Tag Archives: schools

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.


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.

Anne’s story – a life in libraries

Only child in an impoverished home, never enough to eat, no new clothes or holidays.  But the library was free!  My parents were readers, so was I.  By the age of nine, in 1940, I had already decided on my future career: I would be a librarian.  At grammar school I began to set my sights on becoming a university librarian, but this was never to be.  Family need meant I had to leave school at sixteen.  I was heartbroken.  So naturally I applied to the local public library and became a junior assistant.  Two years at library school would provide me with qualifications, but that too was denied;  my local authority would not fund it.  Accordingly I set about five years of home study by correspondence, became an Associate of the Library Association but could not be a chartered librarian until I was twenty-three.  By this time I had been given responsibilities and had plenty of experience to offer.  I took a post in charge of children’s and schools libraries in a Lancashire town.  Two years later I married, and again found myself stymied.  My authority would not employ married women.  (Many today don’t believe me, but that was the case in 1957.) Heartbreak number two.

End of career?  Happily, no.  In 1971 life began again.  A new sixth form centre was being built as the boys and girls grammar schools united.  Arriving for my first day’s work, I found an array of empty bookshelves, a large study area covered with tarpaulin sheeting and tea chests full of several thousand books selected for sixth form use by both schools.  “Where do I start?” I exclaimed.  “Start there,” said a hastily departing secretary.  A team of students arrived to help.  The books were mostly classified and after sifting by me could be arranged on shelves.  Three weeks later we opened for business.  Three months later I had the books catalogued (card catalogues in those days, of course).

So began the twenty-one happiest years of my life, creating and exploiting an educational library.  It was a liberal education for me too, as I caught daily glimpses into every discipline (well, maybe not maths!) and worked creatively to provide materials to supplement the curriculum on matters such as environmental concern. I took part in the life of the college (as it became), its extra-curricular activities and indeed not a little teaching.  By this time I was a writer and editor and was used as unofficial poet-in-residence.  Seeing me as not quite a tutor, students brought their writings or their troubles to me.  And every year I recruited a new splendid team of student assistants who staffed the issue desk and advised on library policy  –  for me, a wonderful way of keeping young until I retired.  Never a dull moment; every day was different and full of delight.

I was not well paid  –  how many librarians are even today?  But for sheer job satisfaction, no other career can beat it.  Now in retirement I enjoy using my local libraries, including reading groups led by librarians who are keen readers themselves.  I wish them well with all my heart.  Long may they and their service survive and flourish.

Doncaster Book Award

The 7th annual Doncaster Book Award was launched on 8th October 2010. The book award is for all children in Doncaster and is promoted by school librarians, public librarians and college librarians.  The committee is made up of people from all those areas, plus the School Library Service, Chris Fitt (a freelance librarian and former Doncaster Libraries Children’s Librarian) & Dave Cryer.  Children from Doncaster schools choose the books and the long list is chosen from the most issued books in public libraries. From then on the children vote for the short list and the eventual winner.  The Doncaster Book Award is unique in the way the books are selected – it remains the only book award in the whole country that is chosen by the children rather than adults.

The public and school libraries play an instrumental role in the Award – without the effective partnership work taking place it would not be possible for the Award to be the success it is, reaching children in Doncaster and encouraging them to read and be enthusiastic about reading and literacy.

Video of the Doncaster Book Award launch 8th October 2010.