Tag Archives: reading

Get involved in the Library A to Z

At the recent Library Camp East event one of the Voices For The Library team proposed a session to crowd source an A to Z of words that reflected the positive activities and values of libraries, as well as positive representations in books, songs, films and other media. The aim was to highlight that even though books are a core feature of library services, libraries are so much more than this – whether this “so much more” is as a result of the benefits of reading, or beyond this focus. The intention was also to use the A to Z as a way to promote library services. The group was attended by about 20 people from a range of library backgrounds, which was great, because it meant that the full breadth of library services could be covered and it showed common and uncommon activities between, say for example, public and academic libraries. We covered all of the alphabet (with a bit of artistic licence in places), but there is still scope for more words to be added into the Library A to Z. Please feel free to add any as a comment and we’ll then include them in the blog post.

Here’s a list of what the group at Library Camp East came up with on the day, along with some additional contributions. Thanks to all who got involved.

Questions (c) elycefeliz / Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 licence)

Alphabetical Order (Alan Ayckbourn play)
audio books
author events


Batgirl (is a librarian)
breakout space
breast feeding (space for mothers with babies)
Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Giles is a librarian)
book club
baby bounce and rhyme
Britannica (encyclopedia)
business information

competitive advantage (for businesses)
coffee (relax with one)
colouring (fun sessions for children)
council services (access to)
carers services
community cohesion
ommunity memory
Council Information


Deskset (film)
Elaine Dundy – The Dud Avacado
Day after tomorrow (scene in library)
dry (inside, away from foul weather)
digital literacy

everyone (is welcome)
enquiry service


free (to join and free books)
family history
Facebook (you can access it via our PCs)
fax services

Ghostbusters (library scene in the film)
green (eco-friendly book recycling)
graphic novels
Go online

Hermione (always in the library in Harry Potter)
holiday reading
Hollywood librarians film
homework help
hate crime reporting

information services
information literacy
information commons

job searching
journeys (discover new places with a book)




Kinship (finding like-minded people)

key-stage (supporting the curriculum)

librarians / library staff
local studies

Margaret Mahy
The mummy (main character is a librarian)
meeting (community)
managing directors (build businesses/business support)
mood boosting
make a noise in libraries
mobile libraries
Manic street preachers – “libraries gave us power”
mailing lists
market research


noise (discussion/communication/activity)
National Libraries Day
Name of the Rose
Neil Gaiman – a great advocate for libraries
not for profit

Octonauts (CBeebies – “To the library!”)
open to all
old (and young)



reference books


Sshh! (a quiet place to work/study)
silver surfers
space (to think and work)
safe (place)
summer reading challenge
social media
school visits
science fiction

Time travellers wife (works in a library)
Time machine (original film female character worked in library)
treasure hunts

universal credit (support)

visually impaired users

wifi (free)
werewolves (Twilight / teen readers)

xml (web of information; organisation of info online)
x-rated (50 shades of grey etc)

young adult

‘zines (magazines)
zzzzz (child sleeping after being read bedtime story)

Force of Poetry (c) Artiom Ponkratenko / Flickr (CC BY 2.0 licence)

So, now we have a list and what would be great is if we could get more people involved in doing something creative with this list or a part of it – maybe just a letter, or a single word will inspire you to create something in response. So for example, some of the ideas people have suggested already include:

  • Turn some of this into a visual alphabet that we could share as downloadable posters.
  • Create a library A to Z video.
  • Pull together positive library user stories that cover the full A to Z related to your library, whether that’s public, academic, business, specialist library etc and produce a book of them to be sent to the people in your organisation who aren’t aware of the value of your library service.
  • Create an online photo montage alphabet.
  • Get artists (visual, musical, performance) involved to interpret this Library A to Z in their own unique way.
It would be fantastic if we could encourage libraries and their supporters to take up the challenge, focus on a single letter each and produce something we could pull together in time for National Libraries Day – a day all about celebrating the value of libraries and all the things that make libraries so great and important.
And if you do put something together (which we hope you will) please let us know and share it with us, so we can share it with everyone else too.

What Libraries Meant To Me When I Was Eight Years Old

Alex sent us this heartwarming post about the impact libraries had on her life.

When I was 8 years old I was given my own library tickets. It changed my life.

Like most children at that age I was curious. I loved asking why and I always had another six questions when you answered the first. My parents, reasonably indulgent, comfortable financially, were happy to buy me a handful of books every month when I wanted to add to my burgeoning book collection. They both read themselves but their tastes were fixed and their books couldn’t be shared with me. Mills & Boons romances, aga sagas, Dick Francis titles and David Attenborough books just aren’t designed for kids.

When I was 8 years old though I became more difficult to cater for as a junior reader.

I had the books my parents bought me and books that I got from the school library but these really only dealt with my ongoing interests in obvious subjects like Ancient Egypt. If I suddenly became curious in something that had just caught my eye, say bridge building for example or the history of lighthouses, my parents weren’t inclined to buy me a book for the passing fancy and nine times out of ten my school library was just too small to have anything on these ever more niche curiosities.

After a while it was obvious to my mother that I had outgrown what home and the school could provide. I was getting frustrated with the books available to me and I was reading less.

Juggling awkward library hours and school runs we started going to the public library regularly. It was this sudden freedom to take out any (suitable) book on any subject that saved me as a reader.

I didn’t have to worry about whether I’d still be interested in geology in a month or check the cost of a book and only very, very rarely was there a subject I couldn’t find out about. I also discovered proper, grown up encyclopedias which enchanted me, became fascinated in Teach Yourself books (I learnt shorthand at 10, Finnish at 11 and promptly forgot it all at 12 but I had tremendous fun doing both) and started borrowing classical music tapes after hearing Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals and being completely captivated by it.

Statue of children reading

MAR212009 (c) colemama/Flickr

My parents were, quite frankly, baffled by almost everything I borrowed. They had no interest in classical music, thought the Finnish obsession was bizarre and shook their heads over the endless books on lighthousekeepers and engineers. But the point is that I was trying everything and they were happy to let me because it was safe, cheap and supervised.

Being part of that library, choosing for myself and trying everything, having the barriers of cost and access removed, getting to know what I liked and didn’t; these freedoms made me a better reader and a much better thinker.

One thing that often gets overlooked by those discussing the impact of library use on children is just how many conversations it can open up for them. The librarians, quickly spotting a kindred spirit, asked me about the books I borrowed. They recommended other books to me, teaching me to assess whether a book was a ‘good fit’ for me and whose recommendations to trust. Reading more widely taught me to compare books and authors and gave me confidence in saying what I liked and why. Explaining why I’d borrowed a specific book to my parents and answering their questions got us talking about books even though our tastes were worlds apart.

Those six little bits of cardboard gave me access to all sorts of conversations I just wouldn’t have had without them. They led to me studying academic subjects I wouldn’t have pursued otherwise (Latin and Classical Civilisation), kept me curious and enthusiastic and taught me that having eclectic tastes does not have to mean bad or trivial. They taught me to take an active role in my own, ongoing, education.

Today I read widely and have overflowing bookcases at home… but I still treasure and regularly use my library card. I use it just as I always have – to read more widely than I could afford to on my own and to feed my endless curiosity.

Alex grew up to be a book blogger too and writes at Alex in Leeds.

The Terrifying World of Children’s Fiction

Should we really be concerned about “scary” children’s fiction? (Image c/o ‘smil on Flickr.)

Jess Haigh wrote the following post in response to author GP Taylor’s recent suggestion that children’s books need age certification. It was originally posted on the Leeds Book Club blog and is reproduced here with permission.

GP Taylor, Cloughton’s Famous Son, has been blathering on the radio creating mounds of self publicity drumming up awareness of the horror that is children’s fiction. It Has Gone Too Far, he says, There Is No Innocence Any More. The Children, it would seem, Are Not Being Thought Of.

This from a man whose books, set around my home town, include evil sorcerers, vampires, and close encounters with death. A man who also, in his former life as an Anglican vicar, represented a religion that teaches children the story of a man who was born in a stable, as a five week old infant chased out of the place of his birth because of mass infanticide, regularly encountered deprivation and disease and was tortured to death, as a lifestyle choice.

Children’s books are often derided for being ‘too’ scary, depressing, or dis-heartening. They encounter too much loss and heartache too young and there is far too much violence. To a point, I would agree. I’ve been reading Michael Grant’s Gone series along with a 12 year old mate of mine, and there are some parts when I think ‘should she really be reading about this teenager having his arms burnt off and replaced with whip-like tentacles? Should she really be reading about teenagers seeing their siblings die in horrible, horrible ways?’. Then I, you know, talk to her about what she is reading and she absolutly loves it. She refuses to read books that aren’t massively violent-these books reflect for her an exciting world. And she knows violence is wrong, she doesn’t get into fights, we TALK about how the books make us feel and we learn from the emotions that come up.

Children need the darkness, just like adults do. There is reason we used to sneak-watch scary movies when we were kids, because we enjoy them. Controlled fear is good for us*, in moderation, it allows us to express emotions we otherwise would have no outlet to. And there is a massive difference anyway between gore and fear-a teenager bashing the heads of Zombies in with ski poles like the heroine of the excellent Undead by Kirsty McKay is a lot different to the chills up the spine of The Yellow Wallpaper.

It is the ‘there is too many troubled children with absent parents’ line that worries me, because this is segregating differently parented children and families into Universal vs Adults only. Josie Smith, one of my favourite series as a very young child, doesn’t have a dad, a fact that is made clear from the start. Is GP Taylor going to have an excellent series of books that shows a functioning single parent family many of the younger readers could either emphasise with, or learn to have empathy for, struck off because it doesn’t fit in with his ascribed lifestyle? There are books about kids being abandoned, stuck in poverty, and troubled because kids are abandoned, stuck in poverty and troubled. Something which the various religious institutions, for all their good works, have completely failed to deal with. There is a reason misereographies are so popular- 1 in 3 children will have suffered from neglect or abuse in their life time. 1.6 million children in the UK live in poverty- almost half of the children in Hyde Park in Leeds do. Why should these children’s lives, albeit fictional accounts, be repressed as not suitable for a wider audience? Why should a child, living on their own or in care, or as a carer, or with parents who don’t care, why should that child not be able to find relatable characters in fiction books because some one whose life is OK thinks it not suitable for them?

What needs to happen, what really needs to happen, is for the ludicrousy of this scheme to get more publicity, but also for library campaigners to jump on it. THIS is why you need qualified, motivated people in the schools who read and love and know the books, who can recommend accordingly, who know how to sensitively and not patronisingly steer away from the triggers, who will not compromise on freedom of speech but will recommend and lend wisely. Also know as, you guessed it, LIBRARIANS. Not ONE single political party supports A Librarian For Every School. This is the sort of thing that shows that they are needed and, if allowed to be so, could be incredibly valued.

Children are always going to like fictionalised violence, because adults like fictionalised violence. The Orange Prize received a lot of slack for being too depressing a couple of years ago. Until the world is made of sunshine and rainbows, though, we need our fiction to be relatable, not boring, and we need, more than anything, to be able to trust our children to make choices for themselves, be able to talk to them about what they read and deal with what it brings up accordingly.

That’s what I think, anyway.

*Read Bettelheim’s the Uses of Enchantment, it is excellent, and says all this stuff far more eloquently

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.

The importance of promotional activity

We have written often about how statistics often inform (or, more accurately, misinform) council decisions about library closures.  Should a small rural library have a slight dip in visits, councils will subsequently consider it ripe for closure and a great opportunity to save money – regardless of the actual needs of the local communities they serve.  Reliance on visits alone is, as has been demonstrated before, a misleading measure of the service itself.  That said it is not a measure that campaigners should ignore, if anything it should be used to their advantage.  Methods for counting visits aren’t very reliable and easily open to manipulation by library users.

However, councils are also willing and able to manipulate the statistics where required to tip the odds in their favour come the time for consultation.  Take, for example, the events in libraries and the materials produced to promote them.  Author events and other such activities are often hosted by public libraries to help draw in visitors.  This is particularly the case during the Summer Reading Challenge, a promotion designed to encourage children to read and one that often relies on events and promotional activity to encourage children to complete the challenge.  There is one problem with promotional activity however, it costs money.

Frank Turner at Lancaster Library

Frank Turner performing at Lancaster Library as part of the ‘get it loud in libraries!’ project. Events such as these drive up awareness of the library, but need promoting. Image from Lancashire County Council.

Whilst cutting promotional activity may seem like an insignificant saving at first, it can actually lead to much bigger savings further down the line – ultimately what the councils are trying to achieve.  If libraries, for example, were forced to curtail promotional activities there would, obviously, be an impact on visits.  Events and promotional activities drive up visits, often attracting people who would not usually use the library.  Take the Summer Reading Challenge.  Promoting that event throughout the summer encourages children to sign up and take part.  Given that the Reading Challenge requires three return visits in order to complete it (and receive the certificate of course!), one can see how vital promotion of the Reading Challenge is in terms of attracting visits.

And it isn’t just the Summer Reading Challenge this affects.  Author events are also a big driver of library visits.  Often an author event can attract people to the library who are not ordinarily members, but are interested in the author themselves.  If they are not aware of such an event (via a press release in the local paper for example), then obviously they will not attend and there will be a subsequent impact on library visits.  Reduce or prohibit promotional activity therefore, and there will be a subsequent decline in visits.  And we know what a decline in visits leads to.

This will to drive down promotional activity and limit the nature and scope of promotional activities is all the more disturbing when set against the backdrop of the 1964 Libraries Act.  The Act clearly states:

“It shall be the duty of every library authority to provide a comprehensive and efficient library service for all persons desiring to make use thereof…. of encouraging both adults and children to make full use of the library service.” [emphasis mine]

If library authorities are not promoting activities or events within your library network, they are not ‘encouraging’ adults and children to make full use of the library.  Encouraging people to use the library requires promotional activity and this is fundamental to the delivery of a comprehensive and efficient library service.

So, whilst the initial cut in promotional activity may not itself save huge sums of money, the impact of such a cut undoubtedly will.  Cut the promotional activity, cut the visits, cut the libraries.  But a cut in promotional activity does not mean that an event cannot be promoted.  In the age of social media, any one of us can promote an event and share it with hundreds, thousands, millions at the click of a button.  If the councils won’t do it, then it is up to us to step up and do it for them.


Support from broadcaster Jenni Trent Hughes

We are very pleased to have received this statement of support from writer, broadcaster and relationship counsellor, Jenni Trent Hughes.

Jenni Trent Hughes“There is nothing in the world more important than a love of reading. Even in this world of internet obsession the feel of a book cannot be compared. Anything we can do to introduce our children and young people to the joys of reading must be done. And anything that would stand in the way of this greatest of pleasures must be stopped. Reading really IS cool…”


Memories of dusk-time strolls – Rebecca

I wanted to share a story with you about a recent visit to a library in Norwich. I was there for a private view of children’s photography, but the family I would like to mention were not there for that event, and are, I believe, regular visitors. As expected, we had a lot of families attend the private view and there were quite a lot of smartly dressed Mums and Dads, the Mayor, and Head Teachers. Then in came a Dad with two little girls, who were both in their pyjamas. The organiser of our event approached the Dad and offered him the brochure for the photography, the Dad explained he wasn’t there for that reason. He proceeded over to the children’s section and sat with his two children and read to them what I can only presume to be their usual bedtime story. It was lovely to be at the library for our event. lovely that so many families showed up to support the work of their children, lovely to see our dignitaries, but all this was overshadowed for me by the absolute privilege of seeing the public library used by this caring father, reading to his two young daughters. I can make all kinds of assumptions about the home they had come from – maybe without a book for bedtime. But what stayed with me was that these two little girls might grow up with the memories of dusk-time strolls, after dinner, to a cosy library full of wonderful books, and a cuddle with their Dad.


Booktrust news

The Voices for the Library team is saddened to hear the following news from Booktrust:

Department for Education funding cuts to English bookgifting programmes

Booktrust had notification on Friday 17 December from the Department for Education that funding for all our English bookgifting programmes (Bookstart, Booktime and Booked Up) will be cut by 100% from 1 April 2011. Please note that this news applies to England only.

We are immensely surprised and disappointed by this decision and know that families, teachers, librarians, health visitors, our publishing partners and many others up and down the country will be sharing these feelings. We passionately believe in these programmes and the proven extraordinary transformative power of reading for pleasure. We will be consulting with our partners and exploring alternative funding opportunities to do our utmost to make sure that every child continues to be given the opportunity to develop a lifelong love of books.

We share Booktrust’s vision to make books a part of everyone’s life. If you would like to show your support, and share your stories about how Booktrust and their Bookgifting schemes have made a difference to someone’s life, you can let them know on twitter @booktrust.