Hi Mel, tell us about your path to becoming a school librarian.
Well, I studied Librarianship at Birmingham City University, qualifying in 1986. I have worked in public libraries, for a school library service, a college in the Middle East, a university library and three Nottinghamshire schools. My current post is that of Leader of the Learning Resource Centre at The Becket School, Nottingham. I really value being part of a school community and it makes me happy to see how enthusiastic young people can be about reading given the right opportunities.
What's your favourite aspect of being a librarian?
The aspect of the role that I enjoy the most is the same now as it was when I first qualified as a librarian in 1986. I relish the opportunity that it gives me encourage others to discover both the joy of reading and the importance of effectively accessing information. Both can make a huge and real difference to our lives. The appeal of working in a school is that I am able to built a productive working relationship with individuals and hopefully make a positive impact on their ability to learn. It is wonderful to witness young people developing their ability and confidence. It is a privilege to have this role and support pupils in reaching their full potential. I hope that in some small way I am able to change the misconceptions that young people may have about what libraries can do for them.
How can schools encourage a reading culture?
This encouragement starts with the nursery and primary schools and relies on them having the funding to buy the resources they need to foster a love of reading. I know so many primary schools with wonderful, committed classroom teachers and Literacy Coordinators who struggle to buy the books that they recognise as the best available for their pupils. If they are able to fund a good school library, make time for daily reading and invite writers, poets, storytellers and book illustrators into school then they will be able to inspire even the most reluctant of readers. The School Library/Education Library Services around the UK (that are still in existence) play a key role in supporting both primary and secondary schools in promoting a reading culture. The employment of qualified, and ideally chartered, librarians in secondary schools who can effectively manage a collection of reviewed and carefully selected resources is crucial. These professionals lead promotional activities such as The Carnegie Shadowing Scheme and The Brilliant Book Award as well as organise book events on a regular basis which can facilitate a healthy reading culture. The annual Book Week at my school has proved to have a lasting impact in many ways e.g. reluctant readers discovering an author that they like or a genre that had never appealed to them before.
If you could recommend one book for every pupil to read what would it be?
I would recommend a book that is already extremely popular with the young people in my school – ‘Wonder’ by R. J. Palacio. This is a book that stayed with me long after I had finished reading it. The story of a 10 year old boy who was born with a facial disfigurement, it is told using a first person narrative by several different characters including Auggie himself. Auggie has to deal with how others react to how he looks and this ranges from fear and some unkindness to acceptance and friendship. I was engrossed in this book from the first page. It really made me think about how often people are judged by how they look but also the importance of kindness in the world. My favourite quote from the book is as follows:
“If every person in this room made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you will try to act a little kinder than is necessary - the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you, in every single one of you, the face of God.”
― R.J. Palacio, Wonder
― R.J. Palacio, Wonder
What was your favourite book when you were a teen and why?
I had a favourite series of books when I was a teenager that I read and reread. It was the ‘Flambards’ series by K. M. Peyton. It comprised of four books ‘Flambards’, ‘The Edge of the Cloud’, ‘Flambards in Summer’ and ‘Flambards Divided’. They were adapted for television about ten years after the first book was published. The books are set before, during and after the Second World War. Christina is an orphan and has been sent to live with her tyrannical uncle and her two male cousins. Their estate, Flambards, is impoverished and, since Christina will inherit a fortune when she is twenty-one, the uncle intends to marry her off to his oldest son in order to restore Flambards to its former glory. I enjoyed reading about this feisty, teenage heroine and her friendship with the younger of her two cousins. There is a love triangle involved in the second book which has an impact throughout the series.
What has been your favourite book published in the last 3 years?
When the pupils ask me this question I find it really hard to think of just one because I am lucky enough to have access to so many great books. Last year I read ‘When I was Joe’ by Keren David. I had not heard of it but spotted it on the shelves at ‘The Education Library Service’. Its front cover was so striking that I just had to pick it up.
The blurb promised a compelling thriller and this certainly proved to be the case. The main character, fourteen year old Ty, witnesses a fatal stabbing and as a result he and his mother are taken into police protection. Ty has to leave behind all that he knows including his friends. He has to change his identity, becoming Joe which results in a cool new image. The author has said that she what she did was to have “Ty living a lie just so that he can tell the truth” which is ironic and I found myself stopping and thinking about this several times during the book. It did not take me long to read due to the plot’s fast pace. I have recommended this book to older readers (both boys and girls) who have lost interest in reading and had fantastic feedback from them. This was Keren David’s debut novel and she has gone on to write two thrilling sequels.
Thanks, Mel for this this great Q&A. Have a wonderful Christmas!