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Thursday, 20 February 2014

Where have all the good librarians gone?

Books provide education, information, comfort, reassurance, companionship, laughter, tears ...... They come in and out of our lives from birth through to death. Access to books through public libraries provide access to this wonderful resource to all of us for free. 

Public libraries are currently under attack as never before. Quite apart from the threat of cutting council spending, many critics question the point of public libraries. With the advent of the internet and the ebook, public libraries are described as out dated. 

The National Literacy Trust says that:

"Children who go to a library are twice as likely as those who don’t to read well. It is not just picking up a book. It is the social experience of reading, talking about the books, browsing, comparing what you have read with family and friends. Librarians are gate keepers in that process. They open doors to new worlds, new possibilities. They ask library visitors to evaluate the information on offer. Most importantly, they give access to narratives. Children and adults do not just need information to thrive as thinking beings, but stories. Libraries are the temple of story. They are not in decline because of some natural, historic progression, but because of the monstrous cultural vandalism of savage cost-cutting. We will pay a terrible price for the behaviour of our masters.” (Alan Gibbons)

Libraries are where so many children discover what books they like best and become lifelong readers. They’re also great places for research. When I worked in Easterhouse library lots of local children came in to do their homework – browsing, reading and receiving help from the experts on hand, rather than sitting at home printing out reams of often irrelevant and undigested material from the internet.” Julia Donaldson, children’s laureate

I have visited libraries all of my life, as a daughter with my Mum, as a mother with my own daughters, as a grandmother with my grandson and as a teacher with my class. I cannot imagine being without libraries and if they are to survive they clearly have some challenging times ahead. They have to embrace new technology whilst cherishing the value of the written word, keeping that fine balance of past, present and future. 

One very simple thing I think they could do hugely better is with librarians. If libraries must change then so too must librarians. Gone are the days of the traditional stern librarian whose only job was to sort books and keep the noise down. 

I am sure there are lots of good librarians out there, I just haven't met them yet. My experience of librarians is not a good one.  They are pretty much like the picture above, stern , scary, unsmiling. All of which infuriates me! When I take my pupils and grandson to the library I want them to get that love of books that I have which will not be achieved by quite intimidating librarians. 

In our local library they have installed a scan in and out machine which is a novelty for children but I'm sure not as much fun as getting to date stamp your own books and get a little bit of human interaction and discussion about your carefully chosen books. I have visited many libraries and sadly my experience had been replicated in most of them. 

The librarians sit behind the counter or bustle about without any public interaction at all!  Librarians have a vital role in making the library an enticing place where children are encouraged to develop a love of reading and a thirst for knowledge. By offering a welcoming and friendly library, the right books and a range of book-related activities, they can help provide children with a love of books which is a gift for life. 

So come on librarians fight for your library as much as the public do, share the passion for books which I'm sure you have, interact, smile and who knows you might actually enjoy it.