Tag Archives: literacy

The younger generation will miss out – Smita’s Story

I feel very sad to learn that our local library, Enfield’s Ridge Avenue Library is to be run by volunteers. I have been going to the library since my daughter was born 25 years ago. We used to attend story time and during the summer holidays both my children would do the readathon challenge. We knew the librarians and one of them who knew my daughter from a very young age still keeps in contact with her on Facebook.

The librarians had so much knowledge and would direct you to the right place to find the book you wanted whether it be for a school project or for leisure. In the Borough of Enfield, I was told only very few are still being run by Librarians and slowly they too will be run by volunteers.

I regularly attended the Library in Enfield Town during my student days and remember how helpful all the staff were in helping you find the book or reference.

I am preparing for a presentation and have recently joined the British Library, the second largest library in the world. I have been amazed with all the help that the Librarians have given to me and reminds me of the same help I received from my local library during my school days. It is a shame that the young generation will be missing out on all the knowledge that Librarians have to impart.

If you have a story to share about your local public library, or about how your local librarians have helped you, please contact us at stories@voicesforthelibrary.org.uk and we’ll be happy to share your perspectives on our library service.

Samuel West – “I’ve always loved libraries”

Image c/o Garry Knight on Flickr (cc-by)

I’ve always loved libraries, since I was an avid child reader – see this. Now we have a daughter and consequently space is at a premium I value my local for two new reasons:

1) When I’m preparing for a role or a production I can work there in complete silence, among others doing the same (ours has a reference section with a quiet room).

2) Our daughter is getting through picture books at an incredible rate. We couldn’t possibly afford to buy or have room to shelve new ones as fast as she wants them; borrowing them lets us try lots out (and then perhaps buy a few favourites to keep). Plus the libraries’ range of picture books is chosen by people who know their stuff, so we know we’re starting with a great selection.

Samuel West
Actor and director

Loans or sales?

In this post author Kathryn White shares her perspective of libraries as “cultural gold”.

 

In December 2011 the National Literacy Trust released figures that of 3.8 million children in the UK, 1 in 3 do not own a book. Seven years ago only one child in ten was thought not to own a book.

Sadly, it is schools from deprived areas dealing with overcrowding, language diversity and financial constraints that are unable to buy books or engage authors/illustrators; seeing their priorities, quite rightly, as the basic needs of their students. However these schools are those most in need of cultural support in order to bring children into and insure their positive development within the community. Reading not only teaches language skills but more importantly, social skills. There is a definite correlation between better reading and more tolerance and understanding between varying cultures and religions. Children attending deprived schools do not have the same exposure to external creative input; which often facilitates for alternative viewpoints and values. Students in higher income areas where parental input, community governors or public support enable staff to engage external creative tutors, invariably gain greater understanding and engage in open discussion. Yet it is poorer catchments, where students face greater financial and social hardship that is often starved of quality literature at home which would encourage empathy and tolerance.

Books in schools are frequently used purely as instruments of learning data; chunks are bitten off and digested as required to fit in with the national curriculum. Books are not viewed as a whole experience, a potential means of mutual discussion and support for mental and social health. Books are a window to the world; they challenge and teach, guide and often help children comprehend what is happening around them, easing isolation during times of change or crisis.

Where schools are unable to provide a comprehensive book list for children, public libraries can adequately fill that gap.

My role as an author visiting a school is to insure that children see books not only as number crunching, information providers but as a genuine pleasure, encouraging imagination, fantasy; escapism without the external control of a computer or tv screen. Stories where a child’s imagination can do the illustrative work, visual character building, are wonderful for developing independent thought and confidence. Authors love to sell their books and I used to endeavour to do this by lugging my heavy suitcase filled with stories for all ages across the country on school visits. However, I was beginning to resemble an ageing body builder or at best careworn salesperson, rather than a writer. I found the whole experience, exhausting and distracting from my main focus; providing enjoyable story sessions. I now only take books into schools upon specific request and if I am driving and not at the mercy of public transport. This makes the availability of libraries for the children I am visiting, vitally important. If I can’t offer my own books for sale, then I can at least direct children to their local library. “It’s great!” I say, “It’s full of amazing books you can read because you want to – about anything or anyone you’re dying to learn about. And guess what? The books are free to borrow.”

For me, as a writer, libraries are cultural gold and sharing this precious national commodity with children in schools is something that gives me immense pride and pleasure. Long may their shelves be full and their doors open.

Kathryn White.

www.kathrynwhite.net

Kathryn White specializes in children’s and YA fiction. She has written over thirty books and often presents at literary festivals and in schools throughout the UK and abroad.

Report of the Inquiry into Overcoming the Barriers to Literacy

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Education has just published a “Report of the Inquiry into Overcoming the Barriers to Literacy.”

As literacy and libraries go hand in hand it is encouraging to see so much emphasis on the value of libraries within the report.

In defining the context of the inquiry it was indicated that “a poverty of trained librarians” was a factor contributing to low levels of literacy. At the same time you should also say that in the current climate, a lack of posts for trained librarians is also a factor. It’s no good having trained librarians if they are not employed in a role where their skills can be used.

Here are the main points made in the report regarding libraries.

“The right of citizens to visit a library and have access to a range of free reading material must be made overt and funding made available. Evidence shows that libraries both in schools and in the community have a positive effect on reading, yet many are disappearing because of financial constraints”

“The active encouragement of reading for pleasure should be a core part of every child’s curriculum entitlement because extensive reading and exposure to a wide range of texts make a huge contribution to students’ educational achievement. This is why libraries are so important to the development of a reading culture – both those in schools and those in the community.”

“Participants in the Inquiry praised the work of Sure Start Centres where parents and their children could come to improve parenting skills, address social issues and receive informal literacy help. The aims of these Sure Start programmes are to (1) increase the numbers of parents/carers reading with their children; (2) increase library membership amongst 0-4 year-olds and their parents/carers; (3) ensure that 100% of children have access to good quality play and learning; and (4) reduce the number of children who need specialist speech and language support by the time they start school.”

“Evaluations of Bookstart programmes in 2009 indicated that parents were strongly supportive of reading with babies and toddlers and generally read frequently with their children. Longitudinal evidence suggested marked improvement in book sharing frequency after receiving the packs for ‘less active’ reading families (those that reported having relatively few children’s books in the home and read with their child less than once a day). Three months after receiving a Bookstart pack these ‘less active’ reading families reported significantly increased reading frequency, stronger parental interest in reading with their child and higher levels of library membership. Early intervention initiatives such as Sure Start Centres and Bookstart should be guaranteed funding over a period of time.”

 

:-) Celebrate your library (c) carlin33/Flickr

Theme 7 Specifically focused on protecting library provision…

“It was felt by all groups in this Inquiry that the lack of a coherent support for school libraries and their proven impact early in children’s education is a huge anomaly. Although it is clear that libraries are not the single answer to improving literacy, they are an important resource for supporting a school’s literacy teaching and learning.

The concern is that students without school libraries will not have access to a wide range of learning and reading resources to support their learning. A good library and, crucially, a good librarian, can be a real benefit to a school and attainment.

For example, the

School Library Commission Report, which surveyed 17,000 students, found that there was a very strong relationship between reading attainment and school library use. Young people who read below the expected level for their age were almost twice more likely to say that they are not a school library user. Conversely, those who read at or above the expected level were nearly three times more likely to say that they are school library users.”

“Many children have no books at home and such a culture will not encourage reading. Libraries are essential to provide free and open access to a wide variety of reading materials. Economic constraints are forcing some of these to close and for schools to limit their library facilities and this can only be a barrier to successful literacy for learners of all ages.”

“The Publishers Association reports that purchases of school library books have declined by 40% since 2002. The Secretary of State has said that children should be reading up to 50 books a year and that successful schools give a high profile to reading for pleasure, but current policy seems to operate against this.”

“Throughout the Inquiry, the School Library Association and several literacy associations highlighted the importance of books and reading materials of all kinds, including new technological developments.”

“Libraries must be central to literacy development, and must be appropriately resourced.”

So, the key observations can be summarised as:

  • Funding must be made available for free reading material and access to it via both school and public libraries.
  • Both school and public libraries are important because they provide a broad range of reading materials, which improves literacy and this in turn improves educational achievement.
  • Surestart and Bookstart schemes have a positive impact on library use.
  • School library services supported by a good librarian have a positive impact on literacy levels.
  • The current ethos of reducing funding for school and public libraries clearly goes against the idea of improving literacy.

We really hope this report, clearly highlighting the value of libraries and backed up by the opinions of experts in literacy and all Government parties, has a positive impact on securing the future of library provision in the UK.

“Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.” – Matthew’s story

“Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.”

So said Dwight D. Eisenhower, scourge of Nazis and the 34th President of the United States. I’m quoting him because libraries suddenly seem to have become expendable in the eyes of many local councils, not only in the UK but also America and who knows where else. It feels like a crime that we’re even in this situation, but here we are.

I’m biased, of course, because I’m a reader. One of my very few regrets about learning to drive a few years ago is that I miss out on all the spare reading time presented to me by long bus journies stuck in traffic (that and I’m getting old and so my eroded attention span means that achieving the Fifty Book Challenge this year is looking less likely than it should). Nevertheless, I’m a reader and shall be until I die, probably of blunt force trauma caused by a collapsing To Read Pile taller than me. A lot of that is down to my local library.

See, we used to go there on Fridays after school when I was a kid, working my way through the Thomas the Tank Engine collection, then Asterix and Tintin. The library is also responsible for me getting into Doctor Who; I didn’t watch the TV series so much as read the hardback Target novelisations, I pieced together the history of the show by reading the books out of order and without having any clear idea of how all the different characters fitted together. It helped that I take after my mom, as her side of the family contains most of the readers, and so I guess it’s ironic that my grandmother always had issues with the monsters and aliens in the sort of geeky shows I watched; it was her genes and Doctor Who books that made me a reader. The library just empowered that.

And so I remember avidly reading about all these characters, running to the library to get new stories. I remember one of Thomas’s friends getting stuck in a tunnel, and I think one of the smaller trains had to pull him out…

Asterix and Tintin, on the other hand… Obelix and Captain Haddock were my favourite characters, and Tintin may well have ignited my interest in science fiction with the Destination Moon / Explorers on the Moon duology and the Chariots of the Gods-inspired Flight 714.

And the first book I remember reading obsessively? The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. I remember getting through it in a matter of hours, which was a bit of a surprise to my family, who weren’t perhaps used to that sort of speed reading. Again, thank the library.

Libraries have a central place in human civilisation. The Library of Alexandria is almost legendary, although a significant part of that legend is due to the fact that people kept burning it down. Same goes for the House of Wisdom in Baghdad (destroyed by the Mongols in 1258) and the ‘Burning of Books and Burying of Scholars’ policy carried out by China’s Qin dynasty; throughout history, libraries have been considered dangerous by dangerous men. And while its probably unfair to compare that sort of thing to today’s allegedly civic-minded busybodies, the end result is the same – no libraries, reduced access to knowledge, no-one to point the way through a maze of data and information and facts.

Nowadays people don’t tend to be burning down libraries, at least not in Dudley, but they’re under threat. It’s easy to take them for granted, but in a world where we can access a mountain of information with next to no quality filter, librarians should rule. Somewhere along the line, that building full of books has seen the skillsets of the people who work there gain in currency.

An anonymous source once said that “Books are the carriers of civilisation. Without books, history is silent, literature is dumb, science is crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books the development of civilisation would have been impossible. They are the engines of change.” You can argue that it’s the information and artistry contained in those books that matters, moreso than the actual medium, but regardless, libraries, books, information are important – especially when we know what to do with it. When the Dark Ages engulfed Europe, Irish monks saved the literature and learning of Rome and carried it forward, and now public libraries modestly attempt to try something similar, albeit in a world where there’s almost too much information and not enough discernment. In that world, we neglect libraries at our peril.

Matthew Hyde

Will library closures leave children behind?

Over the weekend, startling statistics came to light that once more gives lie to the argument that libraries are no longer required in the digital age.  A report in The Observer, citing the e-Learning Foundation, argued that one million children will receive lower grades than their peers due to a lack of internet access at home.  The report refers to research that states that ‘1.2 million teenagers log on to revision pages every week and those using online resources were on average likely to attain a grade higher in exams’.

By New Jersey Library Association on Flickr

The report goes on to state:

The charity cites BBC research in which more than 100 students used the BBC Bitesize revision materials before their GCSE examination. The children were found to have achieved a grade lift compared to those who did not use the online revision guides. The BBC study says: “This is compared to factors such as teacher influence, which was found to produce no significant difference.”

It is clear that a high proportion of children are seriously disadvantaged as a result of a widening digital divide.  As with the 9 million adults who have never accessed the internet before, these children are largely forgotten by those that are privileged to own a computer and an internet connection.  An entire generation is being left behind and their existence is barely acknowledged.

For many of these children, there is a way out: their local public library.  Libraries provide a safe environment for children and, most importantly, provide them access to the resources that are otherwise denied them.  The provision of a free internet connection offers an opportunity for many children to keep up with their peers.  Alongside a wealth of reference books and the assistance of trained staff, the provision of a computer terminal for children to access a host of online resources is vital.  The library offers them the best chance they have of ensuring they are not left behind.

The support of trained and qualified library staff is also crucial. Professional staff are able to ensure that not only are the appropriate materials available online (as well as off-line) but that children can access them safely and securely.  Furthermore, the provision of homework clubs supported by trained staff helps to bridge the gap between those that have access to a wide range of resources at home and those who do not.  In short, the library is an equitable source of high quality educational and learning resources for all children and young people, regardless of the wealth or status of their parents.

Despite ensuring the disadvantaged aren’t left behind, public libraries are still being threatened with closure across the country.  Not only public libraries, but also school libraries, leaving one million children further disadvantaged.  According to The Observer, a study by BESA (the trade association for the educational supply industry) has revealed that:

“…due to budgetary pressures, schools plan to spend around 8% less on the provision of computers to pupils this year. Critics claim this will negatively affect after-school IT sessions, vital to those without the internet at home.

Only 60% of the 246 primary schools and 188 secondary schools surveyed said they were able to maintain their current spending. Yet nearly a third of schools will make extensive use of home access to the curriculum through the internet.

The belief that libraries are no longer required when ‘everyone’ has an internet connection is one of the driving forces behind proposed closures.  Such misinformation is endangering the economic prosperity of an entire generation.  Continue along the path of library closures and we will ensure that one million children will be left behind to satisfy those that hold the purse strings.  Is that a price worth paying?

Nick’s story

I’m a special needs teacher in the London Borough of Harrow. Each week, I take groups to Harrow central library. The students benefit hugely in terms of

  • accessing resources
  • building their literacy
  • developing life skills
  • interacting with the public
  • travel training

The library staff are wonderfully supportive.The whole experience is phenomenally positive.

Nick, Shaftesbury High School