Category Archives: Advocacy

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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    Are you there John? It is me Matt

    I have just written and e-mailed a letter to Parliamentary Under Secretary for the DCMS John Glen. I am hoping to open a dialogue with him to encourage him to be open and supportive of public libraries in the UK.

    Full text is below

    Dear John

    I thought I would write this letter to introduce myself and say hello – hi!

    I have been tweeting you over the past few days about Libraries Week and specifically Public Libraries as I believe (and am sure that you feel the same) that they are an integral part of the social fabric of life in the UK. They are one of the oldest public services run by local government still in existence (they have been around for 167 years) seriously, check your change pouch, you may have one of the 50p coins struck to celebrate 150 years of public libraries in 2000.

    I wrote a bit about the Public Libraries Act of 1850, well mostly the arguments for and against here: http://teenlibrarian.co.uk/2013/07/03/the-arguments-against-and-for-public-libraries-in-1850/

    While the century has changed, many of the arguments are still the same, I am not writing to discuss these but if you are interested I am up for a face to face discussion about public libraries, I can bring my friends who share similar interests to join in and hope that you consider doing the same.

    You were very vocal about libraries last week and I am hoping that this will continue now that Libraries Week has passed. It is easy to join in celebrations when everyone is shouting “hurrah”, but when the bunting is taken down and everyone gets on with their jobs I hope you will do the same as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the DCMS. In this role I am sure you will find supporting Public Libraries easier than many for as you are no doubt aware Public Libraries are a statutory service as enshrined in the Public Libraries and Museums Act of 1964. Amongst the many duties that you have is the one that includes making sure that Local Authorities run a comprehensive and full Library Service this includes

  • have regard to encouraging both adults and children to make full use of the library service (section 7(2)(b))
  • lend books and other printed material free of charge for those who live, work or study in the area (section 8(3)(b))
  •  
    It is the statutory duty of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to:

  • superintend, and promote the improvement of, the public library service provided by local authorities in England (section 1(1))
  • secure the proper discharge by local authorities of the functions in relation to libraries conferred on them as library authorities
  •  
    I am sure that you already know it backwards but you can read the full act here: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1964/75
     
    I know how busy you must be and how easy it will be for some duties to slip due to the immense pressure many in government must be under, so I want to reassure you that you are not alone. I will be here to chivvy you along if necessary and to support you as you engage with your colleagues in local government to remind them that they are legally obligated to run a library service rather than foisting it off on volunteers, many of whom will do anything to keep the service going – and that really is not fair! I mean I am all for volunteers in libraries assisting staff, but to make them responsible for running a professional service really is beyond the pale! I hope you will have a word with the councils that are doing this!

    This was supposed to be a quick note but I seem to have gone on I do apologise! Anyway, I look forward to hearing from you as to how we can move forward together and give the people of the UK a Library Service we can all celebrate and be proud of!

    Warmest regards

    Matt Imrie

    Why Schools need Librarians

    I have been in my current post as Senior School Librarian for little over six years, for five and a half of those six years I have been badgering the senior leadership team to let me have the Junior School Library as well. Three months ago they relented and said I could take it over and I began making plans to merge them both (but that is a story for another time).

    Jumping back in time three months now, one of the Science Teachers in the Junior School approached me and asked if I had any books on Dinosaurs as the Junior Library had none. I thought that it was odd as if there is one thing that seems to crop up in the interests of small children it is Dinosaurs and any library worth its salt would usually have a few, but anyway I said sure thing and wandered over to 567.9 and put together a pack of books for her.

    Back to last week, while I was moving the Junior Non-Fiction section into the Senior Library I found 20+ books on dinosaurs for all ages.

    There had been a Teaching Assistant that had a part-time role in keeping an eye on the Junior Library putting books on shelves and making sure that it looked tidy but she resigned at the end of the last school year. While she was in the school I spent some time trying to support her in the role by providing posters for displays, books on running a Junior Library and guidance on selecting books to withdraw, sadly she did not have the authority to withdraw stock and was unable to get permission to do so as there was no-one who had definitive oversight over the Library so effectively all she could do was rearrange the chairs and put books on shelves.

    It turned out that although there was a rudimentary system in place to keep similar books together it had not been adhered to and there were books everywhere (but not in a good way)

    A School Library need a Librarian to:

  • Keep the collection in good order to make it easier for students and staff to find and use information
  • To make sure that old and outdated materials are withdrawn and replaced
  • To work with staff making sure that non-fiction resources are available for curriculum support
  • To be on hand to ensure the library is open for students before school, after school and during break times
  • To put together book boxes and information packs to support teaching staff during lessons
  • Guide students in developing a love of reading
  • Keep track of items on loan
  • Elevate a room full of books from a repository to a living and vital part of the school
  • Without a full-time or even part-time Librarian the collection will stagnate as there will be no-one to coordinate stock refreshing and while departments may purchase books for the library or donate old stock there will be no-one on hand to make sure that unsuitable materials end up on the shelves
     
    The above list contains just a few of the reasons why Librarians are more than just a luxury for schools. If you would like to others please feel free to do so in the comments field below

  • Facts matter: push back against Misinformation now!

    Following on from the awesome My Library by Right badge in 2016, the brilliant people at CILIP have released a Facts matter badge for this year.


    2017 appears to be the year that the Truth has finally gotten its boots on and tightly laced!

    Wearing a nifty badge is all well and good, but we as professionals need to be active and start pushing back against the lies, omissions, misinformation and alternative facts that appear to have become de riguer in the modern world.

    It is a massive task and if at first it seems daunting it is good to remember that we are not alone in facing this challenge.

    If you want to join up and organise, the Radical Librarians Collective is a brilliant group to get involved with:

    the Radical Librarians Collective aims to offer a space to challenge, to provoke, to improve and develop the communications between like-minded radicals, to galvanise our collective solidarity against the marketisation of libraries and the removal of our agency to our working worlds and beyond.

    If you are not sure where to begin, the Que(e)ry Librarians have started a resource list for libraries and library workers that wish to actively resist the spread of falsehood:

    #LibrariesResist Resource List

    It is a work in progress but is already fairly extensive, of particular interest is the Fake News, Propaganda, Fact Checking, Media Literacy subsection, but everything is worth reading and sharing. I would recommend checking back regularly for updates.

    Also worth reading is Information Literacy Won’t Save Us; or, Fight Fascism, Don’t Create A LibGuide by Ian Clarke

    If you are a member of CILIP it is a good idea to get involved with the Special Interest Groups as a committee member, even if you arejust a regular member you can start start lobbying your regional committee to take up active involvement where appropriate to educate group members about so-called ‘alternative facts’.

    For those library folk reading this that are not members of CILIP it may be time to revisit your reasons that prevented you form joining or inspired you to let your membership lapse as it may be that these have changed as the organisation has changed and is more energised in working for all library & information professionals across the UK.

    You can collect a Facts matter badge from CILIP HQ from next week.

    Read the Vote

    When it comes to politics and Libraries I have always skirted around the edges, although my sympathies lie firmly on the left I did not want to align this site too closely with any particular side of the political divide as I know librarians on the left and right that use the site and did not want to alienate either.

    Like many people on the left and centre I have been shaken by political developments across the world and the rightward lurch currently occuring in western democracies. I have decided to be more open with my political views and become more politically active where possible.

    Libraries, are intensely political – no matter what has been said about them being apolitical; any institution that exists to uplift all parts of society is inherently democratic and intensely liberal – no matter the political leanings of the council or staff.

    With that in mind I would like to suggest that Librarians and Library Staff step in whenever there are local or national elections and get the public to

    Read the Vote!

    This idea was sparked by reading about Rock the Vote a movement that has, since the 1990s, fused pop culture, music, art & technology to fulfil its mission of building long-term youth political power.

    Libraries are perfectly placed to provide plain English (or first language of choice) information on all sides of the political discussion, that includes Public Libraries, School Libraries, University and College Libraries and any others that provide a service. The idea is not to push a partisan agenda but provide the information and context required for voters to make an informed choice when it comes to electing officials or making other nation-shaking choices (the Brexit vote for example).

    This can be run on a local level with Local Government elections and on a national level with mid-term and national elections.

    At present this is just a nebulous idea and I would like to hear suggestions on how this could be made a reality or if it is even feasible. Please feel free to make your views known in the comments below.

    Thank you