do have one and recognise that I’m luckier than many.
Much has been written about what libraries do – other than issue books – and about the value-added that professional librarians bring to the service so I’m not going to repeat that here. What I’d like to do is question how various current literacy initiatives do not recognise the role that libraries and librarians can have in their agenda.
For a developed country, the UK has appalling low literacy levels. One in five children aged 11 years cannot read at the expected level and this figure increases to one in three in disadvantaged areas. Children with low literacy levels will grow into adults with literacy problems, they do not just suddenly become able to read and understand text. This will impact on their job prospects, their health and well-being and, by default, have an economic impact that affects everyone.
The government recognises this is a problem and many organisations have set up initiatives to deal with it. The latest of these is the Read On Get On campaign to tackle early language and reading skills which seems eminently sensible; if a child does not develop a range of verbal skills then they are unlikely to learn to read well, and if they cannot read then they are unlikely to be able to write. There are many other initiatives and I am not going to list them here but what they all have in common is the failure to acknowledge the huge role libraries can play in improving literacy.
Early years’ language and reading skills are a good place to start but throwing everything at nurseries is not going to work because that precludes children who do not attend them, for whatever reason – and there are many that don’t. You also need to start earlier, when that child is a baby and listening to sounds. So where can all parents and children have exposure to professional expertise to help them develop these skills – maybe the public library could help? Many already run baby rhyme and story time sessions that are incredibly popular, it would be fairly easy to expand the programme to include a range of other relevant activities and reach the local community.
Teaching children how to read is one thing but if you want them to develop into higher level readers with the accompanying literacy skills then you need to engender a love of reading because then they will choose to read, rather than read because they have to. Reading programmes have their place but do not work with everyone.
Books in classrooms can help but it is unlikely that every classroom will have a wide enough range of both fiction and non-fiction books to appeal to every type of reader. And without a knowledgeable professional to select stock and guide children, you are likely to end up with a strange random collection. Some teachers may be aware of what is published but many of them are not, they are focused on their subject; for librarians, books and resources are our tools, regardless of the format, subject or level.
Access and choice – those are the key words when it comes to engendering a love of reading and improving literacy. Schools and communities without libraries have neither.