This week is National Libraries’ Week, when people across the UK celebrate everything that is good and great about libraries. And, of course at St Michael’s, we want to join in!
With libraries becoming increasingly threatened by budget cuts, it is even more important to celebrate the purpose of libraries and the wonderful opportunities they offer their users, from babies at story-times and rhyme-times to adults learning IT skills.
I know I am biased but I believe that their importance in schools cannot be overstated. A school library should be a place where children can:
- explore a wide variety of books – from new, old and favourite authors and illustrators
- ask questions about books and reading
- think creatively about the books – we often do this through themed or related activities (we made our own Supertatoes from real potatoes, then planted them in a pot to grow baby Supertatoes!)
- discover books they might not have considered and find out about new topics
- share their thoughts on the books they read and recommend them to others (or not!)
- write book reviews, blog posts and letters to authors
- draw their own comics and picture books (we have a whole folder of fantastic creations!)
- find peace and quiet in the midst of a busy school day. Some pupils visit the library to have some time out when they need to recharge
- meet authors and illustrators in person and learn about their jobs (we’ve been lucky to host Peter Bently, Kiran Millwood Hargrave and Duncan Beedie in the last couple of years alone)
- read for pleasure rather than skill and ability. I try to encourage the children to read what interests them and break down barriers that state, for example, that children shouldn’t read picture books above a certain age (I’m over 40 and still buy and read them!) or that books featuring girls can’t be read by boys.
I am fortunate enough to work in a fantastic school, where reading (especially for pleasure) is prized so highly that the room that used to be dedicated to IT was turned three years ago into the Library where I now work. Walls that used to have computers running along them are now covered in bookcases. We have so many books, that the cases are full-to-bursting.
We also have incredibly supportive parents, who buy books from our book fairs (which then helps us to buy books for the library) and who give us kind donations so we can invest in keeping the library the lovely place that it is.
What the children say
I’ve never been in a school where reading is such a key part of its identity – to the point where, if a class misses its weekly, hour-long library slot, the children get quite upset and demand when they can catch up!
When I chatted to the children this week about Libraries’ Week, they gave me a whole raft of reasons why libraries are important, such as:
“Because you can read lots of books and then return them and get more books out.”
“You don’t have to pay for the books, like you do in bookshops, so you can read lots.”
“You read stories and then return them so that other children can read them after you. I like that – that others read what I’ve borrowed. It’s nice.”
“The [school] library is my favourite place. It’s fun.”
When I explained to the children that some libraries were closing down, they said it was sad. Many use local libraries outside of school time on a regular basis and couldn’t imagine not having access to it. One boy told me today that every Saturday, he cycles to his swimming lesson, then has lunch and then goes to his local library in the afternoon and enjoys arts and crafts there and borrowing books. This was obviously a much-treasured weekend routine and a time when the family enjoyed doing something together.
I think this is one of the key benefits of libraries, especially to families with younger children. They offer people a free, or at least inexpensive, opportunity to share time together doing something fun and enriching. They open doors to new worlds inside the covers of the books they stock, be they non-fiction books about space or a mystery series starring favourite characters. They boost language ability; they spark creativity.
When I posed the luckily unlikely ‘what if’ scenario of our school library closing, the children first of all looked horrified – eyes wide in shock, little mouths open in disbelief – then grimly determined. One child said:
“I would go all the way to London to Buckingham Palace and demand the Queen give me enough money, and then I would come back to Oxford and give the money to the school so the library could open again.”
… while another shook her head and said:
“I would go back to my country and never return.”
A third promised he would get his dad and granddad to build a new library free of charge so that we would have a place to share books once again.
At St Michael’s I think it’s very clear that the children love their library. And this librarian loves sharing it with them.