Friday, 20 December 2013


We're delighted to welcome another wonderful librarian to The Edge.  Today we have Melanie Webster who is the librarian at The Becket School in Nottingham.
Mel Webster

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
The Becket School
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!


Friday, 13 December 2013


Last week we heard from Ingrid, a school librarian.  Today we have a Q&A from a librarian in a different role - Andrea Lowe is a Principal Librarian for Children and Community Services for Nottinghamshire County Council.

Welcome to The Edge, Andrea.  Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Andrea Lowe

Well, I have been working as a professional librarian for 32 years, all of which has been spent working in the public library sector for Nottinghamshire Libraries.  As you can imagine, in that time I have occupied a number of roles, and have developed a diverse range and wealth of experience. My current role is Principal Librarian, Children & Community Services.      

What’s your favourite aspect of being a librarian?

These days I don’t really feel much like a librarian. I don’t really do many of the things that most people associate with being a librarian, like buying, organising and recommending books to customers; or indeed, answering complex queries. I do some of that, but in a much more subtle way. My current role is a strategic one, so I spend a lot of my time service and programme planning, and focusing the work of Team Librarians, to meet library development performance targets and standards. Its good fun, and I can see the impact of what our team does on the people using our libraries, but it is a far cry from staffing a busy enquiry desk in a city centre library.

I used to enjoy enquiry work, and the challenging research opportunities this presented. I especially used to like local studies and historical research. However, the real joy of being a librarian, is having the opportunity to enthuse about books and reading. It’s great to be working in a service which has reading for pleasure at the very heart of everything it does. Libraries may have re-invented themselves to some degree over the past couple of decades, not least to embrace the digital age, but at the core of our vision is still a desire to promote books and reading. It’s our raison d’etre, our reason for being, and it’s still the best part of the job!

Of course, linked to this, is the opportunity to meet authors and poets. Over the last twelve months I have been responsible for arranging a number of author/poet visits to libraries, either as open events or for invited schools. It’s always a privilege and a pleasure to meet the people who write the books that children and young people are reading, and to see them inspired and enthused by the experience (that is, the children and young people are inspired – but I guess so are the authors – it’s a two-way thing). This is a fab part of the job!


Is it true that boys are more reluctant to read than girls?

In my experience, boys seem to take more convincing that reading for pleasure is a fun thing to do.  They don’t take the same ‘risks’ with reading that girls do, and it takes a lot of energy to find something that will hook them in to reading. This isn’t surprising – there have been a number of studies in recent years, not least research undertaken by the National Literacy Trust, which has found that girls are much more engaged with reading and enjoy reading more than boys. It is a deep –seated issue. Many schools have developed strategies to tackle the problem, and of course, public libraries have been working hard to underpin these strategies with initiatives such as ‘Boys into Books’ and of course, the Summer Reading Challenge.

As far as the Summer Reading Challenge is concerned, it is one of the best things we do for children and young people in the year. It provides us with the opportunity to make a concerted effort to keep children, and especially boys, reading over the long summer holiday. At the end of the summer, it is always interesting to evaluate the Challenge to see how many boys signed up to take part, and importantly, how many went on to finish it. This year boys accounted for 40% of children completing the Challenge in Nottinghamshire, which is close to the national figure of 42%. Of course the real impact is how they progress from there and whether or not they continue to read regularly when they go back to school.


Can teen fiction change lives?

I’m sure it can! I think that any fiction, whether targeted at children, teens or adults can potentially be life changing. This is one of the reasons that I find the opinion that fiction has no true value irksome. I believe that fiction can give us a sense of who we are, and help us to understand how the world works. I think it can be especially important for teens, who by their very nature are at a formative and in some cases, difficult period of life.   

What’s the best thing authors can do to support libraries?   

Maintain a relationship with libraries and use every opportunity to promote the value of libraries personally and professionally. Its increasingly important at the moment to reinforce the message, as almost daily there is more news in the professional press of libraries threatened with closure. Also, the message about the value of reading for pleasure needs hammering home, especially in ministerial circles (A message for Mr. Gove)? It seems so obvious to us, but clearly there are still those who don’t get it. Please help us beat the drum!

The fantastic, refurbished West Bridgford Library. Nottingham


Friday, 6 December 2013


Here at The Edge we cherish librarians.  Through their hard work, skills and  professionalism they pass on their love of books to all. Over the next few weeks we're dedicating our blog to Q&A posts by librarians to gain an insight into their work and learn from them.
Our first guest is Ingrid Broomfield from Nottingham Girls' High. 

Tell us about yourself, Ingrid!

After a (very) short career as a Sainsbury’s manager, I got a job as a trainee in a University library and then a place at library school in Manchester. During my postgrad year I rediscovered children’s literature, remembered vividly the delight in books that I had felt as a child and decided that passing on some of that joy would be a good way to earn a living. Suddenly it’s 30 years later (where did the time go?) and having worked in public libraries in London and Derbyshire and three different school libraries, I’m now at Nottingham Girls’ High and still loving reading and sharing literature with each new generation.

What’s your favourite aspect of being a librarian?

Oh dear, there’s lots! Working in a school you get direct contact with your readers – and as I look after two libraries I work with tiny tots just learning to read; excitable chattering juniors; gawky, awkward, teenagers and finally self-possessed sixth formers ready to move on to the next phase in their life. I have the absolute pleasure of buying and reading shiny new books and sharing them directly with their intended audience – equally I can introduce treasured classics from my childhood to a new generation.  Within the constraints of the school’s development plan, I can pick and choose the library’s focus for the year ahead without worrying about attainment targets and of course, I get to meet lots of fabulous authors!

 Have you ever banned a book from your library and why?

As a lifelong advocate of free speech I’m not a great fan of banning anything. That said, I would always tailor my stock to my clientele so of course there are books I choose not to buy – but that’s not quite as strong as banning.

Confession time: Wherever I have worked over the years I have always had an absolute policy of binning any Jeffry Archer books – can’t stand the man (but I realise that is outright prejudice and not to be condoned)

  How can school encourage a reading culture?

Employ a qualified librarian, give that person management support and a half-decent budget and then leave them to do what they do best – all the studies show that this will make a difference. Then when they’ve worked their socks off and got everything running smoothly so it all looks fairly straightforward to the untutored outsider, DON’T replace them with a clerical assistant because it’s easier on the budget. I’ve seen this happen too many times.

 Do you think Book Awards are helpful guides for teen readers?

Yes! They introduce authors we’ve never heard of, provoke discussion (always a good thing), and provide guidelines to parents for present buying. Some teens will never progress beyond comfortable, easy reads (and that is fine with me) but there is a sizable minority of the age group who enjoy a challenge and the opportunity to try something new. And they will talk to their friends about the new titles and word will spread ….. this happened with ‘Wonder’ on the 2013 Carnegie list.

 If you could recommend one book for every child to read what would it be?

I would never do this – it smacks too much of government guidelines about ‘worthy’ literature – I’d much rather recommend books depending on an individual’s taste. However, if you forced me to name a title I’d go for ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – it has a message for all time and all generations.

                                                The school library at Nottingham Girls' High
 How do you entice your teen students to read?   

At this school they have regular contact with the library right through junior school and as part of the English curriculum in Year 7 and Year 8. During those years we buy the books they ask for (even if we think they’re rubbish) we run lunchtime clubs, competitions, activities, author visits and book weeks. So we hope to have laid strong foundations. In their teens they have so many other pressures in their lives – hormones, exams, friendships, relationships – that I am not surprised that reading and library use drops off and I feel forcing teens to do stuff can be counterproductive. So I keep close contact with our regulars and stay friendly with the rest. Hopefully they’ll come back to reading in due course.

Who would you cast in the lead three roles in a film of one of your favourite books?

I wouldn’t! If I love a book I hardly ever go to see the film – I much prefer the pictures in my head. Just a dyed-in-the-wool bookworm I suppose. Sorry.