Friday, 9 September 2016


and then library again.
I don't think anyone really used the library in the first primary school I attended - anyone apart from me. I can still remember going in there the first time. (I had found my own way up the staircase from the infants' school below and demanded of a somewhat bemused headmaster that I be allowed to use it.)
One of the things I remember the most was that it was dusty. It smelt of  dust and varnish and that undeniable perfume which says "books". 
Fifteen  years after that I was in charge of a school library. The place buzzed. There were classes in and out all day. I had it open throughout every play period, before school for those who arrived early - and even late in the afternoon on occasion. We did things in there. The children found information. They read non-fiction and fiction. They played chess and draughts and other games - especially in wet lunch periods. Their mothers met in there. I talked about books to everyone. The children and I put up displays and they did demonstrations. On parent nights they would haul their parents over to see the library and whatever was going on there. 
The same school doesn't even have a library any more. It went from being a library to being a "resource centre" when computers became more commonplace. Then it simply ceased to exist. 
One of the children who had been a "library monitor" told me this yesterday. I met her quite by accident in a local shopping centre. She came up to me and re-introduced herself saying, "I absolutely had to tell you because the library was absolutely the best thing about school."
I remembered her then. She was a very quiet child from a "difficult" family - the sort of family which would now have social workers involved. I suspect school was a trial for her as a child. She was of average ability but other things got in the way of her doing well. In the library though things were different. She loved order and putting fiction away in alphabetical order and non-fiction in numerical order pleased her. She borrowed books but,  unlike many other children, rarely told me what she thought of them. I sensed they allowed her to escape the problems at home and would occasionally suggest something but didn't push her into talking about them.
        "So, you are still reading then?" I asked her yesterday. I didn't like to inquire about anything else  but I thought that question was safe.
       "Oh yes. I'm a library assistant at....." she named a large council library on the other side of the city. She was enthusiastic about her job.  Library assistants are not librarians. There are not nearly as many fully qualified librarians as there used to be. Library assistants don't need to be paid as much. I suspect that they too will go and libraries will be run by "volunteers" rather than trained staff. It won't be good.
But if we have even just a few like the girl I saw yesterday perhaps there is some hope for the future. She knows about books. I like to think I taught her something. 
What is more, she knows about the importance of books. She told me about the demise of the school's library and her distress was obvious. She wants her own children to have the same opportunities she had to use a library. 
We parted and I went off wondering how many of the other children who went in and out of that library most days feel the same way. Are they concerned by the lack of a library? So many people keep on telling me that the lack of a library doesn't matter, that children can get what they need "on-line" and that they "don't really have that much time to read anyway". 
And yet S..... said to me yesterday, "One of the best things was that you let us choose what we wanted to read. You'd tell us about things and you let us wander along the shelves and we could find all sorts of other things as well. I read all sorts of things I would never have read just because  I found them there. You can't do that on a computer." No, you can't. 
That very quiet child came from a family of seven children. Her mother had a fierce temper and "belted" the children frequently. Her father was often "away". We were careful never to inquire about exactly where he was. And yet that child now works in a library - and loves it. Would she have done it without a library at school? I doubt it.
Books matter.

1 comment:

Jodiebodie said...

I get cranky when schools make the assumption that children will have access to computers outside of their classroom time and that all families or homes are 'online'. Internet is still a luxury for many households, definitely out of the budget. There are households that do not own a computer and a 'smartphone' is no substitute for the types of things schools expect children to do online. Even households that have a computer may have many people competing for that online time.

At least libraries and books give children something concrete that they can carry with them and look at any time and it doesn't cost a cent.