The dangers of reading Fiction


Blog post by Angela Platt, Librarian, Ibstock Place School

The term ‘reading for pleasure’ most widely refers to voluntary reading conducted independently.  According to the National Literacy Trust, it is summed as “reading that we do of our own free will, anticipating the satisfaction that we will get from the act of reading. It also refers to reading that, having begun at someone else’s request, we continue because we are interested in it”. Reading in this category most frequently refers to novels and stories which encourage empathy, creativity and vocabulary. It should be noted that reading for pleasure should not omit voluntary, independent reading of non-fiction, which can improve skills and instruct readers on subjects in which they are specifically interested outside of the classroom setting. However, as mentioned, this is most typically associated with the reading of fiction.

The early dangers of reading-for-pleasure

Although there are swathes of information regarding the benefits of reading fiction in our current day-and-age, especially via public and school libraries, this was not always the case! Indeed, when the novel took off in the late 18th – early 19th century, it was abhorred considerably by numerous members of the public. This was especially the case amongst proponents of evangelicalism, which was widespread in this era. They themselves did publish their own novels, but these were offered as a moral alternative to secular fiction – a religious counterpart which offered tangible moral imperatives interwoven within their text. This included works such as Hannah More’s Coelebs, a story about a young man who seeks a devout Christian wife after the death of his father.

Opposition to this type of secular leisurely entertainment was not unusual; indeed, Puritans in the 17th century had condemned theatre-going amongst their congregations, due to their beliefs in its invitation to and promotion of immoral behavior. In the late 18th and 19th centuries, novel reading was also opposed on moral grounds. Said one contributor to the Dundee Evening Telegraph in the late Victorian age:

“In the days of my youth, fiction was regarded a very dangerous reading, especially for young people. The novel and the theatre were placed on the same level. Both were of the devil, and consequently both were to be shunned.”

It was believed that novels promoted immoral behaviour. They portrayed immoral behavior in an attractive light, and caused readers to fall prey to their repugnant grip. Furthermore, novels tended to portray unrealistic versions of life, which could at the very least leave readers feeling discontented with their current lot in life. In 1864 a Dundee newspaper published a comment from the Archbishop of York which demonstrates the widespread disgust with this ‘vice’:

“[Novel reading] cascades people into useless outcomes, obsesses them with unnecessary passions, while providing a distorted view of life”

Additionally, novel reading was also believed to be frivolous and time-wasting. It was believed that women especially tended to fall prey to its clutches, and this resulted in the neglect of their domestic responsibilities. Numerous stories of domestic despair can be found which allude to a root cause of ‘novel reading.’ (some of which can be found here). Indeed, at a meeting in the Phoenix Lodge in the early 20th century a group of members decided that one of the greatest contributing causes to disruption and dissolution of families was ‘novel reading among women.’

Novels, as demonstrated, were considered ‘dangerous’ by a significant amount of 18th and 19th century contemporaries, and these suspicions continued until well into the 20th century. While now novel reading is considered part and parcel of overall well-being, it was not so in its initial phase. What about today though, is novel reading still considered a ‘danger’ in some sects of society?

Novel reading in our age

One blog, in a tongue and cheek manner, lists a number of dangers which reading for pleasure can elicit. Here are four of the given reasons:

1.      Books are filled with razor-sharp paper that can easily cut you.

2.      Reading can fill your mind with dangerous ideas. At least, some governments and organisations think so.

3.      Becoming engrossed in a book may distract you from feeding yourself, leading you to starve to death.

4.      Reading books helps keep librarians employed, a secretive group that may or may not be trying to dominate the world…

Although humorous, these claims do bear some remnants of truth. The third point recalls the fears in the 18th and 19th century that novels cause idleness. The most salient point, however, for ourselves may be the second point – which recalls to our minds instances where particular books have been censored or ‘banned’ from particular institutions or countries due to political and/or religious objections. Indeed ‘banned books’ have been a frequent cause for consternation in bookstores and libraries for decades; a number of publications which received this label can be found here.

Banning books is a demonstrable effect of the belief that books, or at least some books can be considered dangerous. Undoubtedly, this is a trickle-effect of the beliefs held by our Georgian and Victorian ancestors. Indeed, there are two reasons for which reading novels, even contentious ones, can be dangerous in a beneficial way:

1.      They inspire empathy

2.      They challenge us to think differently.

Reading for pleasure can indeed be ‘dangerous’ since it challenges us to consider new perspectives, perhaps even ones which we have not previously encountered. Given our diverse and global world, these can be especially helpful in developing a well-rounded character in social and professional environments. However, just for the sake of clarity,  I feel I should indicate what promoting ‘dangerous’ reading does not indicate:

1.      It does not equal agreeing with everything you read.

2.      It does not mean you must change your religion, political views, or ideologies to reach congruence with what you have read.

What ‘dangerous’ reading does indicate is the possibility of greater understanding of diversity. In our day and age, this is a salient issue. In truth, we have so much information bogging us down that many people have begun to ultimately form opinions with emotions rather than weighing of evidence. This is not a political piece which argues for/against this trend – undoubtedly there is a place for both emotions and rationalism. However, if post-modernism has taught us anything in this ‘biased’ world we must concede that it is probably impossible to separate our emotions from our rationalism – and reading novels aids us in this. It allows us to understand how people in other cultures and communities view the world. It also allows us to understand why people within our own larger communities might approach the same problems and issues in a vastly different manner.

Select bibliography and further reading:

Clark, C. and Rumbold, K. (2006). Reading for Pleasure a research overview. [online] Available at:

Banned Books. Available at

The dangers of novel-reading. (2017). The Beeton Ideal. Available at:

Dangers of Reading Books. (2011). Your Guide to Live. Available at:

Mandal, A. (2015). Evangelical Fiction in Garside, P. and O’Brien, K. English and British Fiction 1750-1820. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 260.

Pearson, J. (1999). Women’s Reading in Britain, 1750-1835: a dangerous recreation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 197.

Posted in Reading for Pleasure, School Libraries | Leave a comment

Are you going to CILIP Conference 2017?

Are you going to be at the CILIP Conference in Manchester on 5-6th July?  There is still time to bag yourself a place!  CILIPSLG are going to have a stand there, and we will be available to answer any questions you have about school libraries.  Two experienced school librarian Committee members will be running the stand, Rosalind Buckland who works in a secondary school, and Lucy Chambers who is a primary school librarian – so we should be able to help whichever sector you work in.  In addition, I will be around from halfway through the first day if you have any burning questions to ask.  We shall have some of our Reading Packs to sell, including our latest Rainbow Reads and Being Me packs, both of which are proving to be very popular.

The CILIP Conference – as opposed to school librarian conferences – offers many opportunities to network with other members of the wider profession, which is especially valuable if you are in the process of Chartering.  Chartership requires that you have a commitment to the wider profession outside of school libraries, and this is a good chance to be inspired by some of the talks and to put them into practice in a school library context.

Looking at the programme for this year, I have picked out some workshops and seminars that I feel would be of especial interest to school librarians – ones which I intend to go to myself.

Wednesday 5th July, morning:  Creative Hub workshop – Beyond the Summer Reading Challenge: using young volunteers to shape your year-round teenage offer.

Wednesday 5th July, afternoon: Copyright workshop (always very interesting for school librarians) or Creative Hub: using the arts in libraries to benefit health and wellbeing.  I shall be hard pressed to choose between these two workshops!

Thursday 6th July, morning: Impact and Evaluation Workshop  Always a hot topic in schools, our own Impact Evaluation course in May was packed out.   Or Your Career Workshop which is a must if you are chartering.

Thursday 6th July, afternoon: Literacy and Learning seminar (which I shall be chairing), or Creative Hub: Digital Play: ways to enhance the library experience which is also fascinating.

Of course there are also the Keynote Speakers, Dr Carla Hayden from the Library of Congress, Professor Luciano Floridi, Professor of Philosophy and Ethics of Information at the University of Oxford (great for the ethical strand of your PKSB).  I know that I, along with many others, was profoundly impacted by the keynote speaker last year, Scott Bonner of Ferguson Library, who talked about the ethical dilemma of being open for everyone in the middle of the terrible race riots that raged around Ferguson.  I know that one of my mentees made a change in the way his library served his students in the light of what Scott Bonner had to say.

I hope that I have whetted your appetite – it’s not too late to book!  And if you really can’t make it this year, then please follow these tweets and hashtags to get as much as you can from other people’s experience.

SLG tweets as @CILIPSLG and our Bursary winner Caitlin McCulloch is @scaredycait

CILIP tweets as @CILIPinfo and the hashtag this year is #CILIPConf17

If you are there, please come and say hello! If you follow on Twitter, please retweet us.

Caroline Roche, Chair CILIPSLG





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The Challenge of Implementing Change

During my spare time in my school library, I was recently perusing various blogs, pinterest, twitter, etc – looking for any new ideas, best practice and developments in the field which I should know about. One such blog that piqued my interest on this occasion, was “Day in the Life” by Caroline Roche[1] a section attached to her blog which allows various school library professionals to ruminate about a day of work for them. It was intriguing for me to note the variety in the days of each of these individuals – some of them jam-packed with teaching and instruction, others dominated by organisational and admin activities; some described library assistants, helpers, and senior management providing all-day assistance, others iterating the challenges of being the sole librarian in their school.

I have found this variety of experience to be the subject of many conversations which I have been privy to, both online and while attending CPD events with other school librarians. Over my meagre four years as a school librarian this has been on my mind a lot, especially recently as I just applied for Chartership. I can vividly recall in my first year in this position in 2013, attending a couple of CPD events -one run by HMC and the other by SLG. I remember that I felt overwhelmed and, somewhat, a failure by how much these other librarians were doing in comparison with what I was doing in my library.

Just to elucidate – my school library was purpose built in 2011 (before my time) – a secondary school library attached to the senior school of an independent school. This small, but elegant, library comprises two floors, over 15,000 books, and shelves which were custom-made, reaching from the floor to just inches below ceiling (indeed- the former Bursar told me that when he ordered these custom-made shelves, he had a moment of panic when it occurred to him that they might not actually fit into the new library which was currently being built… they did, but only by inches!). This school library, fitted with open-seating hosting around 40 pupils, and 13 soft brown chairs for reading, was created to provide an aura of academic rigour and quiet reading. The only computers in this library include the one at the Librarian’s desk, and two iPads which allow pupils to peruse the library catalogue. Classes were not permitted to come into the Library, since there was no special set apart “area” designed for classes, and, indeed it was impractical to host them and try to maintain a silent atmosphere for the numerous Sixth Formers who utilise this space throughout the day. Silence was key, and this was (and still is) strictly enforced all day.

When I compared this with my library colleagues in other schools, I felt that I was failing miserably. Other colleagues described having classes coming in nearly all day long, holding library lessons in the library, teaching literacy skills on a fortnightly basis, pupils coming into the library to play games and socialize about books, and -sometimes- even hosting fun activities in their libraries, such as scavenger hunts and role playing games. At my library, on the other hand, these things were strictly prohibited, an imperative set by management, which was stressed before I even took the job. The library was to maintain its aura as an academic and reading safe-haven – in silence – at all times. While this strict tone did discourage me in the beginning – especially when I compared myself with other librarians – I did come to terms with it. In fact, I even began to appreciate and empathise with this position. Furthermore, I found ways to institute various initiatives which allows things to change…bit by bit.

A few years ago, if another school librarian had asked me how I felt about the punctilious system at my library, I would have hung my head and admitted it was unchangeable, and that I yearned for a library more like theirs. Now, however, I admit candidly that if I were “in charge” I might do things differently, but I find myself more able to defend and empathize with their position. I think this is in part from my Chartership work, which has compelled me to investigate the school aims and vision, and evaluate how my school library meets these. It also is, in part, from coming to realize a few things. I thought I would share these, as I am certain that I am not the only school librarian who has had this struggle!

1. “They” have preconceptions too

While we, as school librarians, come to the “table” so-to-speak with our preconceptions of how a school library should run, what should be prioritised, and what are the best practices – we need to understand that a school management team also comes with their own preconceptions, some of which they have understood to also be best practice, learned from their own CPD sessions, colleagues, and formal training. Indeed, I began to realize that the SMT’s ideas about how the library was run, stemmed largely from their whole-school vision.

2. Understand their position

 I’m not saying in the first point that we give up if our views conflict- far from it. Instead, we need to learn first to understand and empathise with their position. Identify why they have operated the way they have in the past, and how they feel about it. What did they feel was successful and why. After all, as a school, (especially independent schools), they have the prerogative to decide what message they want to send and advertise as a school – and, indeed, through their school’s library.

In my case, I began to understand that my school wanted to send a message emphasising academic excellence and the pre-eminence of the book in learning – both things I also hold dear! I, therefore, began to empathise with the various rules they wished to continue to implement in the library.

3. Change takes time

 And this is the key…Change takes time. One thing I have learned above all else, is that even though I may have ideas which would be brilliant – changes which would be “life-altering” for my library… change often needs to be given piecemeal, not in huge helpings. This may not be the case for every librarian; some very privileged librarians may arrive in their school with a SMT who simply hands them the directive to “make the library great at whatever cost.” This is brilliant, wonderful, and a dream-worthy situation…but not the norm, I expect. Instead, we are likely to arrive in libraries, as the top two points indicate, which already have a system, preconceived notions, and a vision for their library service. If you come into this situation with ideas on how things can change, then definitely do bring them to the table; but first – gauge the atmosphere. Are they likely to be open to the change you wish to present? If not, is there a way you can bring in this change in smaller doses over time?

I have found this to be pivotal to the change in my library which I am proud to have been able to effect. In my school library, I began to generate initiatives which respected the general rules of the library, but were still engaging, fun, and promoted enthusiasm for the library. I thought of ways which we could initiate small changes without causing disruption to the overall atmosphere – such as allowing classes to come in briefly to select books, holding competitions and events which could be completed without noise/chaos, giving briefings on information literacy held in classrooms/computer rooms adjacent to the Library – I also began a pupil committee who assisted me with choosing books, which met in the Library once per term.

So please do not be discouraged if you find yourself unable to create your ideal library in a heart-beat. It takes time, patience, and understanding. Afterall, change is often a drizzle, not a hurricane.

By Angela Platt, Librarian and Archivist

  1. ‘A Day in the Life’:
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Health Information Week – join in!

Many organisations across different sectors are collaborating for Health Information Week (HIW) (3-9thJuly 2017). This campaign aims to improve accessibility of high quality health information for the public as well as building on local partnerships between information providers and improving health literacy.

How can you get involved? You could put up a health information display in your school or find out what is happening locally – you could have a stand at a health event being organised near you or offer internet searching tutorials. Many more ideas are listed here and you can ask for local contacts. Please let know what you are planning so that your display or event can be added to the diary and promoted. You can also promote the HIW campaign to staff and students via newsletters and social media (#HIW2017)

For more information and to access HIW resources: or contact:

The Twitter campaign has started and can be followed via #HIW2017; there is also a thunderclap which anyone is encouraged to support (it just means that an automated HIW tweet will be sent at once from every twitter account that signs up before 3rd July). Support the HIW

It would be great to have some school libraries joining with this – as it is end of term and almost the summer holidays, perhaps some health information promotion about travel health, sun care and mental health resources like Mood Boosting books etc for reading over the holiday?

Do consider joining in with this – contact your local NHS librarian for any leaflets that you may want for your own school display.

Posted in Information, School Libraries | Leave a comment

Eltham event – part two!

SLG Regional Event.  Saturday 18th March 2017.  Held at Eltham College, London.

Due to popular demand Eltham College was the impressive venue once again for one of the SLG Regional Events.  Having offered the same programme back in October and being highly oversubscribed, Caroline Roche, Librarian and Chair of the SLG, decided to organise a second chance to access the programme. She  offered a highly informative programme of speakers and topics where school librarians could meet and share good practice.

Caroline opened the proceedings with the SLG News update as Chair.  Being one of the strongest advocates of not only schools having libraries but those libraries having a dedicated librarian, her passion for these issues was clear to all.  It soon became very apparent that the others in the room collectively felt the same way.

The presentation ‘Using technology for teaching and learning’, also delivered by Caroline, was extremely well received. Many tools were showcased including Diigo, Animoto and MySimpleShow gave us the information and confidence to go and try these in our own setting. Whilst Caroline readily admitted some of the things she demonstrated were far from new, they still have a place within the sector to aid both staff and students.

Our next speaker was Maggie Thomas, Librarian at Bacon’s College in South London.  Maggie spoke to us of her experience in ‘Rebuilding the library presence.’ This was a very personal story of how Maggie reorganised and rejuvenated her library space so the pupils and herself benefited enormously, however we could all identify with some aspects that we as school librarians face on a daily basis. Maggie now runs a highly successful library and is constantly evaluating the service she offers.

Then came Murder by the Book’. Alex Gillespie of Box Clever Education demonstrated how we could all hold a murder in the library…hypothetically of course!  We entered the library to find the outline of a body and a series of clues laid out for us to solve the mystery. Well…….what a competitive lot we are!  Clues were gathered quickly and the red herrings were identified.  The big reveal was after lunch so we retired for some well-earned refreshments.

During lunch there was time to catch up with colleagues we may not have seen for a while or indeed meet new ones! There was a definite buzz in the room as the morning’s activities were discussed as well as sharing success stories of our libraries. After lunch the murderer was identified although I am not going to disclose who that is…….you never know who reads this!

Matt Imrie, Librarian at Farringtons School, was next on stage and he gave a fascinating talk on Library freeconomics – or getting free stuff for your library.’ With budgets being an emotive topic, we were all keen to see how we can still bring new resources into school with the investment of our time rather than our money!  Needless to say I am sure we will all be entering lots of competitions because as Matt so rightly said ‘You have to be in it to win it!’

Our final presentation of the day was by Rowena Seabrook, Human Rights Education Manager at Amnesty International UK‘Using fiction to highlight human rights issues.’, led us to work together in small groups looking at human rights and how we can promote them in our school through our literary choices. Using a variety of resources, we touched upon many of the challenges facing different people today.  This as you can imagine triggered a lot of discussion and debate. This presentation was very timely given the publication of the CILIP Carnegie Medal shortlist and this too was broached by Rowena as some of the content of some titles is very sensitive and needs careful thought before lending to some students.

The day ended with lots of email addresses exchanged and the promise of keeping in touch.  I am sure I speak for all of the delegates when I say a huge Thank You to Caroline not only for hosting such a rewarding day but also for her tireless energy in the promotion of both school libraries and of course school librarians!

By Julie Angel.  Assistant Librarian, Eltham College


Posted in Advocacy, CPD, Leadership, Libraries, Regional Training Days, School Libraries, Training and CPD | Leave a comment

A word about Copyright

Naomi Korn, a CILIP Trustee, came to speak at the Day Conference and AGM on February 7th 2017 for SLG.  Having heard her speak at CILIP Conference 2016, I knew she was excellent and an authority on  copyright.  She runs her own copyright agency, and has a gift for explaining difficult concepts really simply for us.  Naomi didn’t disappoint, giving us a really clear understanding of how copyright works in practice and answered some questions.  However, there just wasn’t time for everything to be answered, and so Naomi kindly wrote up her talk, and included lots of great links for us, on her own blog here.  Do have a read, and bookmark the page, as I guarantee that this is something we shall all  need to visit and revisit again.  Our thanks to Naomi for her time and generosity in helping us with this difficult subject.


Posted in CILIP, Copyright, digital literacy, School Libraries, Teaching and Learning | Leave a comment

Reading Outcomes Framework

The Reading Agency has published its long-awaited Reading Outcomes Framework. This tool is designed to ‘help improve impact evaluation across the sector…..It will help you understand, demonstrate and improve the impact of your activity to encourage reading. It will support you to make the case for investment and advocate for your work by outlining existing evidence about the outcomes of reading and providing guidance about collecting evidence about the impact your work makes.’ (Laura Venning, Reading Agency, Evaluation and Impact Research Manager). It is freely available to use across education, health and charities sectors. The toolkit is the end of the first phase and the Reading Agency asks anyone using it to give them feedback.

It includes a succinct one page framework of the outcomes of reading for pleasure and empowerment, sample survey questions which evaluate whether a project has impact on these outcomes and reference evidence about demonstrating how reading relates to these outcomes. The report and evaluation toolkit form a solid 72 pages, but it is well worth reading through it.
I have been interested in impact evaluation for a couple of years now and have developed some templates for Tower Hamlets SLS. This toolkit is a most valuable addition to the subject. Measuring reading for pleasure is notoriously difficult and potentially mainly anecdotal and subjective. This toolkit could contribute to producing measurable outcomes that can be used as advocacy.

The framework outlines four stages of analysis of a reading project from the ‘activity to encourage reading for pleasure and empowerment’ to potential reading impact outcomes. These may have a positive impact on health and wellbeing, intellectual outcomes, personal outcomes and social outcomes. These in turn lead to wider positive impact on cultural, economic and societal areas.
The survey questions are very detailed and are broadly similar to the ones used by the National Literacy Trust to evaluate their projects with children, such as Premier League Reading Stars and also The Reading Agency’s Chatterbooks book clubs . I have used this questionnaire myself with primary school children and, with guidance, it produces useful information and, if used before and after the project, potentially provides useful impact evaluation data. To be of greater value though you need to assess the continued impact some time later. The survey can also be used with other stakeholders.

The most interesting sections for me are the analysis tools and the references. As someone with no statistical background, I will be studying these to improve my skills.

Full details and links to the framework, the toolkit and an interactive version are at:

Lucy Chambers, SLG National Committee

Posted in Impact Evaluation, Library Skills, Reading for Pleasure | Leave a comment

Revalidation – why bother?

Post written by Sheila Compton, who is on the SLG National Committee

When looking on the CILIP Directory of Registered Practitioners to see if my Revalidation had been updated I noticed that coincidentally the Revalidation was registered exactly 41 years after I originally registered as a Chartered Librarian. This led me to reflect on what had driven me to undertake revalidation at this stage in my career, when I am clearly not on an upward trajectory in the job market! Soon after I became a Chartered member, ALA, the profession became all graduate entry. Although the status of those who had achieved Chartership under the old system was preserved I later decided to update my qualifications by obtaining a degree. I felt that this would enhance my skills to the level of younger professional colleagues; and would also put me academically on a par with teachers, as I had eventually settled on a career in school librarianship.

My degree involved a lot of reflection on my own practice through action research, which gave me many opportunities to develop my skills. Over the years I had attend training events and conferences to keep myself up to date so I could just have left it there; quite frankly at this stage in my career why bother with revalidation? Looking at the profession with its dwindling numbers of professional school librarians, and having no desire to change jobs, there did not seem a lot to motivate me to revalidate. After all, surely it would take ages to evidence and require extra work?

Like many people I started in a half-hearted way to keep a record of my CPD and thinking it would have to be evidenced through formal conferences and training sessions, with certificates of attendance to validate my presence. Months later I had not really got very far with it, and almost gave up until a flash of inspiration made me put down revalidating as my performance management personal target at school. This I felt would achieve two aims as I would have evidence of professional development for school, and it would actually make me finish my revalidation. There was also a slight hidden agenda as in my capacity as SLG Vice Chair I wanted to show librarian colleagues that revalidation is achievable at any age and stage in your career, and perhaps to encourage others to do the same. I think that it is important to be able to evidence our continuing professional development both from the point of view both of our own integrity and to ensure our viability in the job market.

The SLG 2016 Conference “Read all about it” spurred me on to actually get on with the whole revalidation process as I attended the seminar, led by Matthew Wheeler of CILIP, on Professional Registration which included Revalidation. In his presentation Matthew explained the process and showed that for Revalidation the key elements were the logging of CPD and a reflective statement. It soon became evident that the tasks were less onerous that I had thought. Professional reading counted as an activity, as did attendance at courses and even participation in committee meetings. By the end of the year I realized that I had well exceeded the minimum requirement of 20 hours without any excessive financial cost, or demands upon my time.

The final task was the reflective statement, the hardest part of which was encapsulating my reflection on all of the CPD in 250 words. With the CPD log and the reflective statement uploaded to the CILIP VLE the process was finished in December, and in January I was thrilled to receive confirmation from CILIP that my Revalidation had been accepted.

So why had I done it? I wanted to prove that it was an achievable target, and to be able to show my line manager and the Head that I was still keeping up with professional development. I had achieved my personal targets, developed my professional practice, and realized how much CPD can be done in a multitude of different ways. I hope that maybe I will be able to encourage my fellow librarians to revalidate too; it is not difficult, and there is a real feeling of achievement when you get the congratulatory email from CILIP.

Sheila Compton BA (Hons) MCLIP Revalidated 2016

Posted in CILIP, CPD, Leadership, School Libraries, Training and CPD | 1 Comment

Providing Excellent Library Provision

logo2By Alison Tarrant, MCLIP, MSc Econ Honour List Librarian, School Librarian of the Year Award 2016

Cambourne Village College is in its fourth year. We opened in September 2013 with a single year group, and have been building up year by year. Starting from scratch really enabled those running the school to think about what was needed – and a school library was definitely part of the plan. I was appointed as Librarian in the Easter term of 2013, which allowed me to plan an excellent library service.

Among some there is a misconception that the library is just a room full of books, and the Librarian someone who stamps them. Though the most visible aspect of the job, this is not excellent library service, and definitely doesn’t reflect the role of Librarian. At the core of excellent school library provision are two things: Information Literacy and Reading Development. These provide the fundamental helix which enables everything else.


Information Literacy

Information Literacy (IL) is the ability to find, use and communicate information in an ethical manner,(1) and is often widened to include research skills – such as note taking and evaluating outcomes. It is teaching pupils the skills they need to maximise the opportunities the internet provides, while exercising criticism. As Librarian, I create worksheets that guide students through the research process we use. (2)  I introduce this to all Year 7 classes at the start of the school year, and recap with other years as necessary. I lead sessions to introduce specific skills when required. I collaborate with teachers to provide resources that provide scaffolding for students, while allowing them freedom, and I produce videos that guide students through resources or skills as reminders for homework. I create Research Starter booklets for any topics where it is harder to find information at the right level – using short excerpts from higher level texts allows students access to the information without its being overwhelming. This creates a platform from which students can conduct their own research; once they have a foundation of knowledge they can access other information more easily, both in terms of understanding (3) and validity.

Reading Development

The Library stands astride a difficult gulf – supporting reading for pleasure while simultaneously ensuring pupils are progressing in their reading skills. Those who literally cannot read will probably fall under an intervention department, but there are plenty of students who fill the spectrum between ‘able to read’ and ‘fully fluent independent reader’. (4)  At the most basic level, the Librarian’s job is to make this development easier by encouraging students to read, by connecting books (including e-books) and readers. Calling this ‘basic’ is not to underestimate its importance. There are pupils in CamVC who only read now because two years ago they found a book they loved – this can have long-lasting and potentially life-changing impact. Not all students will want to read, and I take a further step in trying to identify these students. ‘Attitude to Reading’ surveys given at the beginning of the year help us recognise those ‘reluctant readers’, while comparing the results to their reading ability allows us to identify different groups (‘can but won’t’; ‘can’t but will’ etc). This leads to intervention interviews with the students in question: What is it that is preventing this child from wanting to read? Is it a family matter? A self-consciousness? Do they struggle with idioms and contexts? Are they simply not used to it? It is only by talking to the students that we can get to the core of the issue and start to target the cause, rather than the symptoms. Of course we will not be successful with everyone, but sometimes having the conversation is more important than the outcome – the fact that someone cares can make a difference to a child.

Reading is important – it provides opportunities to experience someone else’s life decisions, and unveils the wider world in all its complexity, helping students understand themselves and each other better – and I am here to discuss this all with them. “Miss, what’s a hermaphrodite?”; “What do you think about the death penalty?”; “Why does this book have rude words in?” The journey of discovery is not complete without someone they can turn to and ask the questions that have been raised in their minds. The Librarian extends learning and guides curiosity – “Ah, you liked that one? Try this,” or places a book in the hands of someone who needs it (a book with an LGBTQ character for someone who is questioning their sexuality perhaps) because they will not ask for it, but it might be the most important book they will ever read.


For the first two years, the focus was on embedding the double helix – setting up the Patron of Reading scheme and ensuring library lessons were fully utilised with an activity to develop reading skills in each session. At the same time the library started to develop an atmosphere – warm, inviting and engaging. Each school library represents a school in the same way the daemons in Philip Pullman’s ‘The Northern Lights’ represent each character’s personality, and the library was starting to capture the best of the staff and school surrounding it. In the early days the library was empty, with far too few books (building the collection year by year is the only way that makes sense – allowing that flexibility to respond to changing curricula and students) and yet now the shelves are overflowing. We now have e-book lending set up and a few different e-resources to help students with their research. For us it is a combination of formats and information – not one versus the other. Books, e-books and the internet are all tools that are useful in different ways and for different things; part of my job is ensuring the students can select the appropriate one and use it to its full advantage.

The role of Librarian has developed as well, from the days of cataloguing and setting up the Library management system, whereas now it is more focused on the library being a whole school resource – including contributing to teaching. I am uniquely placed in having an overall view of what is being taught and when, so I created a curriculum map. Compiling this information is invaluable for realising opportunities for collaboration between teachers, and showing progression of knowledge. It gives me an opportunity to make sure my resources are up to date, and that any opportunities for research skills or reading lists are utilised. My knowledge of what is going on within the school makes teamwork with colleagues easier, and creates opportunities for collaboration between different members of staff. For some Librarians, using this knowledge means they can develop additional learning opportunities – whether this be through interactive videos, creative projects, or any other talents your Librarian has.

I contribute to the school at a strategic level. Attending Middle Leader meetings means I know the pressures and deadlines that exist within the school and enables me to provide assistance and contribute, for example, with suggestions for the school’s development plan. Given the central role the library plays in school life, this 360 degree view allows me to make sure the library is aligned with the school’s aims over the next year or so. Access to the development plan is essential for any library which functions as a department within the school, and ensures that the school is getting the most from its investment. It answers the fundamental question: Where is the library contributing to the school’s aims? My Library’s development plan is broad. It covers reading ages, inclusion, staff CPD, working with feeder primaries – and these are marked off against the annual report, showing the impact and value of the library and librarian.

It is only through being respected as a professional (5) in my own right that this excellent library service has been achieved. I am incredibly well supported by the Senior Leaders, with a sensible budget and access to CPD. (6) As the Library has developed, the role of a Library Assistant has become a necessity, and we are planning a long-term vision for library provision, laying out the core aims and priorities of the library. There are very few definite things in education, but research has shown that libraries that have this support, impact on student outcomes (7) regardless of economic status. Providing an excellent library service is far more than stamping books: it is varied, important and has a positive impact on both staff and students.

[1] Learning Resources in Schools, Library Association Guidelines for School Libraries (1992).
[3] Hirsch, E.D. ‘Why Knowledge Matters’, Harvard Education Press, 2016. P.83
[4] For more information on the different stages of reading CLPE have created a brilliant diagram that explains the fluid stages:
[5] I am a Chartered Librarian, and as a member of CILIP I adhere to the code of professional practice. For more information on chartering for librarians see:
[6] The School Library Association runs brilliant courses:

As first published in Leading Change – The journal of the Leading Edge network.


Posted in Leadership, Libraries, Library Skills, Reading for Pleasure, School Libraries, Teaching and Learning | Leave a comment

Reading Rocks event, October 2016

From time to time, SLG is asked to send representatives to different events around the country to speak or to set up a stand.  This involved us getting involved with a stand in the ATL Conference earlier in the year, being represented and giving a talk to a Headteachers’ Teachmeet in the summer, and the Reading Rocks event this autumn.  Lucy Chambers from the committee attended this event, and wrote her report for us.  Every meeting we attend is a chance for us to interact with people we wouldn’t normally reach, and to spread the word about the great things school libraries are doing.

Lucy writes: ‘I attended the first one day Reading Rocks 2016 conference, established to ‘discuss ways to make reading rock for every pupil.’  near Warrington, to deliver a workshop on behalf of SLG.  This was an opportunity to speak at an event aimed at teachers rather than just librarians and is something the committee has been discussing for some time: how to cross the invisible barrier and promote the impact librarians can have on a school to educationalists.

The District CE Primary School in Newton-le-Willows has won awards for its approach to reading and has many inspirational reading areas, from several small libraries within the school to a Story Shack, a book-themed playground and a Little Library of books for parents.   They promote reading with stylish and interactive displays and regular reading events throughout the year.

My role was to advocate the value of school librarians, in this case in primary schools, and to promote SLG.  I also spoke about how I use regular Reading Year events to get children reading in my four schools in Tower Hamlets.  The day was devoted to literacy sessions of interest to primary school teachers, with several authors and promoters of reading schemes. Keynote speakers included James Clements, the founder of Shakespeare and More, who works with schools to develop the teaching of reading, and Mat Tobin, Senior Lecturer in English and Children’s Literature at Oxford Brookes’ School of Education, talking about the hidden messages in picture books , including a thought-provoking interpretation of ‘Not Now Bernard’, elicited with discussion from Year 1 to Year 6 pupils.

Workshops ranged from sessions promoting First News, Phoenix and other magazines to a project using rhythm and music to improve reading comprehension in low ability children. Other workshops included storyteller Dan Worsely, Into Film, Mat Tobin, Jonny Duddle and Nikki Heath.

Altogether, it was a very impressive event with some excellent speakers, a great range of exhibitors and an ambitious programme.  If you are a primary school librarian or teacher, look out for Reading Rocks 2017 and sign up!’

See the school’s website for further information


Posted in Advocacy, CILIP, Literary Events, Networking, Reading for Pleasure, School Libraries | Leave a comment