Update September 2015

More depressing than nice news in this one, but let’s focus on the nice things first.

The rules for the Carnegie Medal have changed from allowing only books written in English by a single author to books translated into English, and co-authored books. I am pleased about this change – it’s been long due.

Another nice thing to read about was the article about the rebuilding of the library and collections at Glasgow School of Art. I can’t imagine how you even start to pick yourself up after a disaster as big as the fire that destroyed most of their collections, so it was good to see how much progress they’ve made.

I was also pleased about the feature on the reissued IFLA guidelines for library services for people with dyslexia. Making it clear that people who struggle to read from print can still benefit hugely from library resources, facilities and services is a challenging task, but not an impossible one. I also found it heartening to read that, no, you don’t magically grow out of dyslexia – just like other neurocognitive differences, it’s a lifelong condition, although of course people can learn better to navigate them with proper support.

And of course I enjoyed reading about the Amores project, which teaches school teachers to use technology to get students, especially boys, more interested in reading by creating “e-artefacts” – comics, movies, blog entries, … about the book they’re meant to read.

On to slightly less fun news. 

UN initiative – this has been signed by a number of countries, which is encouraging, but it’s not legally binding so I don’t have great hopes attached to it. 

The Reading Agency report has been making the rounds here in health library land. It is, of course, great to have research that proves something we already know – that reading for pleasure is good for you – but as always with these things it’s also slightly ridiculous that we feel we have to have this research in the first place, that we feel we have to legitimise libraries’ existence with things like this. No one would ever question that schools, adult education colleges etc. add value to a community and are good for people, but somehow with libraries we always have to ask why they’re still there. 

Anyway, moving on. Disadvantaged children don’t have the language skills necessary to learn to read when they start school – on average they lag behind 15 months, so a disadvantaged school starter, depending on their birthday, is somewhere between two years, nine months and three years, eight months.  

This is disheartening and yet unsurprising. We’ve know for a while that individual variations in developmental achievement at four are big, and that they even out somewhat as time goes on, there has been lots of evidence for a number of years now to say that starting school at four really isn’t that great an idea. Making certain that nurseries are staffed by qualified people is a start but it’s not the whole picture. Disadvantaged families are disadvantaged because of a number of reasons involving parents’ inability to spend quality time with their children because they also need to earn money to feed said children, yet support for working families continues to be at the bottom of the government’s priority list. Throwing money at the problem in one area that is particularly visible is fine but as long as the root causes aren’t tackled, this will continue to be a band aid over gushing wound situation. A nursery staffed by qualified staff isn’t worth anything if people can’t afford to send their children there. 

Higher and further education students place high value on libraries. Well, colour me surprised. Again, let’s not go into how I’m from a country with free education and how I think commodifying higher education is ridiculous. Of course libraries contribute to a good student experience and to student success, both as places and through their resources and (hopefully) through their staff and information skills courses. It’s good to know that students value libraries, but again, why do we even wonder? No one would think to ask the question of students whether they value lectures or seminars or labs. They value everything that helps them get through their course and achieve. 

Finally, an evidence review regarding libraries run by volunteers comes to the conlusion that that’s not a viable or sustainable situation, and people are concerned about Birmingham asking for book donations from the community because their service funding has been cut.

Excuse the platitudes but libraries are not just rooms full of books. Libraries are places that are run by qualified librarians who know about stock selection and collection development. If there’s not a librarian working there, it’s not a library. It’s sad that it takes drastic developments like this for people to realise this, but there we are.  

Incidentally, did you know that we still use public libraries more than… pretty much everything else in the UK? No? Well, have a look at these infographics from Ned Potter and spread them far and wide please. 

Between the aforementioned articles there’s also a feature with tips on how to review yourself and your service before local decisionmakers do and decide to cut you, and one on the work of the Libraries Taskforce making the case for libraries in the run-up to the Spending Review on a higher level. 

Overall, an informative issue, but one that leaves me feeling that the political climate we’re in is not just precarious, but dangerous.




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