school librarians. This was reported in this morning's paper. Apparently 25% of schools lack a trained librarian. This is a mystery to me. I would have thought this was one of the better and more desirable jobs in schools these days.
I once spent a short time as a school librarian and it was - well marvellous. I had a genuine excuse for telling children about books, all sorts of books. I had a genuine excuse for explaining how libraries worked. I could help them find things and find out things. I could encourage the 'top reading group' (who came to me) to read further and wider than they had before. We talked books and more books.
Of course there were no computers in libraries back then. There was none of the other high-tech equipment which makes a library more like a space station than a comfortable place to read. I had cushions on the floor. There were chess sets and Scrabble for those who did not want to read every lunch hour. Yes, I spent lunch hour in the library. It was my view it should be open. The other staff thought I was mad - but the kids loved it. There would be sixty or seventy kids crammed into the library in wet weather. It would be noisy - but not rowdy. It was mostly the sound of the younger ones reading aloud.
I wonder if computers have made libraries less friendly. Is the library too much like the classroom and the computer area at home? Is the constant struggle to get funds too much for the librarian? Are books considered less important now that computers can provide so much?
I do know that providing factual information, non-fiction, is considered more important than providing reading for pleasure.
Not so long ago a teacher actually said to me, "You know it's a wonder any child actually wants to read fiction these days. There is so much for them to find out about other things."
I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a view held by more than one teacher. Fiction does not, in their view, have the importance it once had. Oh yes, they think children should read some fiction - but not too much and it is preferable if it is fiction with a 'message'. "If kids are going to read fiction then we need to ensure that they are learning something from it, getting a message across," another teacher told me. The idea that you read for the sake of reading has apparently gone along with the cushions on the floor and the joy of discovering a new book by your favourite author. I loved having a child rush eagerly in and ask, "Are there any more like this Miss?"
They say 28% of current librarians will soon retire. Perhaps they could be replaced by information machines, "The material on gene therapy is to be found..." or "The item you require can be accessed on the web at...."
I would prefer to think of a library as a different sort of web, a spider web attracting the reader-flies and swallowing them up into the world of books, of reading, of imagination - into the world of a darn good story which is there for the sheer enjoyment of losing oneself in it and coming out as a slightly different person.