Welcome to The Edge, Andrea. Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Well, I have been working as a professional librarian for 32 years, all of which has been spent working in the public library sector for Nottinghamshire Libraries. As you can imagine, in that time I have occupied a number of roles, and have developed a diverse range and wealth of experience. My current role is Principal Librarian, Children & Community Services.
What’s your favourite aspect of being a librarian?
These days I don’t really feel much like a librarian. I don’t really do many of the things that most people associate with being a librarian, like buying, organising and recommending books to customers; or indeed, answering complex queries. I do some of that, but in a much more subtle way. My current role is a strategic one, so I spend a lot of my time service and programme planning, and focusing the work of Team Librarians, to meet library development performance targets and standards. Its good fun, and I can see the impact of what our team does on the people using our libraries, but it is a far cry from staffing a busy enquiry desk in a city centre library.
I used to enjoy enquiry work, and the challenging research opportunities this presented. I especially used to like local studies and historical research. However, the real joy of being a librarian, is having the opportunity to enthuse about books and reading. It’s great to be working in a service which has reading for pleasure at the very heart of everything it does. Libraries may have re-invented themselves to some degree over the past couple of decades, not least to embrace the digital age, but at the core of our vision is still a desire to promote books and reading. It’s our raison d’etre, our reason for being, and it’s still the best part of the job!
Of course, linked to this, is the opportunity to meet authors and poets. Over the last twelve months I have been responsible for arranging a number of author/poet visits to libraries, either as open events or for invited schools. It’s always a privilege and a pleasure to meet the people who write the books that children and young people are reading, and to see them inspired and enthused by the experience (that is, the children and young people are inspired – but I guess so are the authors – it’s a two-way thing). This is a fab part of the job!
Is it true that boys are more reluctant to read than girls?
In my experience, boys seem to take more convincing that reading for pleasure is a fun thing to do. They don’t take the same ‘risks’ with reading that girls do, and it takes a lot of energy to find something that will hook them in to reading. This isn’t surprising – there have been a number of studies in recent years, not least research undertaken by the National Literacy Trust, which has found that girls are much more engaged with reading and enjoy reading more than boys. It is a deep –seated issue. Many schools have developed strategies to tackle the problem, and of course, public libraries have been working hard to underpin these strategies with initiatives such as ‘Boys into Books’ and of course, the Summer Reading Challenge.
As far as the Summer Reading Challenge is concerned, it is one of the best things we do for children and young people in the year. It provides us with the opportunity to make a concerted effort to keep children, and especially boys, reading over the long summer holiday. At the end of the summer, it is always interesting to evaluate the Challenge to see how many boys signed up to take part, and importantly, how many went on to finish it. This year boys accounted for 40% of children completing the Challenge in Nottinghamshire, which is close to the national figure of 42%. Of course the real impact is how they progress from there and whether or not they continue to read regularly when they go back to school.
Can teen fiction change lives?
I’m sure it can! I think that any fiction, whether targeted at children, teens or adults can potentially be life changing. This is one of the reasons that I find the opinion that fiction has no true value irksome. I believe that fiction can give us a sense of who we are, and help us to understand how the world works. I think it can be especially important for teens, who by their very nature are at a formative and in some cases, difficult period of life.
What’s the best thing authors can do to support libraries?
Maintain a relationship with libraries and use every opportunity to promote the value of libraries personally and professionally. Its increasingly important at the moment to reinforce the message, as almost daily there is more news in the professional press of libraries threatened with closure. Also, the message about the value of reading for pleasure needs hammering home, especially in ministerial circles (A message for Mr. Gove)? It seems so obvious to us, but clearly there are still those who don’t get it. Please help us beat the drum!
|The fantastic, refurbished West Bridgford Library. Nottingham|