Category Archives: Library Advocacy

Libraries and reading: Part II

In Libraries and reading: Part I, I considered how public and school libraries provide for readers through decisions made around collection development. Following on from this, I would like to explore the ways in which libraries promote reading for children through events, activities and displays. As the previous post highlighted, there is a difference between the two sectors in terms of the driving force behind decision-making. In school libraries, the focus is on education and reading is promoted as a way to learn and develop skills. Recreation is highlighted in public libraries, with an emphasis placed on reading for pleasure.

School libraries are very good at promoting reading, with many using a range of strategies to encourage their students to engage in this activity. Special events are one way of placing the spotlight on reading. These include World Book Day, which often involves children coming to school dressed up as characters from their favourite books. In Australia, Book Week occurs in August each year and coincides with the Children’s Book Council of Australia book awards. Book character parades and reading and voting on shortlisted books are part of the celebrations in schools across the country during this week. Other events for promoting reading include author and illustrator visits and book fairs. The teacher-librarian, Barbara Braxton, has a extensive list of examples in her post on library events. (Her blog, 500 Hats, is an excellent resource for teacher-librarians and children’s librarians and is well worth bookmarking for future reference.)

You’re a wizard, Harry! Dressing up for World Book Day

World Book Day

World Book Day-Being Harry Potter by Iain Cameron: CC BY 2.0

There are also a number of ongoing activities that can be used to promote reading. These include book clubs, which can be tailored to the interests and needs of the children. Again, Barbara Braxton has a post entitled The FIRST Book Club, which includes suggestions for monthly activities for a group meeting in the library. Golden tickets can be hidden in books that are seldom borrowed, prompting children to search beyond popular titles. Genre passports can be used to encourage students to explore the breadth of the fiction collection, helping them to discover what they enjoy reading. I have set up a Pinterest board to curate ideas for promoting reading. This can be used as a starting point for planning library activities.

Displays are another way of promoting reading. Like events and activities, these expose children to new formats, genres, authors, illustrators, subjects… They can be based around particular topics, celebrations and authors’ birthdays (such as Eric Carle, Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl). Students can be involved in creating the displays by including their reviews and recommendations of books (Braxton, 2015). There are a couple of posts on the 500 Hats blog that offer useful advice for setting up library displays for children: The Landscaper’s Hat and Tricks of the Trade. I also have a Pinterest board entitled Library Displays, containing inspiring pins from a variety of libraries.

Public libraries tend to use fewer approaches to promoting reading for their younger users. Most offer storytime sessions, some of which are tailored to different age groups. These may also be bi-lingual, either incorporating a community language or sign language. Some libraries have loyalty schemes (such as The ReadUp Program), with children collecting stamps for each library visit and then receiving a certificate once they reach a certain amount. Public libraries are particularly known for their summer reading programs (such as the UK’s Summer Reading Challenge and the Summer Reading Club in Australia), which encourage children to continue reading through the school holidays. Awards and prizes are often offered as part of these. However, the public sector could learn a great deal from school libraries, which are very creative in the ways in which they promote reading amongst their students.

Everyone is welcome at storytime…even bears and ninja turtles!

I hope that this post has provided you with some ideas for promoting reading (for pleasure) amongst the children you work with. I would also recommended reading The Reader Leader’s Hat by Barbara Braxton for ways of “growing readers” (Braxton, 2014). Please share any activities you have used to encourage children to read in the comments below.

Libraries and reading: Part I

Having outlined my beliefs about reading, I want to consider how reading occurs in library contexts. (At this point, it is important to remember that libraries offer more than just books, but that is for a future post.) In this post, I will focus on the ways in which libraries provide for readers through collection development.

There are two types of libraries that support children’s reading: school and public libraries. The ways in which they provide for readers is different, because of the beliefs that underpin their approach to collection development. School libraries are focused on educating children and seek to support learning and teaching. The emphasis is on learning to read and reading to learn, sometimes at the expense of reading for pleasure. In addition, any local or national curriculum will impact on collection development, particularly in the area of non-fiction. On the other hand, public libraries concentrate on recreation, both in terms of reading for pleasure and reading for information. Unlike school libraries, they are not driven by government documents.

Books, books, beautiful books!

These different beliefs about the purpose of the library impacts on collection development, resulting in different resources being made available in school and public libraries. Because the collection development of school libraries is often driven by curriculum, this can result in a non-fiction collection which is tailored to support topics within subject areas. This is partly influenced by the limited budgets available to teacher-librarians, who have to make purchase decisions that will support learning and improve educational outcomes for students. This means that the non-fiction collection may be narrower than that of a public library and is more likely to change in response to amendments to the curriculum. Fiction may consist of ‘safe’ choices, particularly in denominational schools, and this can result in the omission of genres or formats that are considered less educational, such as comics, magazines and pop culture literature.

Collection development in a school library is often influenced by curriculum 

In public libraries, collection development is primarily driven by user needs and interests. This means that the scope of a children’s collection may be broader than in a school library. Non-fiction tends to cover topics that may not appear in curriculum documents and will often focus on leisure reading, rather than reading to complete an assignment. Fiction is also more extensive, including graphic novels, ebooks, audiobooks and magazines. Authors and series that are popular with children are included, rather than frowned upon, because they encourage reading for pleasure.

Public libraries may have broader fiction collections for children

It is important to note that this does not imply that public libraries are better than school libraries in providing for children. Both play an equally important role in supporting the development of readers. They just do this differently. I will explore the ways in which libraries promote reading in a future post. This is something that school libraries do very well.

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Libraries in children’s literature: Part II

Continuing on from the post about libraries in children’s literature, here are the final three books in which libraries play an important role in the story.

Children's Books About Libraries

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Written by J. K. Rowling and illustrated by Jim Kay

The Chamber Of Secrets

The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware.

When the shabby little house-elf Dobby pops up in Privet Drive insisting Harry Potter must not return to Hogwarts, Harry suspects his arch-rival, Draco Malfoy, may be behind it. Rescued from the dire Dursleys by Ron Weasley-in an enchanted flying car-Harry spends the rest of the summer at The Burrow. Life with the Weasleys is so full of magical distractions, Harry soon forgets Dobby’s frantic warnings.

But back at school a sinister message found daubed in a dark corridor echoes Dobby’s predictions that terrible things are about to happen…

In the second book in the Harry Potter series, someone is turning students from non-magical families to stone and suspicion falls on Harry after he is heard speaking in Parseltongue. Harry and his friends must discover who has opened the Chamber of Secrets and who is the heir of Slytherin.

The Hogwarts Library features in most of the Harry Potter books. In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry uses his invisibility cloak to search the Restricted Section for information about Nicolas Flamel. A year later, when the Chamber of Secrets has been opened, Hermione is able to borrow a potions book from the Restricted Section by presenting a signed note from Gilderoy Lockhart. She uses this to make polyjuice potion. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the three friends try to find material in the Legal Section that will help in Buckbeak’s hearing, while the following year, Harry looks in the Restricted Section for ways of breathing underwater in order to complete one of the tri-wizard challenges in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Hermione once again returns to the library to search through the Restricted Section to find information about horcruxes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

In the first book in the series, there is a brief description that gives an indication of the magnitude of the Hogwarts Library:

And then, of course, there was the sheer size of the library; tens of thousands of books; thousands of shelves; hundreds of narrow rows.

Within the library, there are a number of different sections: Restricted, Legal, Invisibility, Dragon and Reference. Books can only be borrowed with permission from the librarian and those in the Restricted Section required a signed note from a teacher. Spells have been placed on books to prevent students from defacing or stealing them. The librarian, Madam Pince, is very strict and enforces a number of rules, including no eating in the library. She is described as being “a thin, irritable woman who looked like an under-fed vulture”.

The books in the Hogwarts Library provide Harry and his friends with information that is helpful during their adventures. Remember, as Ron says (in reference to what Hermione would do), “When in doubt, go to the library”.

Information in this section taken from the Hogwarts Library page of the Harry Potter Wiki.

Ink and Bone
Written by Rachel Caine and illustrated by Christina Griffiths (cover)

Ink And Bone

Knowledge is power. Power corrupts.

In a world where the ancient Great Library of Alexandria was never destroyed, knowledge now rules the world: freely available, but strictly controlled. Owning private books is a crime.

Jess Brightwell is the son of a black market book smuggler, sent to the Library to compete for a position as a scholar… but even as he forms friendships and finds his true gifts, he begins to unearth the dark secrets of the greatest, most revered institution in the world.

Those who control the Great Library believe that knowledge is more valuable than any human life-and soon both heretics and books will burn…

Ink and Bone is the first book in the Great Library series, followed by Paper and Fire, and Ash and Quill (to be released in July 2017). The premise behind the three books is that the Great Library of Alexandria, which was destroyed in ancient times, has been saved, along with the information it contained. The year is 2031 and the Great Library now controls all knowledge, functioning as a nation-state connected to daughter libraries or Serapeum throughout the world. Jess Brightwell, a Londoner from a family dealing in stolen books, is accepted as an apprentice by the Great Library. Once he arrives in Alexandria, he discovers secrets about the organisation, which put his life and his friends in danger.

Physically, the Great Library of Alexandria is “more of a sprawling, vast complex than any single building”. Guarded by automata in the form of lions and other creatures, it houses all the original books and scrolls ever written. Politically, it controls access to information through a process called mirroring. Any item within the Library’s collection or Codex can be written into a blank, allowing “protection of knowledge while also giving free access to all”. This is reinforced by the Doctrine of Ownership, which makes the possession of an original document illegal. The Library owns all knowledge in order to protect and preserve it. Throughout this alternate history, there have been threats to the existence of the Library, notably in the development of the printing press by Gutenberg. These ideas have all been quashed in order to maintain the Library’s power and its control of knowledge.

Each daughter library is staffed by librarians and scholars, who are specialists in particular areas. These include Medica, Artifex, Historica and Lingua. The Library also has its own army, the High Garda, who protect both the Great Library and its Serapeum. The process of mirroring is carried out by the Obscurists, who are born with the ability to perform alchemy. They also provide the spark of life in the automata.

This is a fascinating page-turner of a book, exploring issues relevant to our times: the desire for power, the control of information, corruption within institutions and the suppression of knowledge. It could almost be a primer for America under Donald Trump! It’s going to be interesting to see how the story unfolds across the next two books.

The Grimm Legacy
Written by Polly Shulman and illustrated by Zdenko Bašić (cover)

The Grimm Legacy

Lonely at her new school, Elizabeth takes a job at the New-York Circulating Material Repository, hoping to make new friends as well as some cash. The repository is no ordinary library. It lends out objects rather than books-everything from tea sets and hockey sticks to Marie Antoinette’s everyday wig.

It’s also home to the Grimm Collection, a secret room in the basement. That’s where powerful items straight out of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales are locked away: seven-league boots, a table that produces a feast at the blink of an eye, Snow White’s stepmother’s sinister mirror that talks in riddles and has a will of its own.

When the magical objects start to disappear, Elizabeth and her new friends embark on a dangerous quest to catch the thief before they’re accused of the crime themselves-or the thief captures them.

This book introduces readers to the New-York Circulating Material Repository, which was established in 1745 and has been in its current location in Manhattan since 1921. Despite a fairly ordinary exterior, the Repository has an impressive main examination room (MER) with “tall ceilings, massive imposing tables, and an elaborately carved staging area”. Its centrepiece is the Tiffany windows:

All four sides of the MER were paneled with forest scenes. To the north was winter, with frost-rimed rocks and black branches against a bright sky. To the west, spring: crocuses, the barest glimmer of green, blossoming trees dropping petals that seemed to twist and float. To the south, summer: layer upon layer of green, with birds peeking out here and there and a pair of deer stooping to drink from the mossy stream. And to the west, fall in all its blazing yellows and reds. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.

The New-York Circulating Material Repository loans objects rather than books. These include “musical instruments, sports equipment and specialized cooking tools”. It also has several Special Collections, the most important of which is the Grimm Collection. This houses items bequeathed to the Repository in 1892 by a grandniece of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. These were collected by the brothers along with their folk tales and include a glass coffin, a golden egg, spindles and dancing shoes. There are a number of other Special Collections in the Repository. The Wells Bequest contains items related to science fiction, such as shrink rays and a time machine, while artificial intelligence, computer viruses, software and technology are found in the Gibson Chrestomathy.

As well as librarians, there are library pages working in the Repository. They are responsible for fetching items requested by patrons. These are stored in stacks on different levels and call slips are sent to the relevant sections using a system of pipes. Once an item has been picked, it is placed in a lift and sent down to the MER where the patron can inspect and borrow it. Items that have been returned are re-shelved by the pages.

There are two other books, which feature the New-York Circulating Material Repository: The Wells Bequest and The Poe Estate. More books to add to my reading list!

All these brilliant books have adventure running through them. Who would think that the library could be such an exciting and dangerous place!

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb or contents of the book.

Library and Information Week

Next week is Library and Information Week in Australia. Organised by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA), the aim is “to raise the profile of libraries and information service professionals” (ALIA, n.d.) through a range of events and activities within library services. This year’s theme, Celebrate!, has been chosen to mark ALIA’s 80th birthday.

Let’s celebrate all that’s wonderful about libraries great…

and small!

National Simultaneous Storytime is one of the events held during Library and Information Week. On Wednesday 24th May at 11am, the picture book, The Cow Tripped Over the Moon, will be read in libraries, schools, early childhood centres, homes and other settings across Australia. The initiative is now in its 17th year and has been very successful in sharing a love of reading with children. It aims to:

promote the value of reading and literacy;
promote the value and fun of books;
promote an Australian writer and publisher;
promote storytime activities in public libraries and communities around the country;
provide opportunities to involve parents, grandparents, the media and others to participate in and enjoy the occasion (ALIA, n.d.)

The ALIA website has a range of resources available to support National Simultaneous Storytime, including ideas for activities, teachers’ notes and merchandise. Organisers are encouraged to register their participation as this will enable them to access digital presentations of the book, which can be used as part of the event.

And this is the book that has been chosen to be read simultaneously around Australia:

The Cow Tripped Over the Moon
Written by Tony Wilson and illustrated by Laura Wood

The Cow Jumped Over The Moon

Hey diddle diddle
You all know the riddle,
A cow jumps over the moon…

But the moon is so high in the sky! How many hilarious attempts will it take before Cow makes her famous high-flying leap?

This brilliant picture book tells the real story behind the cow’s record breaking jump over the moon. It also highlights the importance of perseverance and never giving up on your dream. An excellent choice for National Simultaneous Storytime.

So join in the fun next week and celebrate all that is wonderful about libraries and the people who work in them.

Unless otherwise indicated, all images taken by the author and all quotes taken from the blurb of the book.

Libraries in children’s literature: Part I

After gathering together picture books about libraries, I thought I would take a look at libraries in children’s literature. The seven books I’ve chosen, covering both junior and young adult fiction, each have a library at the heart of their story. In this post, I will introduce you to the first four books.

Children's Books About Libraries

Lily Quench and the Lighthouse of Skellig Mor
Written by Natalie Jane Prior and illustrated by Janine Dawson

The Lighthouse Of Skellig Mor

At the ends of the earth is Skellig Lir, a dreamy magical island that is inhabited by mysterious people with strange powers. To get there, Lily Quench and Queen Dragon must brave magic, storms and seas swarming with deadly sea dragons-and Ariane, the rebellious keeper of the lonely lighthouse of Skellig Mor.

In the depths of an undersea cavern, Lily struggles to communicate with the sea dragons and escape the skeleton-filled tunnels beneath the lighthouse. Only then can she complete her quest: to enter a fantastical library that has existed from the beginning of the world…

The winner of the 2003 Aurealis Award for Best Children’s Short Fiction, this is the fourth book in the fabulous Lily Quench series. Our heroine is the last in a long line of dragon slayers, but has a gentler nature than her ancestors. She befriends Sinhault Fierdaze, otherwise known as Queen Dragon, who helps her to save the town of Ashby from the Black Count. In this adventure, Lily and Queen Dragon set off for the legendary Library of Skellig Lir, in the hope of finding magic books to help in the fight against the invaders threatening their home. Although initially barred from entering the library by the librarian, Lily later returns with a book that she has found and is allowed in.

The Library of Skellig Lir is “the most magical place in all the world”. When Lily enters the library, she discovers that it is alive:

A single great tree grew out of the bedrock of the little island. Its arching branches filled the space beneath the crystal cupola…and its leaves sighed and rustled in some invisible breeze. In the shelves formed by crevices in the trunk stood thousands of books, living books, that glowed with all the colours of the rainbow.

Books within the library grow on the tree: “As Lily watched, print started appearing on the tiny pages and miniature people in brightly coloured clothes ran over the paper like insects and settled into the illustrations”. The librarian, who has been in the Library of Skellig Lir since the beginning of the world, ‘picks’ the books when they are ready, just like fruit. She tells Lily, “Everyone who has ever been born has at least one book in this library”. Although she closed the library to outsiders after it was damaged by a group of magicians, she helps Lily find the information she needs in her quest to protect Ashby.

An interesting fact about the series is that one of the main characters is a librarian, as was Natalie Jane Prior before she became a full-time children’s writer (Prior, 2017).

Tally and Squill In a Sticky Situation
Written by Abie Longstaff and illustrated by James Brown

Tally And Squill

Tally is an orphan…She works as a maid…And sleeps in the kitchen sink.

But all around her there are secret passages, ancient mysteries and magical adventures waiting to be found. With the help of a furry friend, Tally discovers the hidden world of Mollett Manor…and the underground place where magic happens.

When Lord Mollett’s treasures are stolen, Tally is determined to catch the burglars. But all she has are her brains, her courage and a faithful squirrel. Can she save a sticky situation?

This is the first book in the Tally and Squill series (the second, Tally and Squill and the Scent of Danger, has just been published). Like Lily Quench, Tally is an orphan, working as a maid at Mollett Manor. Squill is the squirrel she becomes friends with. He helps her to discover who is stealing Lord Mollett’s valuables. When Tally explores the grounds of the manor, she discovers an underground library. She then uses books she finds there to trap the thieves and restore the treasure to its rightful owner.

The Secret Library is accessed by solving a puzzle. This unlocks a trapdoor with a ladder that leads down into an enormous room. Lamps provide illumination, revealing shelves and books:

This was no ordinary library. There were no aisles or neat ordered rows. Here shelves twisted and turned and corkscrewed from floor to ceiling…She looked up and the ceiling narrowed to a tiny point high, high above her. Here and there were little wobbly ladders which stretched up to reach the highest levels.

The collection was begun in 1150 by the Minervian Monks to “preserve our knowledge and protect the information we discovered”. But a hundred years later, disaster struck and the library entrance was sealed. It can only be opened by the Secret Keeper, which means that Tally is now responsible for protecting the library and the knowledge it contains.

The books are old and worn, covering all subject matters (although there don’t appear to be any fiction books!). When Tally reads them, magic happens. They come to life and she watches as a spider spins its web or a turtle snaps its jaw in front of her.

Like any good reader, Tally uses the knowledge she gains from the books, along with her own courage, to right a wrong.

Escape From Mr Lemoncello’s Library
Written by Chris Grabenstein and illustrated by Gilbert Ford (cover)

Escape From Mr Lemoncello's Library

When Kyle learns that the world’s most famous game maker has designed the town’s new library and is having an invitation-only lock-in on the first night, he’s determined to be there. But the tricky part isn’t getting into the library-it’s getting out. Kyle’s going to need all his smarts, because a good roll of the dice or lucky draw of the cards isn’t enough to win in Mr Lemoncello’s library.

I loved this book and couldn’t put it down when I read it. Which isn’t surprising as it won the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Children/Young Adult Mystery. If you enjoy solving puzzles, codes and clues, this is for you! Kyle loves games, especially the board games created by Mr Lemoncello, a ‘Willy Wonka meets Parker Brothers’ genius. Along with  eleven other 12-year-olds, Kyle wins a competition to take part in a library lock-in at the new Alexandriaville library. This has been designed and funded by Mr Lemoncello, who loved the original library that had been pulled down twelve years earlier. The children have to “use what they find in the library to find their way out of the library”, without setting off the alarms or using the front door or fire exits. As Mr Lemoncello says, “It’ll be like The Hunger Games but with lots of food and no bows and arrows”! And so the competition begins…

The town’s bank building has been converted into Mr Lemoncello’s library, retaining many of the original features:

With towering Corinthian columns, an arched entryway, lots of fancy trim, and a mammoth shimmering gold dome, the building looked like it belonged next door to the triumphant memorials in Washington, D.C.-not on this small Ohio town’s quaint streets.

Three storeys high, the library boasts a range of features: a large circular reading room, a Children’s Room, an Electronic Learning Center with educational video games (each with 3D vision, surround sound and smell-a-vision) and the Book Nook cafe. The Wonder Dome consists of ten video screens lining the library’s dome. These can display a single picture, such as the night sky, or individual images relating to the Dewey Decimal System. There are holographic statues in recesses at the base of the Dome, holographic animals among the bookcases and animatronics in the Story Corner.

The collection includes books and artefacts. Books on higher shelves can be reached using hover ladders, which utilise “advanced magnetic levitation technology”. Antique games and toys are located in the Board Room, while the Lemoncello-abilia Room houses ‘junk’ that Mr Lemoncello has collected.

Dr Yanina Zinchenko, a world-famous librarian, is responsible for overseeing the construction of the library: “Only she knew all the marvels and wonders the incredible new library would hold (and hide) within its walls”. The only other staff are holographic librarians, who provide assistance and answer questions, and robots, who restock the shelves.

For those who have enjoyed this book, there are two sequels: Mr Lemoncello’s Library Olympics and Mr Lemoncello’s Great Library Race (to be published in October 2017). I’ll definitely be reading both!

The Forbidden Library
Written by Django Wexler and illustrated by David Wyatt

The Forbidden Library

When Alice is orphaned she is sent away to live with the enigmatic Mr Geryon, owner of a huge, dark-and forbidden-library. After gaining entry with the help of a talking cat, Alice opens a book and finds herself trapped inside; she can only escape by conquering the dangerous creatures within. Alice has stumbled into a world where all of magic is controlled by Readers: she must open more books, face increasingly powerful foes, be the lead character in her quest to find a happy ending…

This book is the first in The Forbidden Library series. Like Lily Quench and Tally, Alice is an orphan, who has been sent to live with her uncle after her father dies in mysterious circumstances. Upon discovering the library, she enters a world of magic, which includes fairies with teeth and books full of danger. She is assisted by Ash, a talking cat with attitude, and both helped and hindered by Isaac, a boy with the same powers as her.

The library is housed in a building in the grounds of the house in which Alice is now living. From the outside, it looks like a fortress, with no windows and a single bronze door. But inside it is quite different:

The library seemed to be in a single vast room, cluttered with bookcases that rose almost to the low stone ceiling. They were arranged in rough rows, but irregularly, with gaps at random intervals.

The library is alive, with shelves that shift position and cats that wander among the books. It is also guarded by Ending, a mysterious giant feline, who wants to help Alice understand what she is caught up in. For Alice, like Isaac, is a Reader. This means that she is able to enter books and interact with the characters in them. Sometimes, in order to escape the book, she has to bind to her will the creature that she finds inside.

There is no organisation within the library, with books placed haphazardly on the shelves. Each book is a doorway to another place, either in this world or another. Some books ‘leak’ out into the library in that “they make a little bit of our world into a little bit of theirs”. When this happens, elements from the setting of the book appear among the bookcases.

The librarian, Mr Wurms, sits at a table in the middle of the library and moves so infrequently that “dust had settled all over him, like snow, and turned him a dirty grey”. Alice doesn’t like him, with his unpleasant gaze, his black, rotten teeth and his voice “as dry as a corpse”. He spends his time reading, stopping only to give Alice chores within the library.

The Forbidden Library is an enjoyable read, with a strong-willed heroine, a sassy sidekick, magic and mysteries. I look forward to working my way through the series.

Watch this space. The second part of the post will appear very soon.

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb or contents of the book.

Picture books about libraries

Following on from my post about the value of physical libraries, I’ve gathered together seven picture books about these wonderful spaces. The Twitter hashtag #ThingsOnlyLibrariesProvide highlights many of the important roles that libraries play within our communities. These books reflect some of these within their pages.

Picture Books About Libraries

The Detective Dog
Written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Sara Ogilvie

The Detective Dog

Sniff, sniff, sniff!

Peter’s dog Nell has an amazing sense of smell. Whether it’s finding a lost shoe or locating a bounce-away ball, her ever-sniffing nose is always hard at work. But Nell has other talents too. Every Monday she goes to school with Peter and hears children read. So who better to have on hand when they arrive one morning to discover that the books have all disappeared! Who could have taken them? And why? Detective Dog Nell is ready to sniff out the culprit…

I love this wonderful story from “the outrageously talented, prize-winning author”, Julia Donaldson (Pan Macmillan Publishing, 2017). With attractive illustrations by Sara Ogilvie, it ticks all the right boxes for me. Dogs. Check! Books. Check! Reading. Check! Libraries. Check! Nell is a Story Dog, part of a Bark and Read programme, helping children to gain confidence as readers. She is also a detective dog, leading the class and their teacher to Ted, who has taken all of their books. She then solves Ted’s problem. He was only borrowing the books and intended to return them. So Nell takes him to the local library, where he “can take lots of books out for free”. Everyone is happy, because the children have their books back and Ted has a new library card. Hooray for Detective Dog Nell!

Red Knit Cap Girl and the Reading Tree
Written and illustrated by Naoko Stoop

The Reading Tree

One day, Red Knit Cap Girl and her friends discover a hollow tree in the middle of the forest. What can the tree be used for?

“I will keep my book in this nook so everyone can read it,” Red Knit Cap Girl says.

“Great idea!” Bear cheers.

But the tree isn’t only for books. Little by little, one by one, the animals share their unique gifts and turn the ordinary tree into a special spot for everyone to enjoy!

This book, beautifully illustrated using plywood as a canvas, shows how it takes a community to create a library. Red Knit Cap Girl and her friends share their resources (books, newspapers and blankets) and their skills (carpentry and writing) as they set up a library in the nook of an oak tree. Everyone is welcome, even the outsider, Sly Fox. As Naoko Stoop says, “In this story, the library is a special symbol of community and sharing”.

No Pirates Allowed! Said Library Lou
Written by Rhonda Gowler Greene and illustrated by Brian Ajhar

No Pirates Allowed!

Chills ran down spines as those readers all shook.
They hid behind bookshelves, but ventured a look.
And what was that odor? Disgusting! Phhhew!
But no one at Seabreezy knew what to do.

Aha, me hearties! This swashbuckling, rip-roaring tale is all about Pirate Pete and his search for treasure. He ends up at Seabreezy Library, where Library Lou helps him in his quest. She teaches him the alphabet and introduces him to fiction and non-fiction books. Then, shiver me timbers, Pirate Pete discovers that the treasure is not gold or jewels, but books! The role of the librarian in finding information and promoting the joys of reading is clearly shown in this rollicking picture book.

Library Lion
Written by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

Library Lion

Miss Merriweather, the head librarian, is very particular about rules in the library. But when a lion comes in one day, no one is sure what to do. There aren’t any rules about lions in the library.

It turns out, though, that the lion seems very well suited for the library. His big feet are quiet on the library floor. And he never roars in the library-at least not anymore.

But when something terrible happens, the lion helps in the only way he knows how. Could there ever be a good reason to break the rules?

In this prize-winning book, the story begins with a lion passing between two stone lions (reminiscent of Patience and Fortitude, the New York Library lions) and entering the library. Like a big cat version of the Story Dogs, he joins the children for story hour. After learning not to be noisy in the library, he visits regularly and soon proves to be very useful. He dusts the encyclopaedias, licks the envelopes for the overdue notices and is a comfy cushion for the children to rest against. Then disaster strikes and the lion has to break the rules. But will he be allowed to return to the library? The rules associated with libraries are the focus of this book. No running. No shouting (or roaring). But the underlying message is that rules should be broken if there is a good reason to do so.

The Midnight Library
Written and illustrated by Kazuno Kohara

The Midnight Library

Once there was a library which opened only at night…

Step inside the Midnight Library and meet a friendly little librarian and her three assistant owls.

I love the simple and engaging illustrations in this book. They have been created using linocut and only three colours: yellow, blue and black. Again the focus of this story is on the role of staff in the successful running of the library. The little librarian and her three assistant owls ensure that visits to the library are a positive experience for all. They help everyone to find “a perfect book” and they solve any problems that arise. When the band of squirrels want to rehearse in the reading room, the little librarian shows them to the activity room. When Miss Wolf gets upset reading a sad part in her book, the staff take her to the storytelling corner and read with her, because they “knew the story has a very happy ending”. When a new visitor, the tortoise, won’t leave because he hasn’t finished his book, they give him a library card so he can take it home with him. This is a simple story with a powerful message about the importance of staff in the library experience.

Lottie Paris and the Best Place
Written by Angela Johnson and illustrated by Scott M. Fischer

Lottie Paris And The Best Place

Lottie Paris has lots of best things. She has the best dog, the best room, and the best Papa Pete.

But her best place is the library. There are books about space, new discoveries to be made, and new friends to meet-like Carl.

Lottie and Carl are about to find that the real best thing is when you can share your best place with someone else.

The illustrations in this book express the exuberance of young children. Lottie Paris jumps and runs and leaps into the library, which is her “best place in the world”. Carl hops into the library, which is also his best place. The story shares a love of libraries with readers through the eyes of two children, who become friends when they meet at the end of the shelves. The final pages find them reading books alongside one another, having discovered connection and friendship at the library.

A Library Book for Bear
Written by Bonny Becker and illustrated by Kady MacDonald Denton

A Library Book For Bear

Bear is quite sure that he already has all the books he will ever need and can see no reason to go to the library for more. Yet his friend Mouse, small and gray and bright-eyed, thinks otherwise. When Bear reluctantly agrees to go with Mouse to the big library, neither rocket ships nor wooden canoes are enough for Bear’s picky tastes. Will Mouse ever find the perfect book for Bear?

This book is one of several about Bear and Mouse. The humorous illustrations convey the two different personalities; Bear is cranky, whilst Mouse is cheerful. Bear doesn’t see the point of the library, because he has all the books he needs. But he has promised to go with Mouse. When they arrive, Mouse sets about trying to find his friend some books to borrow. But nothing pleases Bear. Then he hears the librarian reading to the youngsters at story time. Slowly he gets drawn in to the story and ends up borrowing seven new books. As the illustrator, Kady MacDonald Denton says, “Libraries have lovely surprises for each of us, whoever we are, big or small”.

These fabulous picture books all highlight the value of libraries within communities. They are suitable for advocacy in both public and school libraries and can be used to encourage engagement with these important institutions.

All images taken by the author. All quotes taken from the blurb and contents of the book.

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Physical or digital libraries?

This week, I read a tweet by Joanne Harris: “As a writer it is my duty to inform the public that after 7 Tory years, libraries are on their knees. Your children’s dreams are at stake” (@Joannechocolat, 2017). In response to this, Johnny M wrote, “Kindle, IPhones [sic], Laptops…it’s 2017” (@cockney67, 2017). He then suggested that libraries could be put online, thereby reducing building and staff costs. This has been proposed by many others, including headteachers in relation to school libraries. In this instance, the aim is to save money on physical resources and wages for teacher-librarians and aides and to use the space for other activities.

The threat of library closures has led to a debate around the function of libraries within communities

There are a number of issues around moving from a physical library to a digital one. Firstly, it is important to remember that libraries are not just repositories for books. Following her tweet, Joanne Harris started the hashtag #ThingsOnlyLibrariesProvide so that people could share the many ways in which physical libraries serve communities. As many contributors pointed out, a library provides a safe place for those who are vulnerable either at home or within the community. It enables people to come together for a range of activities, including storytime, talks, classes, clubs and family history research. For some, this may be the only social contact they have. So libraries are about relationships as well as resources. In addition, the staff offer advice and assistance in finding books and information. This is particularly important in an age where the Internet offers quantity, but not necessarily quality in terms of facts. As Neil Gaiman said, “Google can bring you back…100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one” (Gaiman, 2010).

Then there is the question of equity. Not everyone has access to the Internet or owns a computer or portable device. If library resources were only available online, how would those without the necessary technology access them? This is an example of the digital divide, which is defined as “the growing gap between the underprivileged members of society, especially the poor, rural, elderly, and handicapped portion of the population who do not have access to computers or the internet” (“Digital Divide”, n.d.) and those who do. This further prejudices those who are already disadvantaged. In contrast, anyone is able to access resources for free at a physical library. In this respect, it is an equalising force within an often inequitable society.

Another issue regarding the move towards digital libraries is the preference for physical books. A recent survey by Nielsen found that “ebook sales are falling while sales of paper books are growing-and the shift is being driven by younger generations” (Cain, 2017). Only 4% of children’s fiction is purchased in a digital format, compared to 50% of all fiction sales. One reason is that children’s books have never taken off as ebooks (Cocozza, 2017). This is probably because a paper picture book lends itself so well to the sharing of a story, either one-on-one or with a group, as well as being handled and experienced physically. It also showcases illustrations in a way that a kindle can’t. In addition, according to a survey by Voxburner, 62% of young adults are choosing to read physical books rather than ebooks (Cain, 2017).  Many children are also seeking escape from devices when engaging in recreational reading, which is likely to be related to the amount of screen time they are experiencing in schools and at home.

When it comes to libraries, it shouldn’t be a case of ‘Physical or digital’, but ‘Physical and digital’

Physical And Digital

Sea Change by Pen Waggener: CC BY 2.0

With library closures and budget cuts still a threat within many communities, I hope I have provided a broad rationale for the continued funding of public and school libraries. Stay tuned, as I intend to explore individual issues, such as library spaces and ebooks, in more detail in future posts.

A declaration of love

I love libraries. I love their shelves of books and their quiet, calm atmosphere. For me, there is magic in handing over a library card in exchange for a book, music CD or DVD. It costs nothing and yet opens doors into worlds, real and fantasy, expanding my mind and nurturing my imagination.

My idea of heaven

Barrow Central Library

Barrow Central Library by Cumbria County Council: CC BY 2.0

My love affair began when I first joined a library in London in the 1970s. I was about 6 when my mum took me and my siblings to get our membership cards. I can clearly remember the circulation desk with its rows of wooden boxes, which held the borrowing records. Going through the doors into the children’s section, I was amazed to find a room full of books, any of which I could take home. That day, I was given a handful of cards and left with an armful of books. From then on, my library membership became a passport into the world of reading. I went regularly to the library, initially with my mum and then, when I was old enough, by myself. Over the years, I made new friends and encountered old ones, all in the pages of the books I borrowed and read.

There’s magic in books…and adventure and knowledge and…

Magic Book

Image by The Pixelman: CC0 Public Domain

My love of libraries has continued since then. Whenever I moved, one of the first things I did was to join the local library. In the years that followed my first encounter, I chose teaching as a profession and worked in the early childhood sector. However, I grew disillusioned with the education system and decided to return to university to become….a librarian! And now that I have qualified, I feel as though I have come home at last.