This week we head to Enfield for a chat with one of last year's school librarians of the year. John Iona is the librarian for the Oasis Academy.
What is your favourite aspect of being a Librarian?
I would spend the rest of my life studying if I could, but to work in a school Library is to be immersed in an environment where learning can happen at any moment, where learning is happening all around you both within the Library and within the walls of the institution I work in. I love to be a part of that opportunity for young adults to learn something new, to feel inspired or to discover someone else’s story that resonates with them.
Another great part of being a school Librarian are those small discussions with pupils, while they are browsing for their next book, where you get to elicit from them what it is they have enjoyed reading recently, and you can hear the passion in their voice as they describe the story and what they loved about it. Then, being able to guide them on to a new discovery, with a different author, whom you hope will have just as big an impact.
Do you think book awards are helpful guides for teen readers?
I think that they are very helpful! The key, I believe, is increasing awareness of these awards and the books that are nominated as without the right exposure through key channels of communication, the information does not reach as many teenagers as they should. From this perspective, I think that schools are in a hugely powerful position when it comes to raising awareness of the fantastic books that are on award shortlists, and I think more should be done by the sponsors and organisations running the awards to help school Librarians and teachers raise their profile. For example, they make great schemes for extra-curricular clubs and reading groups to use as a hook, and so good quality materials to support these initiatives would be fantastic.
This year, I am using the Booktrust schools pack with my key stage three book club, and these have been a hit with the kids taking part. I have found the materials really useful too, and will continue to use them to facilitate the group activities. I am also really looking forward to challenging my group with the CILIP Carnegie award in 2014, as I know this will provide a range of high-quality books to extend the reading palette of the students.
What message would you give Michael Gove?
The message I would give any secretary of state for Education, particularly the current one, is that with reading for pleasure and literacy so high on the national agenda, there should be a lot more thought going in to how the provision of a school Library with a qualified Librarian can be made a statutory requirement for schools.
If you could recommend one book for every pupil to read what would it be?
I loved reading A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness. I just felt that it was full of compassion, and forces you, as a reader to feel a real connection to the main character. I think that one of the things that great books do are elicit some real emotion in you, as a reader, and the subject-matter along with the powerful story-telling wrap themselves around you to give a real cathartic edge to the ending of the book. Every pupil should read this book!
What was your favourite book as a teen and why?
I loved to read in my teenage years, and devoured books by James Herbert, Stephen King and Dean Koontz etc. I was also lucky in that teachers at school helped to guide my reading habits, and it was during A-levels that I read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. It was with this book that I discovered an author that resonated with me, and a book that did more than tell a story. I think it was this book that introduced me to what great modern fiction could do.
What do you hope for from an author visit to the school?
When authors visit, I need them to be dynamic, engaging and enthusiastic. This is particularly important when delivering a talk to a whole year group of 180 pupils, some of which are waiting to be impressed within the first two minutes.
The best authors will invite empathy from the students, and invite them to relate to them and their experience. From that point, they are then in the strongest position from which to talk to them about their work, the books that they have written, and why the pupils should have a go at reading their work. In the end, I want the students to leave the talk with their interest sparked, wanting to find out more about the author and hopefully leave the session wanting to read something.
This is no mean feat, but this is what the best author visit will do!
Thanks for joining us, John, and for all you do to help get teens reading!
John Iona is a secondary school Librarian, working at Oasis Academy Enfield, London. He has worked at Oasis for five years. He graduated with his professional qualification in 2009 and recently gained Chartership with MCLIP, as well as received the honour of SLA School Librarian of the Year 2013.