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Posted by Dom, December 12, 2014

In praise of School Libraries

Last week I zipped up my boots and went back to my roots – to Suffolk! The county I grew up in and where I went to school- and school is an important theme in this post. I was very kindly invited to visit the Suffolk Schools Library Service by the resource centre manger, Maxine, who I’d met at an Askews & Holt Library Conference at CILIP, in London.

Now, my school was lucky enough to have an excellent library – it figured to a large degree in our school day (especially mine as it was where you went for ‘off-games’ … and I LOVED ‘off-games’!! Soooo much better than games – you could read instead of getting out of breath and cold.) and was well-stocked, well-run and was a very pleasant place to be.

And, of course, I took it for granted.

As a grown up working in children’s publishing, my attitude has shifted somewhat. Actually, quite a bit. In my years organising and attending author events in schools, I’ve seen my fair share of school libraries- and schools without proper libraries – and I how realise how incredibly lucky I was. Now I remember my school library in a perpetual Summer, where bluebirds flew about my head, deer brought me books to read, bunnies gambolled at my feet and an owl gently hooted and ‘shhhhed’ noisy pupils from the top of the Soil Erosion shelf.

I can imagine all that, but I can’t imagine not having had really good access to books- especially when at school- as a child.

And reading has given me so much pleasure my whole life, I can’t imagine ever NOT having that pleasure.

I loved reading and I could indulge that love of books without a second thought in our school library. Fiction, non-fiction, magazines, newspaper…everything. I can’t help thinking now that, in some way, that library was ‘priming the pump’. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I wasn’t working in publishing but I KNOW I’d still be the type of person who has four books on the go at any one time.

And, there I was, lucky to spend a day with a team dedicated to doing whatever they could to ensure as many children has possible had the pleasure of reading. Ensuring school libraries all over the county were as appealing to children- and as well-run by teachers and librarians – as they possibly could be.

Operating out of a building packed with books, Maxine’s team (they’d very kindly arranged a Nosy Crow display and put on a delicious lunch spread for my visit!) did everything and more to make sure that the schools of Suffolk (those who signed up to the School Library Service) had the best access to the best the books they could. Training courses, pop-up cafes, school visits, author events, book quizzes, cocktail parties (fruit juice cocktails…) – YOU NAME IT.

And they were doing all this in pretty adverse conditions, too, owing to funding issues.

It did my soul good to see people so committed to putting good books in the hands of teachers and children- so that, hopefully, those children would love reading and again, hopefully, that love would last a lifetime.

On a less spiritual level, I had an absolute BALL with them. We laughed like drains, generally put the world to rights and I’d really like to thank Maxine and Jacky for taking such excellent care of me.