Ian’s story – Public Libraries for Children

I am the only full-time librarian in a small not-very-prosperous  town
of around thirty thousand people in the Northwest.  The major focus of
the outreach work at the library is to the local junior schools,
nurseries and high schools due to the high number of potential users
that can be reached with one visit.  One can talk to a full school
assembly, with the school sending home a leaflet promoting the library
that will also be seen by at least one parent, thus meaning that an
hour’s work (including travel time) can reach six hundred people.

We try to visit each school at least twice every year, making the
school assemblies as fun as possible.  When the library is preparing
for the summer reading promotion or for a child-friendly event such as
exotic animal handling, I get them all to say “ooh” and “aah”. Over
time, this has become a catchphrase and I often see children coming
into the library, or who pass me in the town centre, repeating these
words back to me.  During the last summer reading challenge, the
catchphrase was simply the name of this years challenge said in a very
low voice.  We had hundreds of children coming into the library in
August saying “please can I join [pause then sudden deep voice] SPACE
HOP”.  It was great. Three hundred and fifty children joined up this
year, a truly great result for us.

When I hear someone in the media saying that libraries are dying or
that somehow children should not use libraries, I sometimes laugh and
sometimes feel very angry.  Have any of these people been into a
library recently?  We have regular storytimes, rhymetimes and
dancetimes – done with no extra resources and often with partner
agencies – which brings in loads of children, filling up the
children’s library or dance floor. Yes, the library has a dance floor.
We feel really happy when passing the children’s library on a
“normal” morning and seeing three or four children in there, each with
an attendant parent or grandparent, enjoying looking for a book
together or reading a story on a comfortable chair.  This is really
habit-forming for both the child and the parent with untold positive
effects for the future.

2 thoughts on “Ian’s story – Public Libraries for Children

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  2. Chris Fitt

    How wonderful to find a library service that actually allows and encourages staff to visit schools! As you so rightly say, the positive effects of standing up in front of an entire school cannot be overstated. You have fun, the children have fun, they enjoy your visit, and more importantly, they remember your visit for some time to come, sometimes even years. And from minimal outlay you develop positive and rewarding relationships with the school and its pupils and staff. And the cost of all this valuable PR? Nothing, apart from travel expenses.
    Who says community outreach is difficult? Done by staff who are enthusiastic and, more importantly, fully supported by their managers, it’s a doddle!
    I just love the notion of a catchphrase! And it must give you & other library staff a great feeling when children repeat it to you without any prompting.
    Events in the library are fantastic, don’t get me wrong. But especially for things like certificate or prize presentation events, so much more impact is generated if you go to the school. In the library you are talking to the already-converted; in the school you are also reaching those children who have not taken part in whatever it was, and who suddenly realise that if they had been to the library perhaps it could have been THEM up there at the front being lauded by the whole school. The next time the library runs an event or competition, you are more likely to get extra children taking part, and from then on making use of the library.
    Effective outreach work is hardly rocket science, is it…

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