How do we connect students to LGBT+ resources? , Verity Jones

In 2018 I undertook my Thesis as part of my Master’s in Library and Information Studies, focussing on LGBT+ provision in school libraries. The original focus and aim was to examine the LGBT+ provision in school libraries from the perspective of the librarian; to explore how far external/internal limitations affect LGBT+ provision; budget restrictions, external influences (parents/teachers/governors), the availability of age-appropriate resources and resources that covered all the identities within the spectrum. 

One area of research, which did not make it into the published article, was the area of ‘access vs promotion’. A topic looking at the methods used by librarians to put users in contact with LGBT+ resources or to make the pupil body aware of what was on offer. Unlike some of the other areas hindering LGBT+ provision, this area largely comes under the librarian’s sole care – the question of how to connect students to LGBT+ resources, if the librarian was lucky enough (considering the above limitations and more), to have any.

The research revealed several methods that librarians use to connect their LGBT+ resources with users. These methods are some of the many that are outlined in suggestions/guidance, for example, resources from non-profits – such as Educate and Celebrate or Stonewall, in professional organisation spheres such as CILIP and its groups – SLG or YLG, in other library groups – such as SLA and on more informal networks – such as SLN. 

Displays

Pros

  • Easy to do
  • Can incorporate a mix of resources, online, posters, books, links… 
  • Can disperse them throughout the year
  • Books can be included without any other signposting
  • Can double up with another theme to reduce the ‘stigma’ of picking a resource up
  • Can be in prominent locations or time slots in the year
  • Can often lead to inter-department crossover/curriculum tie in, in turn creating more opportunities for them to be displayed

Cons

  • Resources can often be tenuously linked to the topic, to crowbar them in
  • Displays are by nature temporary, so books without any other signposting cannot be found again
  • The theme it may double up with could be damaging or hold its own stigma (e.g. mental health week – the historical ties between Mental Health and the LGBT+ community have been largely negative)
  • May not be utilised by those less willing to ‘out’ themselves at school, due to the prominent location

Labelling: spine

Pros

  • Easy to do
  • Can signal a book very clearly (e.g. rainbow stickers on the spine)
  • Confidently ‘out’ users or those wanting an LGBT+ book can find these easily without having any contact with the librarian

Cons

  • Signposts to anyone what the book is, those not ‘out’ may not pick up this book for fear of association, those not LGBT+ at all may fear the association too
  • At what ‘level’ of representation do you sticker, e.g. a secondary character is LGBT+ but the protagonists are not?
  • LGBT+ is a broad spectrum and one sticker can lead to a Lesbian user spending time looking through Gay fiction, even if they are looking for specific representation
  • Non-LGBT+ pupils/staff may not pick up these books as they are being ‘targeted’ at one group, they may not see these resources as for them

Book Lists

Pros

  • Can be specific with titling e.g. Lesbian Fiction/Trans MTF (male to female) fiction
  • Can include a variety of titles in one space without any other signifiers e.g. spine labels, stickers
  • Can potentially access without having to go through librarian/staff

Cons

  • They cannot be exhaustive 
  • Censorship can play a part e.g. what is seen as age appropriate or contains other heavy themes e.g. suicide/self harm
  • At what ‘level’ of representation do you include a book on a LGBT+ booklist, e.g. the protagonists parent is LGBT+ but the protagonist is not?
    • Booklists with only secondary or stereotypical or tokenistic representation can do more harm than good
  • The booklist can be very small, if you do not have many resources, again doing more damage than good to that user’s sense of worth

Reference Interviews

Pros

  • You may have good knowledge (if you have the resources) of your stock, so can suggest suitable and tailored suggestions
  • You may be able to filter out resources that would not apply e.g. not books about Transgender protagonist if the user is Lesbian and would like to read Lesbian fiction
  • You can suggest more resources in the moment, e.g. if they have already read the author or series

Cons

  • Relies on the user to approach the librarian 
  • Allyship is hard to project (it takes active work on the librarians’ part) for a user to feel comfortable approaching them
  • These interviews may not offer the level of privacy that a user may want or expect, you may be overheard
  • If the topic is on an area library staff are less aware of, it can highlight a lack of knowledge e.g. Non-Binary or Genderfluid topics

LMS (Library Management System) Labelling: search terminology and keywording 

Pros 

  • A private method so users can search at their own pace
  • Terminology can be specific and tailored e.g. Lesbian Fiction or Trans FTM (female to male) fiction
  • LMS often allow booklist or keyword searching, allowing access to more resources from an initial search

Cons

  • Requires users to be very aware of how to use the LMS to search
  • Requires access to a device in order to search, how private are these if communal?
  • Can use out-dated terminology and do more harm than good, e.g. Homosexual/transvestite (sometimes due to imported data from other locations)
  • Users may not know that their search history is private or that this terminology exists to search for
  • It can be time consuming to instigate 
  • Choosing what books to include e.g. gay secondary character

Solution

I think a mixed method approach to access and promotion of LGBT+ provision is necessary in all school libraries. It allows for the comparative pros and cons to balance one another out, leading to a more inclusive library that connects more users to LGBT+ resources.   

Although LGBT+ provision has universally improved, it is not enough to rest on these laurels but rather to push toward even more inclusive practice. It is important to remember Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity as a protected characteristic, can remain a hidden minority, with no collection of this data at a school level (like is done for some disability/racial background). The onus remains on the LGBT+ person to identify themselves to those in authority. The one ‘out’ pupil will not necessarily be the only one, so catering and tailoring your service to those less likely to approach you will benefit everyone (including other minorities). This minority first approach will in turn benefit the majority group, who can also access these resources without them being segregated. 

It is entirely possible, within any restrictions placed on us, to allow access and promotion using at least two of the methods mentioned in this piece, minimising the risk to and onus on the end user. 

A few questions I suggest asking yourself about LGBT+ provision:

  • Can they access the materials without having to interact with you (or library staff)?
  • Can they access them at any time, or only when others/yourself is around?
  • Are you using the methods you use now, for your ease or for your users’ ease?
  • Have you thought about any negative implications of the methods you use? (e.g. mental health week being the only time LGBT+ resources appear)
  • Do you buy these resources with only one subset of your users in mind? Why? 
  • If you rely on students coming to you, how do you make it abundantly clear you are an ally (a safe person)? 

Verity Jones is a school librarian at Fettes College, Edinburgh. She has worked as a school librarian in the private and state sectors, in co-educational and single-sex, day and boarding school, and received her MA in Library and Information Science from University College London (UCL). 

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The Value of Verse, Alison King

Verse novels are everywhere, but for some, the idea of a novel-length narrative told entirely in verse is still a thing of terror. Verse novels are stories, like any other. They will have a plot, historical, social and cultural context, and characters who need to overcome a series of obstacles in order to get what they want. Whilst verse novels can take a little getting used to, even for the seasoned reader, there are so many reasons to champion and cherish them.

  1. Honesty and Authenticity – Verse novels often deal with difficult topics, like grief, prejudice, and shame, shining a light on facets of history, society and identity that aren’t often discussed. Many of the issues that feature in verse novels are relevant to young people who are searching for their place in a world they are only just beginning to understand.  
  • An Immersive Reading Experience – Poetry has an immediacy, an urgency that can be used to tackle emotional subjects in a way that is honest and direct. Most verse novels are told through the first-person perspective, which offers an increased sense of intimacy. The reader is able to align themselves closely with the narrator, experiencing their emotional journey alongside them. These stories can be intense, and powerful. They are often consumed quickly – not because they are easy, but because once they have drawn you in, it is almost impossible to emerge from the pages. 
  • Engaging Reluctant readers – The layout of a verse novel can be quite different to prose. The text may be arranged creatively on the page, with greater use of white space. These books can be incredibly effective in capturing the interest of learners who do not enjoy reading, because the sparse layout can feel less daunting than paragraphs of dense text. The increased use of white space can be read as permission to take your time, giving the reader a little room to breathe. It is definitely worth noting that layout alone does not make a verse novel; the author will have made choices about language, pacing, rhythm and rhyme and all these elements will combine to create a unique experience that will vary from reader to reader. 
  • Challenging Perspectives – Verse novels are a terrific way to challenge perspectives on poetry, exposing the reader to something beyond the narrow view of the curriculum. They make poetry accessible, demonstrating all the ways verse is relevant and useful in the modern world. 
  • A Mirror and a Window – Perhaps among the most valuable things a verse novel can offer the reader is the chance to see themselves on the page and the opportunity to explore the world beyond the limits of their own experience. 

In short, verse novels are bold, brave, sometimes brutal, sometimes beautiful, but always important and we are lucky that new authors and new titles are emerging all the time. Below, I have listed some titles that would make a good starting point. These lists are by no means exhaustive and contain only a fraction of the amazing verse novels available. Even the most basic internet search will open up hundreds, if not thousands, of avenues for you to explore and I would urge you to do just that!

Middle Grade

Other Words for Home – Jasmine Warga

In the Key of Code – Aimee Lucido 

The Deepest Breath – Megan Grehan

Zombierella – Joseph Coelho

The Crossover – Kwame Alexander 

Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson

Teen

Junk Boy – Tony Abbott

Clap When You Land – Elizabeth Acevedo 

The Black Flamingo – Dean Atta

Punching the Air – Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Toffee – Sarah Crossan 

Long Way Down – Jason Reynolds 

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Are books for young people a literature in their own right? by Elizabeth Bentley

Last autumn I was privileged to watch an online interview with Aidan Chambers, on his new book. This is not another of his distinguished novels, but a more academic discussion of what he calls youth fiction: The Age Between: personal reflections on youth fiction

Aidan Chambers wrote perhaps my favourite book, certainly of those written for young people, This Is All, the last in his Dance sequence. (I was sitting next to a very nice American at a library conference and told her how much I loved it, only to find she was Nancy Chambers, his wife. Pure coincidence, but so thrilling for me. I have a signed copy, of course.)

But he had already won both the Carnegie Medal and the American Michael L. Printz Award for Postcards from No Man’s Land, as well as the international Hans Christian Andersen Award, so his children’s literature presence is undoubted. 

This new book is a fascinating discussion that covers how he views the life stage he writes for and how that can be defined as the emergence from childhood through to the achievement of adulthood, roughly 13 to 25. Which, as he points out, is close to the youth age group defined by Shakespeare: “I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting.” (The Winter’s Tale). So this view of youth is not new, and in fact nor is writing for it, which as Chambers points out, had already begun in the 19th century. 

The chapters include an account of how he first started writing for youth, as a secondary school teacher, faced with students who were reluctant to read, partly because there was so little available that was both accessible and related to their lives.  His chapter on The Catcher in the Rye (adult male author) and Bonjour Tristesse (youth female author) reflects on the differences between a book written in the first person about a youth, and a book written in the first person by a youth. (Sagan comes out of this rather better than Salinger, though Bonjour Tristesse has never been adopted by youth in the way Catcher was.) 

A “history” chapter looks at some of the famous books from the 19th century, in particular Tom Brown’s Schooldays and Little Women, highlighting the difference between them of telling the story from an adult perspective (Tom Brown) and from that of the young characters (Little Women), followed by a whole chapter on Huckleberry Finn, written in the same period but which moves decisively to telling the story in Huck’s voice. Chambers makes it clear how highly he rates this achievement by Mark Twain, as well as illustrating how much effort Twain put into achieving it. 

The book also contains an analysis of the changes of both mind and body that occur in youth, using the latest research, and relating them to the implications that has for the author writing for them. And his understanding of the young goes far beyond the prosaic, describing the elements of joy, love, sex, and spirituality that go to make up the young psyche.

He sees the very fact of youth being on the threshold between childhood and adulthood (liminality) as significant in and of itself, as they struggle to make sense of themselves and the world around them. I particularly liked his discussion of The Diary of Anne Frank in this context.

The final section of the book, Narrative Strategies, discusses how authors he admires, such as Twain, have tackled the issues of writing youth fiction, and then how his own work demonstrates how narrative serves the themes he wishes to cover. This is both the most demanding, at least for me, and the most interesting section. He examines how using the first person limits narrative possibilities, and how it can be extended to widen those possibilities, using the example of Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, which he wishes he had known before writing his earlier novels. He then moves on to the use of the third personas exemplified by Cormier’s The Chocolate War, which tells the story from multiple viewpoints, but all in the third person, allowing an authorial voice to be voiced where appropriate. 

And then Chambers moves to an illuminating discussion of some of his own writing, with an extraordinarily detailed analysis of the narrative structure of Breaktime in terms of the “network” that built to form the whole. I have no background in literary criticism or analysis, so I didn’t find it the easiest of reads, but it was so rewarding to understand what had gone into just one book. Not that Chambers says he was necessarily aware of all those elements and layers as he was writing, but that once finished he could see them. He explores the relationship between himself as storyteller, his “fictive protagonists” and the ways of telling that produce the narrative.

He finishes with his proposal that youth fiction is a literature in its own right, with a need to establish a canon so that it can be studied and appreciated not just in terms of its popularity with young readers, which may be ephemeral, or its practical use in supporting the curriculum, or its value in bibliotherapy.

While reading around for this article, I came across some essays by one of the distinguished writers for youth, Peter Dickinson, which may be found here: https://www.peterdickinson.com/talks-and-essays/ Another great essay on this topic is by Melvin Burgess: http://melvinburgess.net/articles/what-is-teenage-fiction/I should like to commend these to you in addition to this book by Chambers. Like him, Dickinson and Burgess both take writing for young people very seriously. 

It would be great to see similar contributions to the discussion from some of our current authors. Perhaps they are already doing so, in which case it would be good to see any recommendations you can give.

I do urge you to try and get hold of this book, and decide for yourselves how valid Chambers’ arguments are! I think you will find it illuminating.

Chambers, A. (2020) The Age Between: personal reflections on youth fiction. Fincham Press, University of Rowhampton

https://estore.roehampton.ac.uk/product-catalogue/fincham-press/publications/the-age-between

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Advocacy – Proving Your Worth

There are times – and this is one of those times – when you need to get you hands on some research to prove that the school library is absolutely essential. CILIPSLG and the National Literacy Trust have been working on this and have produced a whole set of slides which you can use and print out as posters for your library. We have ensured that every slide contains peer reviewed, academic research rather than anecdotal evidence, to strengthen your argument.
We hope that you find this useful.

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Back to school – implications for school librarians, by Sarah Pavey

Sarah Pavey, who sits on the SLG Committee, has written this blog post on her take on the current situation school librarians find themselves in.  The views Sarah expresses are important ones, but do not necessarily reflect the views of the whole of the SLG Committee.’

So, we are bracing ourselves for the great return on 8th March. What changes can we expect? How can we, as school librarians, adapt to this new school era? 

A recent post on a librarians’ forum concerned a member being told their reading scheme lessons, held regularly in the library, were to be dropped because the school focus would now be on the “catch-up curriculum”. We need to be aware of this perspective taken by senior leaders and be ready to counteract. Whatever our views on reading schemes, we might consider that if reading equates positively to raising literacy levels then surely this contributes to closing the COVID induced education gap. But have we the evidence to hand to argue our case? Simply shouting from the rafters will do no good, we need to underpin what we say with evidenced research. Here are 5 ideas for counterarguments……

We need you to be part of the COVID testing team, don’t worry about the library

If the teaching staff and teaching assistants are heavily involved in this too, then yes, we can agree providing we feel safe. However, if the philosophy behind this directive centres on the library being closed during in lesson time, point out that you are not a physical space and will be supporting teachers by providing necessary materials and services for the catch-up curriculum. List in detail the tasks you will do and show how if time is taken away from you, then you will be unable to do the job for which you are employed. 

Lance, K. C., and D. E. Kachel. 2018. Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us. Phi Delta Kappan, 99 (7), 15–20. doi:10.1177/0031721718767854.

We need to concentrate on the core curriculum

One of the core elements of the catch-up curriculum is literacy. If the students cannot read well enough to understand their textbooks, then they will struggle. Show your management that as librarians we can support reading for information as well as reading for pleasure in all subjects. If we cannot provide physical books for health and safety reasons, then we can arrange for access to digital alternatives. It has been shown that when reading simply concentrates on enough to pass a test, then comprehension suffers. Librarians can help with a wider reading approach.

Davis, D., & Vehabovic, N. (2017). The Dangers of Test Preparation: What Students Learn (and Don’t Learn) About Reading Comprehension from Test‐centric Literacy Instruction. The Reading Teacher, 71 (5), 579-588. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1641

Teaching staff will be too busy to use the library

Maybe our schools will suggest that the teaching staff will not want to be distracted from concentrating on their lesson planning and delivery. Pushing this responsibility onto teachers alone, who are already stressed from the complexities of online delivery and blended learning over the last few months, is short sighted. Research shows how collaboration with us as librarians, can be beneficial, taking pressure off over-stretched teaching staff leading to positive student learning outcomes.

Pihl, J., Carlsten, T. and Kooij, K. S. (2017) Why Teacher and Librarian Partnerships in Literacy Education in the 21st Century? In J. Pihl, K. S. Kooij, T. C. Carlsten (Eds.) Teacher and Librarian Partnerships in Literacy Education in the 21st Century. Sense: Rotterdam, 1– 22.

Our parents will want to see evidence that we are concentrating on the curriculum

Senior leaders may decide that it is vital to show parents that the school is putting its best efforts into ensuring students reach their potential in academic studies. Maybe they are worried that if extracurricular support is added into that mix, it will reflect badly from a parent perspective. However, we know that as librarians, some of the valuable measures we may have put in place during the pandemic to foster home-school relationships should not end simply because students have returned to school. 

Kachel, D. E. (2020) Developing Parent Advocates: An Opportunity During the Pandemic. Teacher Librarian, 48 (1) 46-59.

Everyone is stressed at the moment and we can’t give special attention to the library

Yes, everyone is under immense pressure and this is where our library resources and services can offer outstanding help. Everyone needs a break and to understand why this time out is necessary if we are to work optimally. We need to work smarter not longer during these troubling times. Research evidence points to many initiatives that librarians have devised to support wellbeing and this is underpinned by a strand in the Great School Libraries campaign. 

Merga, M. (2020) How Can School Libraries Support Student Wellbeing? Evidence and Implications for Further Research. Journal of Library Administration60 (6), 660-673, DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2020.1773718. 

The easy route for our managers is to say, the library is closed, the library is being used as an overflow classroom, the library is an isolation space. We need to be assertive and show how much as a profession we have to offer. We need to ensure we have a comprehensive understanding of the “catch-up curriculum” and the goals of our school post COVID. We should try and build an evidenced based case to support our aims and objectives. If we remain passive, we risk the nature of our role in the future. This is a time when we have a wonderful opportunity to show the wider school community the true value of a school librarian. Let’s take it!

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All Change for the SLG National Committee!, Caroline Roche, SLG Chair

January is usually the time for new members to join the National Committee, as terms of office run for a calendar year, but this January has proved busier than usual!  Four of our wonderful Committee Members whose terms were up left us in December 2020 – Darryl Toerien, David Rose, Ellen Krajewski and Amanda Deaville. We were sorry to see them go and immensely grateful for all of the hard work they completed during their time with us.  We therefore had room for a few new members – and meeting virtually – at least for the next year fully virtual – opened us up to representation from international schools as well.

We are extremely pleased to welcome nine more members on to the National Committee, and they will all be lending their different strengths and voices to the work that we do.  

Sara Bloomfield (@sara13librarian) joins us from Chigwell School.  She is passionate about reading for pleasure, as anyone following her tweets will see.  She works with students on EPQ and HPQ qualifications, and will bring that strength and knowledge to the Committee.

Nick Cavender (@lib_cav) is joining us from Rickmansworth School in Hertfordshire.  Nick has been very active in YLG (Youth Libraries Group) and comes to us with a wealth of experience around reading for pleasure.  He is also passionate about information literacy and delivering resources to students online during the Covid-19 crisis.

Charlotte Cole (@CharlotteC1782) joins us from Stanground Academy.  Charlotte first came to our notice when she won a bursary to attend the CILIP Conference in November 2019.  Her enthusiastic tweets during the conference, plus the amount of learning she soaked up as evidenced in her blog post, made her a perfect candidate for the Committee.

Mary Rose Grieve (@HISchoolLibrary) joins us from an International School in Dubai.  She is going through Chartership at the moment and has been a keen participant in other SLG events.  She will be instrumental in helping us to reach out internationally.

Cassandra Kemp (@CassieKempSLS) is well known to many of you who follow her on Twitter for her enthusiastic tweets, with great ideas of what to do in your school libraries.  She works at Leicester SLS, and will be invaluable in ensuring that we reach out to everyone, especially our primary school colleagues.

Alison King (@avk1986) joins us from Kings Monkton School in Cardiff.  She answered our call for a Welsh school librarian to join us which Nick Poole tweeted out for us at a CILIPWales online conference.  We would love the other regions to be represented too, so at the next call out for Committee Members, please respond!  Alison is a published writer, so will bring her strong skills and eye for detail to our publications – as well as the other things we do.

Stephanie Rocchi (@stephjroc) is our second international librarian.  She works in an IB World High School in Italy.  She brings experience of IB working to our Committee, and an international perspective.  Stephanie also has excellent administrative skills and we look forward to working with her.

Prity Shah (@pritypretty) comes to us from East Barnet School in London.  She is passionate about representing the BAME community on the Committee, she has a wealth of experience to share with us from the various places she has worked in her career, and one of her strengths is in social media and blogging.  Her special passion is introducing her students to international authors.

Ishrat Wardill (@iwardill) is in the process of Chartering and will bring the experience of being relatively new to the Library world, to the Committee – a much needed viewpoint.  She also has a long experience of working in the City with IT and will bring that rigour to her work with the Committee.

I hope that you can see that we have nine brilliant new members of the Committee, with a wealth of different backgrounds.  All are keen to jump straight into our projects, and we hope that, despite lockdown, you will see a lot of great new initiatives from the Committee this year.

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CILIP Conference 2020 – Reimagined, by Charlotte Cole

Whilst looking through the CILIP website in September, I noticed that I had a message from SLG about the conference that was to be held in November. SLG were offering one member the opportunity of a bursary to attend this event, and whilst I never in a million years thought that it could be me, I did match some of the criteria that they were looking for. These were; to be a serving school librarian, someone that had not previously attended the conference before and someone that would not normally be able to attend. As I ticked all of the boxes, I thought it would be worth applying, but I really didn’t think that I would be successful.

I was both surprised and delighted to receive an email in October from Caroline Roche – Chair of SLG – confirming that I had been successful in my application and that I had been awarded the bursary to attend the CILIP conference 2020. I was really excited at the prospect of attending . Knowing that I would be able to network and engage with other colleagues as well as broadening my knowledge of the wider profession were all aspects that I looked forward too, especially as I am currently undertaking my chartership. 

Prior to the conference, I had already taken the time to familiarise myself with the pheedloop platform that was hosting the conference. I had created my profile, had a look at the exhibition hall, CILIP showcase and networking area and looked through the sessions to create my own personal schedule. I found creating my schedule quite tricky as I wanted to attend all of the sessions, but I tried to pick ones in different areas, so as to diversify the experience as much as possible.

As I knew that the conference was going to be intensive, I asked if I could work from home for the day, to avoid any disruptions and to be able to concentrate fully on the experience. With a fruit tea and my new notebook at the ready, I was excited to see what the day had instore.The day started with a welcome message from CILIP CEO, Nick Poole, during which he praised the entire sector for their hard work during the Coronavirus pandemic and how everyone had “stepped up” during an incredibly difficult time. Nick asked attendees of the conference to take a moment’s peace to reflect on the year and to remember colleagues that had passed during the pandemic. Nick then introduced the first keynote speaker of the day, Richard Ovendon

Richard discussed his book, Burning the Books, which looks at knowledge and the lengths that librarians have and will go to, to preserve knowledge. Richard gave examples of where libraries had been under attack such as The Library of Congress being burnt in 1814 as a means to weaken the state. Richard also talked about the Holocaust, where it is thought thatover a million books were burnt to censor information that was ‘un-German’ and the warriors in this disaster, that risked their lives to preserve knowledge known as the paper brigade. Richard then talked about knowledge in the digital age, posing the question, who controls the digital information that we all submit on a daily basis, whether we realise it or not, and who is going to preserve this information for the future? This was an absolutely fascinating presentation and I imagine Richard’s book was added to a lot of ‘to be read’ lists. It’s certainly on mine.

We then went straight into our next session, I had chosen New voices, Big ideas, which gave those who are new to the profession the opportunity to give a 5-minute talk on the theme of how they can support it. There were 5 speakers ranging from school librarians discussing collaboration and isolation, how LGBTQ+, BAME and disabled LKI workers are only asked to speak because of their labels and not their knowledge, a healthcare library assistant talking about the value of library placements and how they can develop an understanding of modern librarianship and an apprenticeships tutor explaining what the apprentices have learnt, how they have adapted this to their workplace and where they want to progress to next in their careers. Another great session that offered some useful tips and ideas that went straight into the notebook and I contacted two of the speakers via the private messaging feature for further discussion on their topics and for possible future collaboration. 

Jo Cornish was the second keynote speaker delivering her talk on ‘Professional Registration – A revised approach’. Jo spoke about how CILIP is the community for members, the member network, and how it is connecting learning with opportunity. Jo also spoke about the PKSB and how it connects the whole sector and that we are all underpinned by the same framework. At the closing of her speech, Jo stated that all of CILIP’s members must defend, protect and champion CILIP and that we can all walk forward together. I found this talk very inspirational and motivating and with being an independent worker, it gave me the sense of being part of something bigger. 

The next session I’d chosen was ‘The Digital Pivot – the role of librarians and knowledge specialists in moving teaching and learning online’. This session looked at how those working in HE had to adapt their teaching for learning to be able to continue during lockdown one. The speakers investigated the challenges faced by learning from home, including student engagement, technical difficulties and digital literacy issues and also the opportunities that it offered such as flexibility, reaching greater numbers and developing online teaching skills. Hossam Kassem, learning and teaching librarian at the OU, pointed out the importance of accessibility during online teaching and that this should be implemented from the start, to ensure inclusivity of all candidates. I liked how this session didn’t focus on the negativity that has at times been associated with learning during lockdown but looked at the advantages of teaching online and how it is something that can work beyond the pandemic.

It was then time for a lunch break, which gave me the opportunity to update my Twitter feed, to get back to some of the private messages that I had received during the morning and to visit the CILIP showcase. I made some enquiries at some of the different CILIP stands, and of course dropped into the SLG stand where I had a chat with Barbara Band. 

After lunch, it was the presidential address by Judy Broady-Preston, which was ‘Professionalism: Identity and Behaviours in a Changing Cultural Context’. This was such an interesting talk and one that I will go back and watch again because it was fast paced, and I fear I may have missed some of the information whilst frantically trying to write notes. During her presentation, Judy explained that we all have multiple identities and roles and that we are different things to different people in different circumstances and that certain roles have expected behaviours. For example, you would expect a Prime Minister to act in a certain way. Judy then went on to explore the role of culture and how we all have the desire to identify with the social system that we are part of and that we are constantly looking for the ‘fit’, where our behaviours and identity fit with our culture. Lastly Judy talked about professionalism and that it is not a category in a box but a process and explained that focusing on a specialism can lead to fragmentation and where we may become too small to survive. This is where CILIP as a body comes into play. 

Once we had heard from Judy, it was the turn of our final keynote speaker, Tracie D Hall. Tracie’s presentation was called ‘Information Red Lining: The urgency to close the socioeconomic divide and the role of librarians as key interveners’. Tracie started by talking about the funding restrictions that libraries are facing, and that there is a worry that the pandemic will further erode barriers to libraries and knowledge when they are needed most by the public. Tracie also stated that when libraries are closed, it leads to disinvestment in the community and can take the whole community completely offline. Tracie then explained that the United Nations has identified that getting 90% of the world’s population online as a central goal and that experts argue that it will take at least 30 years for this to be achieved. However, Tracie argues that having access to the internet should be a human right as there is so much available information that affects our day to day lives such as healthcare, housing and job opportunities. Tracie discussed information poverty which has been described as a situation in which individuals and communities do not have the skills, abilities or material means to obtain efficient access to information, interpret it and apply it appropriately. She then explained that redlining is denying or limiting financial services to specific neighbourhoods because its residents are a particular group or colour. Information redlining is the denial of equitable access to information, information services and information retrieval methods. Tracie finished her address by saying ‘The fight against information poverty is one of the key fights of our time………We must rise to this occasion’. And then left with a very sobering question, ‘Are libraries for the masses or for the classes?’

Tracie’s speech was incredibly passionate, powerful and thought provoking and knowing that across the entire sector we can all make a difference to people’s lives by giving them the opportunity to access knowledge was very inspirational. Another session that I would love to revisit.

My final session of the day was my last chosen session which was: ‘International – The roles of libraries in crisis and recovery’. During this session, librarians from India, Africa, Germany and from the president of the European Bureau of Library, Information and Documentation Association (EBLIDA) discussed how they adapted during the pandemic. This was another really absorbing session that provided some great insights into the changes that had been made in these different countries, and to compare the similarities and differences in what I had been doing in my own library.

The conference was closed by Nick Poole with his final words being that we must do more as everyday activists, we must rise to the occasion. We have risen to the occasion and will continue to rise. 

The CILIP Reimagined Conference 2020 was my first conference, and it certainly did not disappoint. There was so much information and so many ideas and opportunities to take on board, by the end of the day my mind was completely buzzing. I created a Wakelet of all of the information that I collated during the day, so that I could go back to it and to share with others. https://wke.lt/w/s/Ashee3  I would like to thank CILIP SLG once again for their generosity, in granting me the bursary and giving me the opportunity to attend the conference.  Would I recommend the CILIP conference to others? Absolutely – and I hope to be able to attend again myself in the future.

 

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A theory of the role of the library in the student’s intellectual experience , by Darryl Toerien

I write this as I approach the end of my second spell on the National Committee of SLG. My first started shortly after I became a school librarian, by chance rather than design (or at least through no design of my own). This means that serving on the National Committee of SLG has framed pretty much the first 20 years of my work in and for school libraries, and that a measure of reflection is, therefore, appropriate.

An even earlier and profoundly formative experience was stumbling across Jesse Shera’s The Foundations of Education for Librarianship (1972) in a charity shop in Caversham. In this remarkable book, Shera articulated what I instinctively knew about librarianship in general, and school librarianship in particular. This may seem a little odd, given that he was writing partly about academic librarianship in the US in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Not so odd when you consider Blanche Woolls’ observation that the only difference between a school librarian and an academic librarian is, or ought to be, the length of time between a student leaving school and starting university, and that the fundamental issues confronting Shera then and there confront us still here and now. One passage in particular illustrates this, and set the course of my professional development (p. 177, emphasis added):

Increasingly, research as a method of instruction and an environment for formalized learning is being introduced into undergraduate as well as graduate programs.* This undergraduate research, or more properly, inquiry, has its own characteristic information needs, though academic librarians generally have given these requirements slight attention, while the faculty has tended to ignore them almost entirely. This neglect may doubtless be attributed to the fact that the instructors themselves were not properly encouraged in the use of the library in their own undergraduate years. The textbook and the reserve collection, which in the final analysis is only a kind of multiple text, have too long dominated undergraduate, and even graduate, instruction. The teacher’s own mimeographed reading lists and bibliographies have been imposed between the student and the total library collection, largely because the typical faculty member does not trust either the bibliographic mechanisms of the library or the competence of the librarians, while the librarians, for their part, have never developed a theory of the role of the library in the student’s intellectual experience. This neglect has been intensified by the absence of any real communication between teacher and librarian, both have paid lip service to the library as a “learning center,” and having said that satisfied their sense of obligation with a short course or a few lectures on “How to Use the Library.”

I have been wrestling with a theory of the role of the library in the student’s intellectual experience ever since. Shera led me to Patricia Knapp (1966), who led me to Helen Sheehan (1969), who led me to Norman Beswick (1967), who posited that “it is not the library that ‘supports’ the classroom . . . but the classroom that leads (or should lead) inevitably and essentially to the library” (p. 201). It seemed to me then, as it does to me now, that a theory of the role of the library in the student’s intellectual experience needs to compellingly account for why the classroom leads (or should lead) inevitably and essentially to the library, as well as how. Shera provided 2 clues – “inquiry” and the “library as a learning center” – in this passage. Daniel Callison (2006) linked them explicitly, stating that “the school library only exists as a learning centre because of inquiry” (p. 601). Inquiry, then, frames learning, and it is unsurprising, therefore, that the IFLA School Library Guidelines (2015) define the school library in terms of inquiry (p. 16) – “a school’s physical and digital learning space where reading, inquiry, research, thinking, imagination, and creativity are central to students’ information-to-knowledge journey and to their personal, social, and cultural growth” – and include inquiry as one of the core instructional activities that make up the school library’s pedagogical program (pp. 41 – 44). This brings me to the present.

I was recently interviewed by Barbara Stripling for School Library Connection (a publication of Libraries Unlimited/ ABC-CLIO) about The Process and Stance of Inquiry in a Digital World. The title of the interview, and the starting point of our discussion, comes from the Galileo Educational Network’s definition of inquiry as a dynamic process and stance that is essential to the way in which knowledge is created. Inquiry is, therefore, an epistemological concern – a concern with what we know and how we come to know it – the “information-to-knowledge” part of the IFLA definition of a school library. As such, inquiry is a fundamental human activity, and the library is, or ought to be, essential to this activity. This, however, demands something of us as librarians, and of our libraries. Moreover, this process and stance is both facilitated by the digital world, and hindered by it, and Barbara was interested in my thoughts on this from the perspective of FOSIL, which is based on the Empire State Information Fluency Continuum(2019) that she led the development of.

Somewhat paradoxically, the very characteristics of the digital environment that facilitate inquiry also hinder inquiry. The question of equity of access as aside for now, although it remains a pressing concern, these characteristics broadly relate to the quantity of information, discernment of its quality and motivation. At a certain point the relentless increase in the quantity of information brings about a qualitative change – scarcity of information becomes an abundance of information, which becomes a superabundance of information. The problem then shifts from finding enough information to dealing with too much information, which is both a different and a new problem. David Foster Wallace’s Total Noise captures this qualitative change perfectly – the growing “tsunami of available fact, context and perspective” (2007!). Then, to this tsunami must be added the growing maelstrom of mis-information, dis-information and mal-information created, manipulated and distributed to devastating effect. And to make matters worse, the difficulties of building knowledge and understanding from information in these conditions is made more challenging still by the fact that the digital environment is both overwhelming and endlessly distracting, and this brings us full circle – inquiry is both an epistemological process and stance, and being able to carry out the process is no guarantee that we will care enough, one way or another, to make the effort to do so.

Huw Davies (2019) issues the following stark warning:

No digital literacy programme is ever likely to work unless it produces reflexive critical thinkers, motivated to challenge their own thinking and positionality: people know and care when they are being sold a biased or racist view of history, pseudo-science or when they are being manipulated.

This highlights the importance of inquiry as stance, which, I think, must now become our focus and most urgent task. In this we draw on 60 years’ worth of work in and through the school library on inquiry as process, which, in the words of the IFLA School Library Guidelines unites us with our classroom colleagues in the aim of “influencing, orienting, and motivating the pursuit of learning using a process of discovery that encourages curiosity and a love of learning” (p. 43).

*This extends to schools. As Daniel Callison (2015) points out, “the progression to student-centered, inquiry-based learning through school library programs was clearly underway more than forty years ago” (p. 3), at least in the US, and can be traced back to 1960 (p. 213). More broadly, though, Callison lists the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program as an early adopter of inquiry (p. 214). The IB was founded in 1968, although the philosophy, structure, content and pedagogy of the IB Diploma Programme, which was the first IB Programme, were developed in 1962 (IBO, 2017). The Diploma Programme was followed by the Middle Years Programme, the Primary Years Programme and the Career-related Programme, with “inquiry, as a curriculum stance, pervading all Programmes” (Tilke, 2011, p. 5).

Bibliography

Beswick, N. W. (1967). The ‘Library-College’ – the ‘True University’? The Library Association Record, 198-202.

Callison, D. (2015). The Evolution of Inquiry: Controlled, Guided, Modeled, and Free. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.

Davies, H. (2019, June 14). Digital literacy vs the anti-human machine: A proxy debate for our times. Retrieved from Medium: https://medium.com/@huwcdavies/digital-literacy-vs-the-anti-human-machine-b2884a0f075c

IBO. (2017). The history of the IB. Retrieved from International Baccalaureate: https://www.ibo.org/globalassets/digital-toolkit/presentations/1711-presentation-history-of-the-ib-en.pdf

IFLA School Libraries Section Standing Committee. (2015). IFLA School Library Guidelines. Retrieved from IFLA School Libraries: https://www.ifla.org/publications/node/9512?og=52

Knapp, P. B. (1966). The Monteith College Library Experiment. New York: The Scarecrow Press.

Sheehan, H. (1969). The Library-College Idea: Trend of the Future? Library Trends, 18(1), 93-102.

Shera, Jesse. (1972). Foundations of Education for Librarianship. New York : Wiley-Becker and Hayes.

Stripling, B. K. (2020). The Process and Stance of Inquiry in a Digital World [15: 6] [Video]. School Library Connection.

Tilke, A. (2011). The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program and the School Library: Inquiry-Based Education. Santa Barbara: Libraries Unlimited.

Wallace, D. F. (Ed.). (2007). The Best American Essays. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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One World Week Picture Book Suggestions, Bev Humphrey

This week (18th – 25th October) is One World Week with United Nations day on the 24th. To quote the website ‘Events are organised by volunteers with the common purpose:

To share understanding about some of the global issues that affect us all and to recognise we can all make a difference’

This year’s theme is ‘It’s Our World – Let’s make it better’ and this seems to be something that we as school librarians can certainly get behind, with our focus on inclusivity, celebrating diverse cultures and sexualities and treating all with kindness and understanding. Recently I’ve been fortunate enough to read some marvellous picture books that would make very good reads this (or any) week so I thought I’d share them here(they are not all newly published, but new to me): 

Rain Before Rainbows, Smitri Halls & David Litchfield. This exquisite book was published as an ebook by Walker during lockdown as a free download and has now been published in hard copy. It is an incredibly positive and hopeful book whilst being realistic and acknowledging fears , it talks about how although times may be dark at the moment, things will improve and there are always moments of value to come. The pictures are just achingly beautiful and the sensitive words brought tears to my eyes on the first reading (and on several subsequent readings if I’m honest!). I have already purchased several copies for Christmas presents and a copy for my gorgeous baby grand daughter , naturally nanny will read it to her! 

Mrs Bibi’s Elephant, Reza Dalvand. Mrs Bibi has an unusual pet, a large elephant , and the two of them play with children , read bedtime stories every night and live happily together. Sadly not everyone approves of the elephant however and when Mrs Bibi is told that she has to get rid of her beloved companion she has a hard decision to make. This story will break your heart and then partially mend it when the loss of the elephant makes the towns people change their heartless ways. Sensitively written, this is a wonderful story about friendship and tolerance with soft toned illustrations and a very clear message. 

Look Up!, Nathan Bryon & Dapo Adeola. The young female protagonist in this story wants to be an astronaut when she grows up and takes a keen interest in the world around and above her. Her older brother Jamal however, rarely looks up from his phone screen and doesn’t really engage with anyone, unless its digitally. Rocket’s enthusiasm for a meteor shower brings people together however and sharing the experience with her brother finally encourages him to look up from his glowing screen to enjoy the natural world.I love the illustrations , especially Rocket’s pet cat who wears a spacesuit just like his owner! I must admit that I empathised a little too uncomfortably with Jamal and must make an effort myself to look up more.

Kind , foreword Axel Sheffler, pictures by 38 illustrators. Kind has been out since 2019 but I only got around to purchasing it recently. £1 from the sale of each copy goes to the Three Peas charity which gives practical help to those who have had to flee their homes and are dependent on the kindness of others in their new country. With such a feast of brilliant illustrators naturally the pictures are fabulous and the words give suggestions to children of how they can practice kindness in their everyday lives. As the book says ‘Everyone is valuable, and we all have gifts to share’ and if we all work together we can make a better world. 

Last, Nicola Davies. Extremely poignant version of a true story about a rhino called Sudan who was the last male of his kind in the wild. The story ends hopefully although sadly this was not the case in real life and the words printed in the illustrations are taken for the most part from well know environmental speeches. An on point (as always with Nicola Davies) cautionary conservation tale that reminds us that we all have a responsibility towards nature and that we need to save species before they all die out. 

Have you read any books lately that would fit in with the One World Week theme? If so please do share them with us on Twitter. Instagram or Facebook.

Sending kindness, understanding and a big hug to any reader that needs one, in the words of Hill Street Blues “Let’s be careful out there’. 

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How do the IFLA Guidelines apply to us?, by Darryl Toerien

If history is, as Jacques Ellul (1989) claims, the consequence of ideas, then the idea of the school library as vital to education, and by extension to schools, has lost its power to produce a history of school libraries in which this turns out to actually be the case. There are many reasons for this, which will need to be confronted unflinchingly, but the pressing questions before us now are whether or not it is too late to reimbue this idea with enough power to change history, and whether or not we are willing to make the sacrifice for those who are to come?

In case you think me alarmist, consider the warning that Keith Curry Lance (of Colorado fame) issued in his contribution to the recent Louisville Symposium of the Greats: Wisdom from the Past & A Glimpse into the Future of School Libraries (2019), and this is well before the first ripples of the global COVID-19 pandemic became the first wave: “First and foremost, it is time to realize the extent to which school librarians are truly an endangered species—at least, the kind of school librarians which so many seem to advocate for.”

Now you could argue that Lance is not addressing us directly, given that he was speaking to colleagues in the US, but as the global COVID-19 pandemic makes painfully clear, we are actually all in this together, whether we recognise and/ or like it or not. And, our colleagues in the US are adapting to what Lance called their “overwhelmingly dystopian environment” from a stronger position than we are – they, as professionally qualified school librarians, are recognised as specialist teachers, whereas we, even as professionally qualified school librarians, are lucky if school libraries even got a mention in our studies.

So how do we go about reimbuing the idea of the school library with enough power to be vital to education, assuming that it is not too late and that we are willing to make the sacrifice?

Having now spent almost a year on the Section Standing Committee for School Libraries of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), I more convinced than I have ever been that we have taken the first crucial step towards doing so by endorsing the IFLA School Library Guidelines. The 2nd revised edition of the Guidelines was published in 2015, and was written by IFLA Section Standing Committee for School Libraries with contributions from the International Association of School Librarianship (IASL) Executive Board. Furthermore, the Guidelines are rooted in and nourished by the IFLA/UNESCO School Library Manifesto 1999, which, following extensive international consultation, is due be updated in 2020. There is also a set of workshop materials that was developed to support implementing the Guidelines, and that can be used freely and adapted to meet local needs.

Endorsing the Guidelines allows us to think globally, but act locally. This is important, because a debilitating feature of our “overwhelmingly dystopian environment” is that our idea of the school library is an amalgam of what we individually are willing and/ or able to do in practice, rather than what it is, or ought to be, by definition, and therefore lacks unifying and vitalising force.

The school library is, then, by definition “a school’s physical and digital learning space where reading, inquiry, research, thinking, imagination, and creativity are central to students’ information-to-knowledge journey and to their personal, social, and cultural growth” (p. 16).

There are three elements to this definition:

  1. The school library is a physical and digital learning space in which …
  2. … reading, inquiry, research, thinking, imagination, and creativity are central to …
  3. … the information-to-knowledge journey and personal, social, and cultural growth of our students

Our response to this definition, and the Guidelines it is drawn from, will determine our legacy – either it is accusatory and condemnatory, an impossibly heavy burden that wears us down, or, in the spirit of the Guidelines, it is inspirational and aspirational, an energising compromise between what we aspire to achieve and what we can reasonably expect to achieve. Should we choose to view this definition as inspirational and aspirational, then we are in fine company, that of a global community of colleagues who are striving to translate this idea into local reality, some from even weaker starting positions than us.

Our first challenge then, assuming that we have chosen this path, is to take stock of our situation from the perspective of the Guidelines. Broadly, this perspective includes the following (drawn from the Contents of the Guidelines and the corresponding workshop materials):

  1. Mission and Purposes of a School Library (Chapter 1 | Module 1)
  2. Legal and Financial Framework for a School Library (Chapter 2 | Module 2)
  3. Human Resources for a School Library (Chapter 3 | Module 3)
  4. Physical and Digital Resources of a School Library (Chapter 4 | Modules 4a, 4b and 4c)
  5. Programs and Activities of a School Library (Chapter 5 | Module 5)
  1. Literacy and reading promotion (reading for pleasure and reading for learning)
  2. Media and Information Literacy (MIL) instruction
  3. Inquiry-based learning (which can include MIL instruction)
  4. Technology integration
  5. Professional development for teachers
  6. School Library Evaluation and Public Relations (Chapter 6 | Module 6)

Given that this is the kind of ground that ought to be covered in a CILIP accredited academic programme with a school library specialisation, of which there are none, our next challenge will be how to begin effectively equipping colleagues in this country with the body of knowledge that the Guidelines represent, especially Chapter 5. This is likely to be our most daunting challenge and one that must be resolutely met, for our success hinges on it – as Lance and Kachel (2018) remind us, while “the mere presence of a [full-time, qualified] librarian is associated with better student outcomes,” what they do matters, and “since 1992, a growing body of research known as the school library impact studies has consistently shown positive correlations between high-quality library programs and student achievement” (emphasis added).

The final challenge, which is really the first of the next series of challenges, is summed up by Lance (2019):

And finally, what is the future of school librarianship going to look like? Can we ascertain enough about how it is changing for LIS programs, state library and education agencies, and school library advocates to re-tool themselves and re-focus their efforts sufficiently to equip the next generation of school librarians or whatever their successors may be called?

One sows and another reaps.

We hope.

If you are interested in exploring this further, then you may be interested in our upcoming seminar on the 29th July – The Value Added School Librarian , details and booking here

Bibliography

Ellul, J. (1989). The Presence of the Kingdom. Colorado Springs: Helmers & Howard.

Lance, K. C. (2019). “Last Lecture” Remarks about the Current Status and Future of School Librarianship and School Library Research. In D. V. Loertscher, & B. Woolls (Eds.), Symposium of the Greats: Wisdom from the Past & A Glimpse into the Future of School Libraries (pp. 50-56). Salt Lake City: Learning Commons Press.

Lance, K. C., & Kachel, D. E. (2018, March 26). Why school librarians matter: What years of research tell us. Retrieved from Phi Delta Kappan: The professional journal for educators: https://kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/

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