Monday, 18 September 2017

WHAT'S ALL THIS FUSS ABOUT GENDERISATION?

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the decision by John Lewis to stop labelling children’s clothes as “boys or girls” – I never realised quite how divided things were until I became a grandparent and discovered that even baby wipes are marketed in both blue and pink packaging (despite the contents being identical)!

I’m not sure why some people are up in arms about children’s clothes being labelled with just an age range. If you look at boys and girls clothes, the differences are ridiculous, especially considering all children like to do the same sort of things ie: be a child. Clothes need to be adequate for the task in hand which means coats should keep them warm, shoes should be tough enough to withstand kicking balls whilst keeping toes safe, and trousers need to be thick enough to protect knees when they fall. A glance at the girls’ ranges in almost every shop will show you that the majority are totally unsuitable for any of these activities … they are thin and skimpy in pale pastel colours that get dirty the minute you put them on.
I have nothing against pink or sparkly - my 3 year old granddaughter loves sparkly things and I’m rather fond of a bit of glitter myself (though prefer it with black or red) but it’s the messages we are sending with different styles of clothes that I object to – “just sit and look pretty little girl, you’re not meant to get dirty or play and explore the world because your clothes aren’t suitable for doing that”. And it’s not just the implied message via the types of clothes; the actual messages on them are appalling. Go and look at ANY range of clothes and you’ll see what I mean – girls just want to have fun, girls are pretty and lovely whilst boys are clever and strong and adventurous (and don’t get me started on “suggestive” messages on T-shirts for 5 year olds)!

The argument that you can buy from any section is fine except that parents are taking on board this message about boys v girls and will say “you can’t have that because it’s in the boy’s section (believe me, I’ve heard them). They also seem to be concerned about the social stigma of having somebody ask why their daughter is wearing a boy’s top or is mistaken for a boy. Of more concern is a child being bullied for the same reason (and yes, this happens too). I’ve also been in a situation where a girl has turned up wearing a boy’s t-shirt that a boy in the same group also happens to be wearing … and the boy has been teased over this! If they were wearing “just” a children’s t-shirt then this wouldn’t happen.
Let’s move on to toys and books.
The majority of shop displays have a definite split between the type of activities considered suitable for girls and boys - you can probably guess what it is but if you aren’t sure then take a look at the fantastic “Let Toys Be Toys” campaign! All children need a wide range of play to develop different skills. The reality is that 51% of the population is female and if we don’t encourage girls to look at science and technology as being valid to them, to stop sending the message that playing with construction toys or science kits is for boys and that craft activities are for girls, then we are losing out on a huge source of creativity and inspiration that will be important for our future economy.
Not all of our future scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs and business leaders are going to be men! There’s a saying “You can’t be what you can’t see” and this applies to both boys and girls, though most particularly to the latter.
And what about books?

Fortunately, the majority of librarians I know are pro-active in supporting diversity and inclusion within their stock (and this is one of my most popular workshops) – they have books with strong female characters, stories about boys who are emotional and cry, tales with both boys and girls fighting evil and saving the world. Unfortunately though, many publishers still seem to market books aimed at one or the other sex … either via the cover design or actually using gender-labelling in the title or blurb. The latter is, happily, becoming less common but any glimpse in a book shop will show you a plethora of pink and glittery covers that are obviously aimed at the “girlie” market.
I will be the first to admit that I’ve used these covers to lure students into picking up (and then hopefully reading) a book. Anything that gets them reading is my motto, and I will unashamedly be manipulative and use any means to achieve this. But it is a sad fact that, whilst girls are frequently happy to read a wide range of books with varying covers, boys will rarely pick up a book that they think looks “girlie” which is a shame as the covers often hide a fantastic story (the secret is to wrap it in brown paper and run a lucky dip in the library!).

You would imagine that my granddaughter, having a rather outspoken grandmother, a mother working in the emergency services and an aunt who is an adventurer, would be immune to any of this. But no … a few months ago she announced that “girls don’t play football”(much to our horror)! This was soon corrected with the use of a rather wonderful book (“What Are You Playing At?” by Marie-Sabine Roger) but goodness knows where she got this message from – at the age of three.

I do find the statement “boys are boys and girls are girls” rather odd because what’s the definition of a boy or girl within the context we’re talking about … ie: the colours they like, the games they play, the toys they enjoy or the books they read? There isn't one. There’s nothing wrong with girls liking pink or boys playing with cars. Nor is there anything wrong with girls liking rugby or boys being interested in art.
But pink shouldn’t be the only choice available to girls (or cream if you’re lucky) and by sending the message via their clothes that “girl’s stuff” is pink, they automatically veer towards pink toys, which we’ve already ascertained are restricting their play and thus their development.

Also by constantly focusing on appearances we are creating generations who value what they look like above everything else. This applies to boys too - we expect them to be strong, brave and fit into a specific mould. Any child that doesn’t conform to these “norms” struggles and that’s where the problems start.

Girls and boys who are different, who do not imitate what society expects of them - girls who don’t like pink and pretty or boys who don’t like football and rough stuff - are often targets for bullying. Bullying reduces self-esteem and self-confidence as does feeling that you are not acceptable. This results in an increase in mental health issues including self-harm, depression and suicide.
One of the most important (yet often undervalued) roles of the school librarian is the pastoral aspect and I’ve spoken about this before in a previous blog. I know from experience that this role has increased over the years and statistics reflect this yet there’s only so much we can do and support we can give, to truly combat this issue we need a healthier approach to letting children develop naturally and not trying to label them or put them into boxes.

You might think children’s genderisation isn’t important, that it doesn’t really matter. If you get a chance try and see the BBC TV programme “No More Boys And Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?”  - in which a class of seven year olds state that “boys are cleverer and have better jobs” and that “girls are pretty and look after children” - these perceptions were actually affecting their belief in their capabilities within the classroom as well as their self-esteem and self-confidence. At seven years old!
Now imagine they are receiving the same signals time and time again via their clothes, their toys, their books, not to mention media and society for the rest of the time they are growing up? Do we really want to programme our children’s brains – and thus their futures – in this way?

I was recently in a high street shop where the girls t-shirts had the message “Fun All Day” and “Funtastic” whilst the boys said “I want to see the World” and “Create the Future”!!! Come on parents (and grandparents and aunts and uncles ...) … don’t you want your daughters to see the world or your sons to have fun? They’re not mutually exclusive …

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

BACK TO SCHOOL - A READING LIST FOR LIBRARIANS


It’s back to school time (although my colleagues in Scotland went back a few weeks ago) and I’ve noticed a few “top ten books for teachers” lists doing the rounds so thought I’d come up with my own one for school librarians. This is NOT a definitive list! I have at least a couple of bookshelves full of library/education-related books, all of which I could have included – although that would make this a bit of a tedious post so … a short but sweet selection! These are all books that deal with reading or managing a school library but as we work in the education sector, many books aimed at the teaching profession are also invaluable to us in our roles.
In alphabetical order by author (because I’m a librarian), these are books that I find myself recommending and talking about at workshops I run, and going to for ideas and advice.
·         The Reading Environment – Aidan Chambers
First published in 1991 but still relevant today, this gem of a book looks at the reading process and environment, as well as considering ways to engage students with books. There is a companion volume “Tell Me” that deals with the discussion of books.

·         Reading by Right – Joy Court (Editor)
A collection of chapters, written by expert practitioners, that looks at successful strategies for overcoming reading barriers, from birth to teens, to ensure that every child can “read to succeed”. Case studies are backed up with international research, and the book has excellent references and appendices that enable you to explore this issue further.

·         Unlocking the Reader in Every Child – Susan Elkin
This book is jam-packed with ideas for creating and sustaining readers, from young children through to older teens. It covers learning to read and looks at reading in different situations as well as the use of various formats.

·         Free Voluntary Reading – Stephen Krashen
A series of articles that were originally published in a variety of journals, Krashen has supported his arguments with extensive references. If you are unsure whether FVR has any value, this book will give you food for thought.

·         Innovative School Librarian Second Edition – Sharon Markless (Editor)
Considers various models of library practice and explores the wide range of issues that librarians face in their differing roles within schools. Adopts a strategic approach with examples from “real-life” situations.

·         The Book Whisperer – Donalyn Miller
No idea where I discovered this book but I’m so glad I did! The by-line is “awakening the inner reader in every child” and it’s full of clear, practical advice about getting and keeping students reading. Whatever your situation, you’ll find something to inspire you. US-biased but relevant to librarians everywhere!

·         The Rights of the Reader – Daniel Pennac
There can’t be many who haven’t seen the poster illustrated by Quentin Blake (and I would hazard a guess that many school libraries have this on display) – this book discusses those rights and covers all sorts of ideas around reading. It’s an absorbing and fascinating book that gets you thinking.

·         The CILIP Guidelines for Secondary School Libraries – Sue Shaper (Editor)
This covers every area of school librarianship from staffing and policies through to information literacy and promotion. It provides guidance and support regardless of your situation, and has recommendations, suggestions for further reading and examples of best practice. One to give to your senior management team!

·         Stop What You’re Doing and Read This! – Vintage (various)
My last book isn’t so much about the practicalities of running a school library or suggestions for reading-related activities but a collection of ten essays by authors and people in the publishing industry talking about why they consider reading is important. Every reader will find something of themselves in these chapters.
I’ve stuck to printed books for this list but there are many superb blogs and online resources that I also go to regularly for ideas and inspiration. And there are also several excellent books that I’ve left off … probably everyone who reads this blog will have a favourite that I’ve not included. If that’s the case then please do add details in the comments … I love getting book recommendations!
NB. I realised after I'd written this blog that I had missed off a source of information on school libraries that I use constantly ... and that's the fantastic School Library Association publications http://www.sla.org.uk/publications-list.php (probably because they're kept in my study rather than in the bookcase). These publications cover every aspect of managing a school library and are suitable for all types of schools. They are written by experienced practitioners, full of good advice and excellent value-for-money. You don't have to be a member to buy them (although if you are you'll get a discount).  

Monday, 7 August 2017

WHAT VALUE A LIBRARY DEGREE?


I’ve noticed a recent trend with employers in the education field, when making librarians redundant or downgrading their positions, stating that their degrees are no longer relevant.
Now this is an astonishing thing for any educational establishment to say.
Do they really want to send the message to their students that “doing a degree is worthless” because that’s what this does. It indicates, to me, that those who say this have no idea what a library and information science (LIS) degree actually encompasses but also that they do not have a clue as to the benefits and value that can be obtained from undertaking any sort of degree. Benefits that include:
·         Proof of a certain level of educational ability

·         Time management skills, including the capability to meet deadlines

·         Independent thought and analysis, including problem solving

·         Team working, collaboration, leadership abilities

·         Effective communication incorporating written and verbal skills
These skills are advantageous to most employers, regardless of their industry. They should also be encouraged amongst students at educational establishments and anyone who has been through an FE process can show good practice and teach others in their use – I delivered a time management module as part of a Higher Project Qualification to Year 9 students who, invariably, would tell me how useful it was when doing their GCSEs and revising.
You don’t become a qualified librarian by learning how to shelve books or by entering bibliographic data into a library management system; you learn a set of skills in an interdisciplinary field that can be used outside of libraries. These include the ability to organise and navigate information as well as ways to preserve, prioritise and manage information on all types of media; not to mention the exploitation of research data, knowledge management, and the planning, marketing and delivery of information services.
LIS degrees cover the fields of informetrics, applying the practices and tools of management, information technology and education, dynamically combining theory and training to produce reflective practitioners – CILIP have highlighted some of the values of trained information professionals. Education has changed and thus libraries have evolved, becoming a complex educational, recreational and information infrastructure supporting a wide range of students with multifaceted needs - in schools, FE and HE establishments. It is also important to recognise that many librarians proactively undertake CPD (often outside contracted hours) to maintain their skills and experience, to remain relevant in today’s world and to provide services needed by their communities. Nurses are required to undertake 35 hours of CPD over 3 years; CILIP advises 20 hours per year for Chartership revalidation.
Furthermore, librarians in education:
·         Work in collaboration with academic staff to provide unique and personalised support and thus have an impact on student learning

·         Are able to offer training to students, both formally and on an ad hoc basis, providing opportunities for the development of information literacy skills

·         Deliver directed CPD to teaching and support staff, helping to reduce training budgets

·         Communicate ideas, information and knowledge – the lifeblood of education

·         Have an overview of the curriculum and a wide knowledge of resources including literature, periodicals, video and electronic formats enabling them to develop a relevant collection, based on user requirements, that provides value-for-money

·         Are able to ensure library resources and services are inclusive and diverse, meeting the needs of a multi-cultural student population

·         Manage staff, space, resources – often under tight budgets, and pressing priorities and deadlines
Many businesses recognise the value of LIS professionals and employ them in various roles – in research, law, media, health, the list is endless – so it’s rather ironic that establishments whose role is to educate (usually via the use of information) do not see the value in employing a qualified librarian. And you have to question what sort of library service are they offering their students and staff? Certainly not one that is the best it could be …

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

HOW CAN YOUR SCHOOL LIBRARY SUPPORT VOLUNTEERING?


Last month saw the third Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award, an award that recognises and celebrates the voluntary work carried out by students in their school libraries. Like all awards there was a winner, Victoria Langford from St Hilda’s CE High School in Liverpool and, as with previous years, selecting the finalists and winner from the nominations was not easy. The calibre of entries was high, the work that each and every student did was outstanding, and they all wrote so passionately about their individual libraries and the difference being a pupil librarian had made to them.

So why have this award? In schools it is quite common for sports achievements to be acknowledged, for drama and music aficionados to take centre stage in assemblies … and whilst some schools do have internal awards that recognise pupil library assistants … many do not. Yet these students give up their time, week after week, often for many years, to help run their school library. And make no bones about it, many libraries would not run as efficiently or be able to offer the level of service that they do without the help of these students. They are wonderful advocates not only for the library but also for reading and influencing the rest of the student population.

But it’s not a one-way process. Listening to the finalists, you realise that being a pupil library assistant has enriched their school experience and given them skills they will take into the workplace; skills that are valued by employers such as customer service, teamwork, and communication. Additionally most of them have gained social skills and an increase in self confidence that enables them to interact with staff and students alike, to connect with peers and younger pupils, and to represent the library to visitors, be they parents, authors or local dignitaries.

Pupil library assistants are also very loyal which is why vacancies are rare and in all my schools I have always had a waiting list to join the team. This can be difficult if you want to provide volunteering opportunities for students but there are other avenues you can explore:

Arts Award:
Arts Awards inspire young people to develop their arts and leadership capabilities and as “arts” in this instance includes reading, the school library is a natural place to deliver and support this. There are five levels of award, ranging from Discover (an introductory award aimed at children age 5+) through Explore (aimed at children age 7+), Bronze (age 11-25 years,), Silver (14-25 years) and Gold (16-25 years). The level of activity varies at each stage but it can lead to a national qualification. However, someone at the organisation needs to train as an Arts Award adviser.

Duke of Edinburgh Award:
The DoE provides opportunities at three levels: Bronze (14+), Silver (15+) and Gold (16+) although if you are in Year 9 and only 13 years old you may be able to start your Bronze Award. Each level includes volunteering and skills sections, both of which are ideal for the library environment. The amount of volunteering varies from 3 months for the Bronze Award to 12 months for the Gold Award but as they are relatively short-term, it would be easy to accommodate DoE students within a pupil librarian structure. The skills section lists library and information skills but also mentions things like event planning (author visits? competitions? book weeks?) as well as reading, newsletter production and writing – all of which can be encompassed into school library activities.

Reading Hacks:
Reading Hacks is a voluntary scheme organised by The Reading Agency. It involves young people (13 – 24 years) running activities that have reading at their heart, and gaining skills and experience that they are able to put on their CVs. Most are delivered via local public libraries but there are a few schools that support reading hack programmes – enabling students to use the library, organise activities and inspire others to read. Young people are also able to get involved with the Summer Reading Challenge – a scheme aimed at children age 4-11 years but supported by volunteers. Although this occurs outside the school library, volunteers help staff run the scheme, help children choose books, get involved in craft activities and create displays – and these skills can be put to good use back in the school library!


This is by no means a definitive list; there are many opportunities for students to get involved in volunteering opportunities that link with books, libraries and reading. However, if you do have a long waiting list of students clamouring to be involved with the library, perhaps some of these might offer them alternative avenues to explore?

And don’t forget, next September nominations open for the Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award 2018 …