Friday, 12 November 2010

The Day We Went to Bangor by Keren David

‘I didn’t know librarians had conferences,’ said my friend when I explained why I’d been to Northern Ireland this week. ‘I think of them sitting behind desks, checking out books.’
Well, had she been at the Youth Librarians’ Group Book Day in Bangor, she’d have had her ideas about librarians considerably broadened.
She'd have heard Siobhan Parkinson, the Irish Children’s Laureate (or Laureate na nOg) give an speech, in which the metaphors danced and flew as she described the importance of books and stories in a child’s journey from the early years of endless imaginative possibilities, as they move through the education that they need to prepare for adulthood. ‘Literature is the kite, literacy the string…’ she said, ‘…and the library is wonderland.’ So inspiring was her speech that the authors in the audience were quoting it to each other all day, and I spent quite some time today trying to find the  You Tube interview that she mentioned with Nobel literature prize winner JMG le Clezio.
Then  authors Gillian Cross, Geraldine McCaughrean and Paul Dowswell talked about writing historical fiction. I loved the idea floated for a book of lost chapters - for all those bits of juicy research that didn’t quite make it. How fascinating to hear them discuss the responsibility that authors have to reflect the past accurately -  ‘I’m incensed by bad history,’ said Paul Dowswell -  against the demands of the story they are telling. ‘Writing fiction is about what you can get away with,’ said Gillian, ‘it’s like being a conjuror, rather than a historian.’
Then came sessions on Ireland’s writers in Libraries Project – how sensible and enlightened to have a central body supporting author visits to schools and libraries -  and a presentation by  publishers Barrington Stoke whose books are designed and written with dyslexic readers in mind – down to the off-white page colour and the clean, clear font, without patronising the reader or sacrificing a jot of quality.
I missed the session on the Carnegie prize, because it was time for me to be interviewed alongside MG Harris, whose compelling thrillers The Joshua Files have temporarily taken over my life. Joy Court, a leading light in the YLG and one of the day’s organisers, interviewed us, asking what it’s like being women writing as teenage boys.  We tried to give convincing answers, although I suspect that underneath our fictional boys' stroppiness and testosterone, they're not all that dissimilar from MG and  me. 
The last session was devoted to the Society of Authors’ Just Read campaign, with Gillian Cross explaining the importance of introducing children to reading for pleasure -  an obvious point, one might think, but one  too often missed by an education system which feeds children extracts and phonics, so they can learn to read without ever becoming readers. . There’s a petition here  which you might want to sign.
So, a day for librarians to learn  about books, about reading and writing, about the work of  authors, new and established, about different genres, different reading levels, all sorts of ways to excite and inspire, entertain and inform children. 
The headmaster of Bangor Grammar School, where the event was held, explained how the school was being rebuilt, with the library at its centre. Here was an educator with complete understanding of the importance of books and reading In fact, so impressive was he, that I briefly wondered if we could move to Bangor to send our son to his school.
 It’s up to head teachers to protect school libraries and librarians when they look for ways to make cuts to their budgets. It’s up to local councils to keep public libraries open and continue to employ qualified librarians, rather than rely on willing but ignorant volunteers.
I was horrified the other day to hear a reporter on Radio Four’s You and Yours describe libraries as a soft target for spending cuts, ‘because all information is now available on the internet.’  Another Radio Four interviewer asked writer Malorie Blackman what ‘rental cost’ her local library charged for taking out a book. I wish they could have come along to Bangor. It might have broadened their minds about what libraries are for, how they work, what they can achieve.
  ‘Didn’t we have a lovely time, the day we went to Bangor,’ goes the song, and indeed we did. But the treats in store weren’t fun fairs or brass bands, chocolate ice and cider. Instead we celebrated words and ideas, books and stories.  Of course, they can be just as fun.
(The picture, by the way, is of my visit to Hampton Academy in south west London. A great example of a school which values and utilises the resources of the library and the wisdom of its librarian).


michelle lovric said...

This sounds like an incredibly inspiring event. I love the image of kites and strings.

karen ball said...

So do I! I wish I'd been there. This ties in nicely with Candy Gourlay's recent blog post on being the librarian's favourite at school. They're such important places. If it hadn't been for the school library, I would never have read The Great Gatsby as a teenager, been blown away, turned back on to reading and... Well, my entire life would have been very different.

Miriam Halahmy said...

Lovely post Keren. I met a whole swathe of children's writers - Jacqueline Wilson, Anne Fine and Morris Gleiztman, when I taught at a Boys comp in Barnet in the '90s. The Librarian would take me along to librarian events. I wasn't writing for children in those days, but their talks were inspiring and inspired us to take their books back to the kids.
It made me realise how important school librarians were in putting books in front of children.

Linda said...

So true! One of the most inspiring people of my adolescence was the English teacher-cum-librarian who would pick a book off the shelf, start to read aloud and entrance us all. Not because of what she read, so much, as her own evident pleasure in it.

Penny Dolan said...

"Evident pleasure in it" - that's it exactly, Linda! I was much influenced by a teacher at my long-ago primary school who read to us each week. Most of the stories have been forgotten, but his pleasure in the sound and the words, in the reading aloud, in the story itself for its very own sake are what stay with me still.

Keren, this was a really interesting post for those of us who couldn't share your lovely day to Bangor firsthand.

Nayuleska said...

Sounds like an enjoyable day. I agree schools need to protect their libraries - they are the foundation of children's lives. Without knowledge, the world can't function.

Becky said...

I love librarian conferences. I always come away with so much enthusiasm to try new things to get kids reading. I wish librarians were written in novels as more funky and less fuddy-duddy. But hey, there you go.

And sadly, I think public libraries are in for the axe with the impending cuts to local council budgets. It is pants but I would be more surprised if it didn't happen.

Don't get me started on the topic of David Cameron.