Friday, 3 December 2010

Bye Bye Libraries. Bye Bye Civilization.



Bye Bye Libraries. Bye Bye Civilization.

That's the gist of Catherine Bennett's piece for the Guardian, listing all the closures expected in the coming government cost-cutting exercise.

'Of course, for the almost 250 libraries already earmarked for closure, their role in the happiness supply chain is probably irrelevant. By the time experts have established that, where the alleviation of ignorance, illiteracy, isolation, helplessness, unemployment, infirmity, boredom, neglect and poverty are concerned, libraries do, after all, offer something culturally irreplaceable, they will be gone. It is becoming clear that Mr Cameron's government will do nothing to protect them.'

THINK! Kill a library and live with the consequences.

Anyone who loves reading (or writing) will want to bang their heads on the wall if they read the comments below the piece.
Somewhere down below all the trolls was a comment from Michael Rosen, our Children's Laureate for 2007 to 2009. And I thought it would be a public service to highlight it here.

Readers, if you care and if you blog, or have an online profile, please repost this!

I hope Margaret Hodge, Ed Vaizey, Ed Balls, and Vernon Cloaker have google alerts on their names so that they can read this and blush (I enlarge your names in case you're as short-sighted as your policies). Shame on you.

Here is Michael Rosen's comment:

Michael Rosen

Books have become optional extras in schools. They've been sidelined by ITC and worksheets. There is now a generation of young teachers who have been through teacher training with no more than a few minutes of training in children's literature and little or no work on why it's important for all children to read widely and often and for pleasure.

So, what we have is the notion that there isn't time to read whole books, there isn't time to help all children browse and read and keep reading - but there is time to do worksheets on different aspects of 'literacy'. And yet, the people running education know full well that children who read widely and often and for pleasure find it much easier to grasp the curriculum as a whole. There is an international study showing this.

What does this have to do with libraries? If the government (or the last one) had felt willing, all they needed to do was formalise the link between schools and libraries. They could have required every school and every library to lay down some fixed, timetabled sharing of time and resources, which would involve turning the present voluntary arrangements into certain ones. In one fell swoop it would guarantee library-use and massively enhance the children's progress.

I put all this in a document in Margaret Hodge's library review where it was immediately ignored. I sent it to Ed Vaizey (because he asked me to), and he too has promptly ignored it.

Ed Balls and Vernon Coaker both refused to ask schools to develop their own policies on the provision and reading of books. Neither Ofsted nor schools' 'Self Assessment forms' require schools to make the provision and reading of whole books something that they monitor.

In short, education and library ministers aren't really very interested in the idea of everyone reading whole books, and they're certainly not very interested in the idea of every child reading whole books. I even gave them a 20-point blueprint or outline on how to turn every school into what I called a 'book-loving school' (based largely on the TV programme I did 'Just Read'. And that' blueprint is now available on various websites. The ministers I met weren't interested in sending it out, either as it is, or in any adapted form.

It's clear that they think 'reading' is about 'doing literacy' ie learning how to 'decode' print. What they don't seem to understand is that literature is one of the main ways in which we can engage with difficult and important ideas in an accessible way. It offers children a ladder between their own personal experience, the apparently 'personal' experience of the protagonists in any given text, and the ideas that are thrown up during the adventures, scenes and feelings that the protagonists go through. So, the reader encounters the protagonists' feelings of, say, pity, anger, fear, guilt, envy and the like but in a school context (or indeed many social contexts) those feelings become talk about those feelings as what is 'pity'? what is 'guilt'? ie through reading, the young reader starts to generalise the particular or put another way, discover abstract thought.

Children who read widely, often and for pleasure are the ones who can make the transition between particular experience to abstract thought that all education asks of children between the ages of 8 and 13. The more you read, the easier that transition is. The kids who fall behind don't fall behind because they haven't done enough worksheets. It's because the education curricula haven't helped them discover a wide range of texts through being regular readers.

Michael Rosen's message:
It's about READING, stupid (not 'doing literacy).


Philip Ardagh's comments are reproduced here with his permission:


I am an author. I don't know how to drive a car. I have no interest in watching or playing any sport. I'm not very good with my hands and my beard prevents me from operating heavy machinery, even when sober or not on medication. I neither like dancing nor loud music. I have never watched The X-Factor, Pop Idol, Britain's Got Talent, Strictly Ballroom or anything with music by or featuring Andrew Lloyd Webber. But I love books. I love reading books. I love discussing books. I love writing books. I love the feel of them. I love the smell of them. But, most importantly, I love where they take me when I read them.

I am very fortunate to have grown up in a house full of books, where both my mother and father read avidly, and we went to the local library. For less well-off families, school and the library are sometimes the only real source of books, but what a source. A well-stocked library with a good librarian is a gateway to EVERYTHING. Of course, not every child takes to reading but it offer possibilities. Options. Choices. Should anyone have the right to snatch those possibilities away? To pull the rug out from under a child's feet before s/he's even had the chance?

And do you know what? I started this intending it to be a funny piece, with the punchline that libraries are so important because they sometime employ unemployable people such as myself as highly unqualified library assistants (or, at least, they did back in the 1980s) ... but, instead, it's turned into this empassioned plea.

LIBRARIES MATTER. HELPING TO STOP LIBRARY CLOSURES MATTERS. As for Mr Spock with a goatee beard? That has something to do with ANTIMATTER, but there's no room for that here. We all have to act NOW before it's too late, so what are you waiting for?

Shrewsbury Library

Other links -

Campaign for the Book Official Facebook Site

An Open Letter from a Primary School teacher

A Fantastic Post from author Keren David



kathryn evans said...

Good for you Tracy - get involved people PLEASE - some ideas how in the comments on my blog:

Candy Gourlay said...

thank YOU, tracy!

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