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Advice for a parent responsible for improving a school library and the reading culture in a UK primary school

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Yesterday, we got an email from a mum who wanted to know where to go to for advice and stock for her daughter’s school library.

I wondered whether other parents – and teachers – might find themselves in a similar situation, and so I thought that I would share her enquiry and my reply, written, I have to admit, while I was in a café on holiday in France.

Here’s what this parent said:

“I am writing to you in the hopes of some inspiration! I have recently volunteered to assist in the revamp of my daughters’ school library, in circumstances where it has been established for some years, but little attention has been paid to it during that time. There is no school librarian as such, and so the school relies upon the generosity of parents to give up their time and help out over several lunchtimes a week. As an avid reader myself (and someone who considers reading to be crucial to little people for so many reasons), I firmly believe that a library should form the core of school life, and so I am determined to make it the best that it can be. That said, as a solicitor, my skills as a school librarian are somewhat lacking!

As a specialist in children’s literature, I wondered whether you might have any guidance or words of wisdom that you could share in terms of the type of books that we should have on the shelves (the age range is 5-11 years old), the structure of the library, and any general advice that you may be able to share to encourage the children to visit the library on a regular basis. Apologies if this is a cheeky approach, but I am hoping to gather as much information as possible on the layout, and content of the library before we commence the revamp at the beginning of September. I want the space to be as welcoming as possible, and to give the children a reason to return. Both the school and the PTA are very much behind this initiative, so once we have an idea of where we should be investing our time and money, we can hopefully start to make a difference.”

It’s such a great problem to have, assuming that the school has money to invest!

So I said:

A great starting point would be the School Library Association.

The book lists produced by BookTrust are a valuable resource.

There are expert school library suppliers, who have inspiring showrooms and can offer advice, including Peters in Birmingham.

… and Madeleine Lindley in Oldham.

I suggested that she should never underestimate a local bookshop can give you. As the school is in Cheshire, I directed her towards Andrew Cant and Sue Steel who run the wonderful and award-winning Simply Books in Bramhall, not too far from her, and who, like many independent and chain bookshops, offer some amazing outreach and consultancy work to schools, which they describe on their website, as many independent bookshops do.

(To find bookshops near you, the Bookseller’s Association has a useful bookshop search facility.)

So those were my starting points.

I suggested, too, that author visits might, down the line, be a great way of inspiring a culture of reading. Many authors and illustrators, like Stroud-based Tracey Corderoy or Sheffield-based Caryl Hart, just to name two who are, I know, particularly active in schools, give information about what they can offer on their websites. Or, alternatively, you could go through an organisation that arranges author events, like Authors Aloud. Meanwhile, Book Trust has some great guidance on how to organise and get the most out of an author visit.

I suggested that she might think about running, or encouraging the school to run, a School Book Fair or a School Book Club, and said that one well-known and reliable provider would be my erstwhile employer, Scholastic. This, I thought, would be particularly helpful if funds were running low: whether through a club or a fair, parents buy books for children and the school gets to choose a proportion of the sales in free books in return. It is the case that the range offered reflects the fact that this service is run by an individual publisher, so a disproportionate content of the fairs and clubs and the books that the schools can get for free are Scholastic books, but given that the list includes Liz Pichon’s Tom Gates books and Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler picture books, there’s a lot that would be great on any child’s or school library’s bookshelves.

I said, too, that it would be worth signing up to The Book People’s newsletter. The packs they sell in particular are exceptionally good value (you can get 15 Roald Dahl paperbacks for £25 today, for example), and they are launching some interesting school initiatives in September.

I said that The Federation of Children’s Book Groups would be a good source of companionship and information – full of people who are committed to children’s enjoyment of reading and with an annual conference that shares best practice.

I also said, of course, that we’d love to see the shelves in the school full of Nosy Crow books, and that we would be more than happy to put together an age-appropriate list of Nosy Crow books for them (or for any other school – do please contact us on 02070897575, asking to speak to Frances, if you’d like to discuss this further.)

If you have other ideas to support and inspire someone setting up or improving a school library, please do comment on this post.

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2 Responses to “Advice for a parent responsible for improving a school library and the reading culture in a UK primary school”

  • http://www.elscheshire.org.uk/homepage.aspx
    Try the Schools Library Service in Cheshire – the staff are experts in children’s literature and information literacy. Unfortunately school libraries are not statutory (unlike prison libraries), therefore it is up to schools to spend money on what you have correctly identified as a vital ingredient in supporting reading for pleasure. There are big variations in provision of library services in schools depending upon where you live.
    You could also try your local public library service. They might still employ specialist Children’s Librarians.

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