Category Archives: Advocacy

Chris Riddell: a Guardian of Magic

For as long as anyone can remember, children have looked up at billowing clouds in the sky and made a wish on a cloud horse. But no one has seen one.
Until now.

Macmillan Children’s
The Cloud Horse Chronicles

It is always a good day when a new Chris Riddell is published, and an even better day when it is the beginning of a new series! The Cloud Horse Chronicles: Guardians of Magic introduces us to three unsuspecting heroes as they receive magical gifts. The illustrations are perfectly placed and really bring the characters to life, but I particularly love the cross sections of where the children are living when we first meet them. PR for the book says it is reminiscent of Tolkein’s and Pullman’s worlds, but it mainly makes me want to re-read the Edge Chronicles (written by Paul Stewart and illustrated by Chris Riddell)! Readers will spot lots of nods to classic fairytales, tweaked in very pleasing ways.

I called this post “Guardian of Magic” because Chris Riddell really is one. Obviously, I am entirely biased in writing a Chris Riddell review, because we Librarians love him. He’s won the Kate Greenaway medal an unprecedented 3 times (not just because he’s Chris Riddell, honestly, he’s also not won it with lots of his books…) and he has long been an ardent supporter of libraries, often illustrating quotes (often from Neil Gaiman) about their importance. He’s been involved in talks with government in the Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group and as Children’s Laureate 2015-2017 he wrote an open letter to the then head of the Department for Education, Justine Greening, to make a plea on behalf of school libraries to ring-fence funding and set out standards for library provision that schools must follow. He’s been particularly vocal about their importance in schools and has been the President of the SLA (School Libraries Association) 2017-2020.

I could quite easily just copy and paste lots of his illustrations in this blog post, but I urge you to simply do an image search for “Chris Riddell library” to see the dozens of amazing and inspiring cartoons. This summer he tweeted a series of Owls he has created for the SLA and I couldn’t resist just sharing one here:

The Guardians of Magic is published on the 19th September 2019| Hardback, £12.99| Macmillan Children’s Books|ISBN 9781447277972

Huge thanks to Macmillan for sending a review copy!

We Need Diverse Books

You might be aware of the American charity We Need Diverse Books, set up in 2014 by a group of children’s book lovers (mainly writers initially, rallied by Ellen Oh) with the mission to put more books featuring diverse characters into the hands of all children.

We recognize all diverse experiences, including (but not limited to) LGBTQIA, Native, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities*, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities.
*We subscribe to a broad definition of disability, which includes but is not limited to physical, sensory, cognitive, intellectual, or developmental disabilities, chronic conditions, and mental illnesses (this may also include addiction). Furthermore, we subscribe to a social model of disability, which presents disability as created by barriers in the social environment, due to lack of equal access, stereotyping, and other forms of marginalization.

WNDB

Last night Knights Of, a newish and brilliant UK based publisher who are working so hard to improve inclusivity and diversity in publishing, invited Dhonielle Clayton, WNDB co-founder and Chief Operating Officer (an entirely voluntary position) to speak about the feasibility of starting something similar in the UK. The meeting was attended by aspiring and established authors, owners of small independent publishers, people who worked for larger publishers in all stages of book production and promotion, Inclusive Minds ambassadors, and of course some librarians!

We Need Diverse Books pin

The meeting was over in a blink of an eye with so much to talk about. The projects that WNDB manage are amazing:

  • Publishing internship programmes with stipends and mentoring to help break into the “Big 5” American publishers, mainly based in New York.
  • Speaking to marginalised students about publishing as a potential career.
  • Grants/mentoring/retreats for writers.
  • Making it easy for teachers and librarians to find diverse stock for their schools and libraries (and parents/teens themselves to find new titles) by creating the Our Story app, which highlights good books with diverse content from marginalised creators and even provides resources for many of the titles for educators to use.
  • Starting a book award for new books by and about diverse people, The Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature, getting thousands of copies of these titles into the hands of children and young people across the country.
  • Fundraising to pay for all of this!

There was lots of discussion about the differences between the US and UK education system, book suppliers, nurturing homegrown talent, the problem of volunteer burnout, how to decide what to target first, what is already being done and by whom, funding, and including everyone. Dhonielle made it clear that their first priority in the US has been to get people from marginalised backgrounds into the publishing industry and actually producing the books, closely followed by getting those books into the hands of children that need to see themselves as heroes in what they’re reading. Afterwards I asked her whether, when talking to students about going into publishing, they discuss also becoming a “gatekeeper”, ie librarian/bookseller, and she said they do but (but) there’s no point having those conversations if these children don’t yet have a passion for books and reading.

A twitter account appeared after the meeting and already has over 500 followers:

So if you think you have something to contribute or want to know more then do get in touch with them, this will be a really exciting project to get involved in!

Library Island by Matt Finch

Library Island is an activity which simulates five years in the life of a nation’s library services. Participants become librarians, government officials, or community members on this island and face the challenges created by conflicting wants, needs, and limited resources. There is an Indigenous community and colonial history to be reckoned with, plus a range of political interests with their own agenda for the library.

It’s a simple game played with nothing more than office furniture, pens, and paper, but it swiftly leads to rich and complex scenarios. The fictional setting allows us to explore structural issues, political challenges, and even some of the disruptive behaviour that professionals may face from their users, within the relative safety of a “make-believe” context.

Source: What exactly is Library Island anyway? – matt finch / mechanical dolphin

Matt has provided a toolkit that can be downloaded with full instructions on how to run, adapt and play the game. It is available here:

https://booksadventures.files.wordpress.com/2019/01/library-island-toolkit.pdf

Children’s Rights to Read

To mark International Literacy Day an important campaign has been launched by the International Literacy Association. Learn more about ILA’s Children’s Rights to Read initiative on their website.

The 8th of September was proclaimed International Literacy Day by UNESCO at the 14th session of UNESCO’s General Conference on 26 October 1966 to remind the international community of the importance of literacy for individuals, communities and societies, and the need for intensified efforts towards more literate societies, and you will find lots of information about it on the UN website

The Home Office responds to my e-mail about the SCL Visa Deal… except they don’t

Well… 34 working days after I emailed the Home Office about their deal with the Society of Chief Librarians (now Libraries Connected) I have received a response.

My original email can be read here and that is not the email they are responding to – they are responding to an email from me asking why they have not responded to my original email.

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#BookBuddy: an interview with Maz Evans

Over the weekend a discussion about donating books to School Libraries blew up on Twitter, led by author Maz Evans (Who Let the Gods Out?); she and other Children’s Authors in the course of visiting schools to speak to students had stumbled onto an open secret – that School Libraries in the UK are not statutory and many (if they exist at all) are not adequately funded.

Rather than writing an article about it I reached out to Maz with a request to interview her about the idea she had for a BookBuddy programme to introduce it to library folk and others that may have missed the initial discussion.

So without further ado, here is the BookBuddy interview with Maz Evans

What is BookBuddy?

It is essentially a scheme to pair those who have spare kids’ books with schools that can give them a great home. Anyone who has children’s books lying around – or wants to buy some new ones for a school – will be put in touch with a school for either a one-off donation or a longer partnership – entirely up to them.

What sparked the initial idea?

I travel extensively around the UK and visit at least one primary school a week. Most schools I visit don’t have a library, very few have a librarian and some have no books at all. I’ll say that again. There are schools in this country with no books in them. I don’t think people realise this. So many books are being funded by the educators themselves, which is insane. I have been badgering the government to address this issue, but I am a lone voice. I was trying to encourage the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, to pass comment when one kind individual offered to donate all her reading books for a year to a school as their “book buddy” – I retweeted her offer and a school that follows me was ecstatic to take her up. More people came forward and schools started putting their hands up, so I drew up a “first-come” list and matched them to the offers. It was a total accident, but a happy one.

Has the response to your idea surprised you?

Yes and no. The number of schools desperate to join the scheme has, sadly, come as no surprise. The government should hang its head in shame to see schools in this parlous state when we have such wonderful people doing such a great job inside them. The generosity of people has been beyond uplifting. Authors, bloggers, reviewers, booksellers, schools and caring members of the public have come forward in their dozens, offering to donate used or buy new books for schools. What has been a very sad surprise has been the negativity the scheme has attracted in certain quarters, but more on that later…!

How many schools responded to your offer before you had to cap it?

On a Saturday afternoon, within an hour I had 100 schools on my list – I had to cap it to have a hope of finding those schools book buddies and didn’t want to create false hope. I currently have 28 schools left on my list – although many matches have been made ad hoc on Twitter for people who can only donate locally or have a particular type of donation. Over 100 schools are now receiving books from total strangers. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.

Will you be opening the school waiting list again if more buddies come forward?

Me sitting at the laptop copying and pasting Twitter handles is not the most efficient or sustainable way of running the scheme. But a very kind person has come forward and offered to build a website where schools can register and book buddies can find schools when they want to clear out or simply be lovely. I am absolutely behind the scheme and will do everything I can do to support it while I’m trying to pester the state to sort this mess out.

Does the non-statutory nature of school libraries shock you?

Horrifies me, actually. Something that came of the conversations prior to BookBuddy was that libraries are (rightly) statutory in prisons, but not in schools. So some children have a better chance of being exposed to books if they are convicted of a crime than during their primary school years. It’s a national disgrace.


What do you say to those that have criticised your endeavours by saying that:

  • it is the government’s responsibility
  • that it will spark an increased wave of schools approaching authors directly for donations or free visits
  • or that it will reduce an author’s pay
  • I’m not going to lie, I’ve been incredibly disappointed by the reaction of a certain (small) number of people, primarily because they haven’t bothered to research what I’m actually doing before sounding off on social media. To be explicit on this point, I am NOT putting the begging bowl out to the publishing industry. I receive hundreds of requests for free books and free visits and feel horrible that I can only fulfil a fraction of them. The last thing I want is to put further pressure on people. BookBuddy is firstly for people who have books they WANT to clear out. Yes, many of those are coming from the publishing industry because lots of us are fortunate enough to receive a lot of free books and not everyone wants to keep all of them.

    But as a parent, I know how easy it is to accumulate books that are never going to be read again and I have always donated them. I haven’t approached anyone to do anything – people are hearing about the scheme and coming to me. This whole thing was born out of me trying to get the government to see the damage they are doing to our future and the need to fund schools properly – how nice it would be if those who have the time to denounce this scheme on Twitter put their energies into lobbying their MP or Mr Hinds to demand action, as I am also doing.

    As for the financial argument, sorry, I just don’t buy it. These are books that are a) books for which royalties have already been paid 2) books for which royalties were never going to be paid (free copies to publishing people) or 3) new books that are being bought for the scheme, therefore are paying royalties! Also, put a book in a school and watch it breed like a randy rabbit. If anything, this will market books, not cost sales – and it gives schools a place to ask for donations, potentially easing the need to approach publishers/authors directly. If none of that convinces you, question your own humanity and privilege. At the end of the day, this is getting books to kids who wouldn’t otherwise have them. Should we have to do it? No – the government should. But as one author eloquently put it, we shouldn’t have to donate to food banks. But are we going to stand back and let people starve?

    If given the opportunity to speak to Damian Hinds the Education Minister what would you say to him?

    I want – no, demand – that the government enshrines funding for books in schools. One school I spoke to has £40K put aside for sports equipment, but can’t remember the last time they bought a new book. The government itself insists that reading for pleasure is at the heart of education – how the hell can educators do this without the books?! I see inside 100s of schools and while I see so much passion and inspiration from teachers and students, I also see an education system that is at breaking point. If we don’t invest in our future, we won’t have one.

    Do Librarians Hate Volunteers?

    I write this as I have been noticing an increase in accusations of hatred made against Librarians by Volunteer Library organisations recently, I have had this charge levelled against myself and several of my peers and friends have experienced this as well.

    so in answer to the question Do Librarians Hate Volunteers?

    The short answer: No!

    The longer answer:

    Volunteers have formed an essential part of the library ecosystem for years now, working alongside librarians and library workers, volunteers assist with programmes that would be difficult if not impossible to run without their involvement. Library staff appreciate the work done by volunteers in libraries and continue to do so.

    Where librarians and activists have a problem is local authorities off-loading library provision on community volunteers as this is cheating the people they work for, as public libraries are a statutory service and are paid for through taxes – basically volunteers are forced into running for a service they have already paid for and while some volunteer libraries still fall under the aegis of the local authority and are able to give the library users access to online information provision and catalogue use, many others do not -effectively robbing the people in the library catchment area of a service they already pay for.

    Volunteer libraries also create what amounts to a postcode lottery, depriving poorer communities of a library as many people are already making a choice between eating or the heating often cannot stretch themselves to volunteering.

    We do not want to close any libraries but once a public library has been cut off from the local authority and handed over to volunteer organisations it is lost, as once austerity is done there is little chance that councils will have the will to reopen libraries or take back ones they have already given away.

    It is important for areas that have community-groups that support libraries to resist governmental moves to close libraries as this sends the message that the amateurisation of the service is not a viable solution, a number of councils in the face of sustained campaigning have retained their libraries.

    There is also concern about the long-term sustainability of volunteer-run libraries, this is not a criticism but rather a serious question as to what will happen after five or 10 years of constant fund-raising and soliciting donations which may lead to giving fatigue this also dovetails with my previous point about communities being double-charged for a service they have already paid for.

    Library Advocacy: Correspondence with the Department for Education

    As you will no doubt recall, on the 21st November I sent an e-mail to Secretary of State for Education Justine Greening and the Department for Education about School Libraries. you can read it here: Dear Justine: School Libraries Need Your Help!

    I have just received a response from the Ministerial and Public Communications Division on behalf of the DfE which you can read below:

    Dear Mr Imrie

    I am writing on behalf of the Secretary of State for Education to thank you for your email of 21 November, about school libraries.

    I can understand your reasons for contacting the department and can assure you, the government strongly support school libraries because of the important role they play in encouraging young people to read for pleasure.

    We believe all children deserve to be taught a rich curriculum which encourages extensive reading of books and other kinds of texts, both in and out of school and school libraries complement public libraries in providing this. It is for individual schools to decide how best to provide and maintain a library service for their pupils, including whether to employ a qualified librarian.

    Schools decide how much of their budget to spend on books. In addition, Booktrust works with primary and secondary schools throughout England and runs programmes and competitions such as Read for My School, that offer young people the opportunity to read a wide range of exciting material. You can view the information about Booktrust online at: http://www.booktrust.org.uk/.

    You may be aware the national curriculum states that teachers are expected to encourage pupils to develop the habit of reading widely and often, for both pleasure and information. Within the national curriculum, the programmes of study for English have been developed to make clear the importance of reading for pleasure.

    The department funded The Reading Agency in 2015-16 to expand its Chatterbooks scheme to set-up book clubs in 200 primary schools for Key Stage 2 pupils, where reading attainment at key stage 2 is currently low. This funding also supported those schools in enrolling their year 3 pupils with a public library. In 2015/2016, we also funded more bookclubs to encourage year 3 pupils to enrol in a library. In addition Poetry by Heart http://www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/ was also funded between 2012-17, to develop and support inspiring poetry teaching in schools, and to motivate pupils and teachers to explore England’s rich literary heritage. Pupils choose these from the anthology of over 600 years of poetry on the competition’s website.

    In addition, we want to make sure that young people have access to qualifications that set expectations that match those in the highest performing countries. Employers and educators have continued to report that school leavers lack crucial skills. In 2012, more than two in five employers (42%) reported that they had organised remedial training for at least some young people joining them from school or college. Young adults in England were amongst the worst performers in literacy and numeracy in the OECD’s recent survey of adult skills. We are reviewing GCSEs and A levels to be robust and rigorous, to match the best education systems in the world and to keep pace with universities’ and employers’ demands. One of these changes is in English, English language will encourage pupils to read a greater range of high quality, challenging literature and non-fiction texts drawing across a range of genres and types (from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries).

    Greater weight will be placed on pupils’ demonstration of accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar. English literature will encourage pupils to read a wide range of classic literature fluently, including 19th century novels, Shakespeare and the Romantic poets. In total, pupils will have studied at least three Shakespeare plays by the time they have completed key stages 3 and 4.

    I hope this information is helpful and once again thank you for writing.

    Your correspondence has been allocated reference number 2017-0055419. If you need to respond to us, please visit: https://www.education.gov.uk/contactus and quote your reference number.

    As part of our commitment to improving the service we provide to our customers, we are interested in hearing your views and would welcome your comments via our website at: http://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/YBK1O/
    Yours sincerely

    [redacted] 

    Ministerial and Public Communications Division

    Web: https://www.education.gov.uk
    Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/educationgovuk
    Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/educationgovuk

    Dear Justine: School Libraries Need Your Help!

    Dear Ms Greening

    I write to you today out of desperation, English teens are the most illiterate in the developed world

    Evidence:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/education-news/english-teenagers-are-the-most-illiterate-in-the-developed-world-report-reveals-a6841166.html

    https://blogs.spectator.co.uk/2016/01/britain-named-worst-in-developed-world-for-literacy-so-yes-school-reform-is-needed/

    https://readingagency.org.uk/about/impact/002-reading-facts-1/

    Does this frighten you? To be honest it terrifies me! We have a group of young people poised to enter the job market and they are at best barely functionally literate.

    In my years as a Public & Youth Services Librarian I have worked with young people that were barely able to read The Cat in the Hat. Since 2011 when austerity measures were enacted in the UK and my post in the public library service was cut I have worked as a School Librarian.

    Since then I have been concerned that School Libraries and Librarians are not statutory – not because I am worried about job security (well maybe a little) but because studies show that School Libraries have a positive impact on student learning and development.

    Evidence:

    Our latest research review shows that school libraries have a positive impact on all areas of pupils’ learning, including the development of reading and writing skills, their self-esteem and their overall academic attainment.(Literacy Trust)

    https://literacytrust.org.uk/research-services/research-reports/school-libraries-literature-review-current-provision-and-evidence-impact-2017/

    http://www.rgu.ac.uk/research/research-home/business-research/news/impact-of-school-libraries-on-learning/

    In 2014 the Libraries APPG recognises that School Libraries should be looked at during Ofsted inspections: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-28209254

    As many School Librarians are solo workers we regularly speak to each other via e-mail and social media and lately what I have heard from friends and colleagues across the country fills me with a growing sense of disquiet, Library staff having to purchase books using their own funds as their budgets have been slashed to zero, parent volunteers freely giving their time in school libraries after professional staff have been let go only to see their efforts fall apart as the school has no-one to promote library use.

    The purpose of this e-mail is to implore you to revisit the stance that the heads of schools should determine whether or not to employ a school librarian or even have a school library.

    If required I can send you more evidence or put you in touch with other professional organisations that can provide even more information on what School Libraries and Librarians can and do offer to enable learners to reach their full potential.

    Warmest regards

    Matt Imrie
    Librarian & Editor: Teen Librarian

    DCMS Response to Are you there John, it is me Matt!

    On the 17th October I sent an e-mail to the Parliamentary Under Secretary for the DCMS John Glen. You can read it here:
    Are you there John it is me Matt!

    I have just received a response from a member of the Ministerial Support Team, they appear to have selectively answered parts and ignored other sections of my missive. I have redacted the name of the team member that responded on behalf of John Glen, but you can read the response in full below.

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