Friday, 3 January 2014

Salute to Librarians! Featuring Wokingham Librarian Barbara Band

What better way to kick off 2014 than with a guest blog from another amazing librarian? We asked CILIP Vice President Barbara Band a few questions about being a teen librarian. 

What’s your favourite aspect of being a librarian?
My job is extremely varied; no day is the same which can make life a bit busy and stressful but also interesting and challenging. I think one of my favourite aspects has to be when I manage to find a book for a reluctant reader, one that they engage with, that they bring back and say “I really enjoyed that, have you got another one like it?” I also love seeing students develop as readers, watching them grow in their understanding of stories, to see them lost in a book at break time, and to listen to them getting into rather animated and fervent discussions about characters and plots.

Are there any taboos left in children’s fiction?
I don’t think so. Children’s fiction deals with some quite contentious issues such as homophobia, incest, suicide … but the difference is in the level of detail in them compared with adult books. I know some people worry about the content of children’s books (and I’m talking teen and young adult here) but what they don’t realise is that children self-censor. If they are uncomfortable with what they are reading, they’ll either skim over it or stop reading. It’s also important to remember that everyone brings their own personal experiences to what they read thus, if I read a story about a missing child, I will do so as a mother whereas a teen will have a totally different perspective. And then there’s reading maturity, the ability to make inferences and read between the lines. A good writer will know how to create a story appeals on several levels and that they don’t have to put in every single detail.
Barbara's library at The Emmbrook School, Wokingham, Berks.

Can teen fiction change lives?
Yes, definitely! And not always in a direct and obvious way. I know people are often asked if there was a book that changed their life and I’m sure that many have read something that has had an immediate impact but reading fiction changes people over time. Research shows reading reduces stress, improves your memory, thinking and writing skills, increases your vocabulary, makes you more tolerant towards other cultures – students who read fiction for pleasure have increased attainment in every subject. There are so many benefits that it’s impossible to list them all …

If you could recommend one book for every pupil to read what would it be?
 Oh, this is an impossible question! Because every reader is different … they’ll like a variety of genres, they’ll be at different stages in their reading journey so will want a book at varying levels of ability, their mood will determine whether they want something challenging or easy to read and, of course, there’s such a fantastic range of books available that it’s hard to single out just one. I think, possibly, if I was pushed I would say Patrick Ness’s “A Monster Calls” comes close because of the visual element and the layers of the story.

How do you entice your teen students to read?
To begin with you need the support of your school, and an ethos that recognises the benefits of reading and encourages reading for pleasure. This attitude will then filter down through the staff so that any strategies and promotions you organise will be supported, and these need to be a wide range of techniques from library lessons, book boxes in tutor groups, subtle messages around the school about reading, active encourage from all staff in all subjects, displays, author visits, etc. If a school supports reading then they are also like to have a well-stocked library staffed by a professional librarian; you cannot entice students to read without these elements! The next step is to ensure that there is a wide range of varied material for them to choose from, this includes fiction and non-fiction books, magazines, journals and newspapers. Free voluntary reading, where the student chooses what to read, is the major way to encourage reading but this can’t happen without stock to support it. You also have to accept where that student is with regards to their attitude to reading, forcing a reluctant reader to select a book and sit reading it silently will alienate them. Find out what they enjoy doing, what they’re interested in and tempted them with something relevant. It’s also important to show a genuine interest in what they’re reading (something that is quite natural to librarians as we do tend to be obsessed with any sort of reading material), share what you’re reading with them, be enthusiastic! And you have to know your stock which gives us a perfect excuse to read … as if we need one!

What do you hope for from an author visit to the school?
Firstly I want everyone involved in the visit - students, author, teachers - to enjoy it and get something out of it. I try to make sure things run as smoothly as possible by preparing in advance so that the author is happy and relaxed. No one can work well with chaos and confusion going on around them! I guess what I am really hoping for is that the students will be inspired, that teachers and other staff see the benefits of having such activities, and that the whole event creates a buzz, an impact, not only on the day of the visit but afterwards. This might seem like quite a tall order but this is what happens with successful author visits, I’ve experienced this time and time again. Students remember them for years afterwards … and this is why they are so important.

Barbara Band
CILIP Vice President
Head of Library & Resources
The Emmbrook School, Wokingham, Berks.

Thanks for joining us, Barbara! And thanks for all you do to inspire teens with books!


  1. Great post, Barbara. Thank you. Your answers illustrate how important and relevant the role of the school librarian is in inspiring reading for pleasure amongst children. It should be complusory for every school to have a well-stocked library with trained library staff, but I fear that many schools are not as lucky...

  2. Thanks for your great Q&A Barbara. I can imagine the job satisfaction you get from introducing a reluctant reader to a book that turns them to reading. Thank goodness for you and your colleagues.