A Library is much more than the sum of its parts

I've had libraries on my mind these past few days. Went to the School Librarian of the Year Award Ceremonies on Monday - I made a Slideshare about it:

Big congrats, Adam Lancaster! (swipe to view slideshow if you're on a smartphone)
SLA School Librarian of the Year 2012 from Candy Gourlay

And just last week, I was tag bombed by Facebook friends forwarding me this story:

It was about a random guy in Manila who started a lending library on the pavement outside his house. You can read about it here.

Meanwhile it is the second birthday of the Sambat Trust, an organization dedicated to building libraries in provincial schools in the Philippines. Londoner-Filipino Anthony Mariano was visiting his parents' hometown and was shocked to discover libraries that stocked books like these:


Anthony decided to do something about it and so far, has managed to fund raise and build half a dozen bright, well-stocked libraries like this one:

Photo by Cindy Bajema
He's hoping to celebrate the Trust's second birthday by completing a library for Ambulong Primary School ... if you're feeling generous, please do give generously. A little really does go a long way.

Inspiring but Poignant

At the School Librarian of the Year awards, it was thrilling and inspiring to see the the great stuff a librarian can do.

The winner Adam Lancaster for example runs Enjoying Reading classes where the students don't actually have to read. Instead, they do fun activities around inspired by books - like making book trailers. He even stocks books for parents to encourage everyone to read at home.

Gill Trueman uses a mobile library in the school playground to encourage parents to read with their children. She runs oversubscribed Chill 'n' Read sessions for the children - reading to music.

Rosalind Buckland designed a boy-friendly zone to encourage reading averse boys to pick up books. She invites authors of adult books to talk to Year 12 and Year 13 pupils.

Introducing children to books is about catching the moment. Adam Lancaster

The aim, says Adam, is "to create a literacy-rich community" ... it's not just about getting kids to read, it's about getting everyone to read. In his thank you speech, Adam urged librarians to reach out - it should not be "just one person reading for pleasure, but every person".

The event sparkled with awesome initiatives created by the impressive finalists. Using blogs, ipads, kindles and other new technology, partnerships, parents. Getting teachers to post what they are currently reading on the door. Using fish tanks to get the children into the library. Building beautiful spaces that are cool to be seen in.

These are clearly leaders of best practice in the field. If you' are an educator from anywhere in the world, you should read the profiles of the SLYA finalists - they're packed with good ideas any school library can build on. Here are the links:


But under the sparkle there are sobering realities. School Library Services are closing down everywhere - indeed, Monk's Walk (Adam's school) has stepped into the vacuum in their area, providing free support to primaries and secondaries across Hertfordshire. Local booksellers are closing shop. Book budgets have been slashed all over the place.

One librarian mentioned trawling through car boot sales to top up library supplies. Surely not! was the reaction of one non-librarian. But chatting to people at lunchtime, I discovered that that this was actually a reality for many.

In places like the Philippines, books are regarded as pure gold in their scarcity, a rescue from poverty. Meanwhile in our society of plenty here in Britain,  libraries and librarians must struggle to be valued. There's something uncomfortably screwy about that.

Kevin Crossley Holland, author of the beautiful Seeing Stone books and President of the SLA, described the situation perfectly:

School libraries and school librarians are under real pressure – political apathy, cuts in their budgets, threats of redundancy, status within their schools. But all over the country, individual librarians are doing imaginative and valiant and, frankly, quite crucial work, inspiring a love of reading within their schools and communities. They’re not only custodians of the storyhoard, the river of poems and the building blocks of information but brokers of the relationship between books as physical artefacts and the Digital Age. 

Alec Williams, who compered the event, pulled out this fab quote from the great Anthony Horowitz:

I've visited (hundreds of) schools ... and you ask any visiting author this and they will say the same. You can tell a school instantly by its library. Or to put it another way, I can tell you instantly what the library will be like the moment I enter a school. It's there in the animation of the kids, it's the colour, the sense of intellectual life in the corridors. It's in the way they regard one another and in the way they speak. The library is the beating heart of any school and its life and vitality depend on it.