Chatting with a friend the other day, I mentioned that I was going to speak to a group of librarians from Youth Libraries Group. He rolled his eyes and said, ‘That sounds fascinating.’ I don’t need to tell you that his words were laced with sarcasm.
When I attempted to explain that yes, actually, it would be fascinating, he leaned over, put a finger to his lips and said, ‘Shhh.’
That’s a pretty clear indication of how people view librarians. As boring book-stampers who sit behind a computer tapping at the keyboard, occasionally looking up to tell people to be quiet.
As an author of books for young readers, I always feel privileged to be invited to schools, to speak to young readers, and to meet the librarians who have organised for me to visit. So, Let me tell you how I see those librarians.
I see them as lovers of books and stories. I see them as dedicated professionals devoted to helping young people find pleasure in reading. They do not force children to read books they don’t want to read. If a child puts a book down because they find it boring, the librarian doesn’t make them read it to the bitter end; they help them to choose a more suitable book – something the child will enjoy. They understand that not everyone wants to read the same kind of book. They understand that it’s okay to read comics, horror stories, adventure stories, romance, sci-fi, whatever the child wants to read. They are excited by reading and they are able to pass that enthusiasm onto the children. They inspire young readers.
It’s impossible to overstate how important it is to encourage young people to read for pleasure. Reading shapes our minds in so many ways. It increases focus, broadens horizons, teaches new skills, heightens empathy, relieves stress, entertains, helps us to escape, enriches lives, increases vocabulary, improves memory, improves analytical skills, improves writing skills, offers glimpses into other cultures, builds self-esteem, improves creativity, improves reasoning skills . . . the list goes on and on.
In short, reading makes you smart.
Many young people lack reading role models at home. The adults in their lives don’t read. For many of those young people, books become associated with the classroom, with learning, with ‘literacy’, with targets and tests, and with the drudgery of having to read a book they find boring. So who becomes their reading role model? Who helps them to find the pleasure in reading?
The school librarian.
For some young people, the school librarian is the one person who can help them to find the pleasure in reading, and it amazes me that libraries and librarians are so often overlooked; that they are seen as boring and old-fashioned. But what could possibly be more important in a place of learning than a library?
The school librarian is helping to shape young minds, to create our future.
So, yeah, I’d say that’s fascinating.