25 June 2021 Share
By Margaret Pemberton
The SLA's Information Book Award (IBA) is now in its 11th year and its inception was the idea of Chris Brown, the past reviews editor of The School Librarian. However, this was not the beginning of concerns about the state of information publishing in the UK. Ever since the arrival of the internet and, specifically, the World Wide Web, there has been an assumption building that you can get any information that you want online. Of course, what they forget is that this is like the Wild West in terms of legal frameworks to keep users safe.
As I write this short blog post, I have just seen several queries online from school librarians asking whether they should bother replacing their non-fiction stock, as it is so poorly used in their secondary schools. This makes me really sad, because it is the teaching staff who are leading the way in directing young people to the internet. There has also been the trend over the last decade or so for young people to be spoon-fed with information. Rather than undertaking real research, they are given photocopies or links to specific articles. However, I am glad to see that the general consensus from the librarians is that there is still a very important role for information books, although we need to re-think how they are used within a school environment.
I remember attending several day conferences over the last 20 years where the focus was on ‘non-fiction’. These events ranged from one in Swansea (Adventures in the Real World) which was led by the wonderful Nicola Davies, to one in London that was run by Nikki Gamble who, as always, was inspiring. The underlying theme was that we needed to look at the format of this type of book and make sure that the material was fit for purpose, enjoyable and interesting. There was also a strong focus on teachers and librarians understanding the criteria that you need to follow, so that you are not wasting time, energy and money on books that will not be used.
I am glad to say that this has begun to achieve some traction in helping schools understand what they should be buying. However, the main factor that has probably helped information books over the last few years has been the arrival of several new small publishers, who have created a house style that has proved popular with modern audiences. This is turn has made many of the mainstream publishers look at what they are offering. However, there are several educational publishers who have maintained their individual and very recognisable formats, because the schools know that they are of a high quality.
The importance of the IBA is that it covers the range of works, from Early Years to KS4, and looks to highlight the best books each year, whether they are from a small publisher or from one of the major companies. The judges use the criteria that you would expect; they look at the quality of the text and illustrations, accuracy, bias, currency and also areas such as indexes, glossaries and content. However, they are also looking for that almost indefinable ‘something’ that sets it apart and fires the enthusiasm of the young reader. When the award was first started it was a rarity, and even now there are very few awards specifically for children’s information books.
The SLA wants to highlight the quality and range of information books available today and to ensure that both teachers and librarians are well equipped to support their students through access to these books. This is why the SLA produces free resources that can be used by children, at home and at school, so that they can take part as contributors to the ‘Children’s Choice’ section of the award structure. This is open to entrants from the announcement of the shortlist until the middle of October. The winning titles will be announced at the award ceremony in November. This is proving to be a challenging year for publishers, schools and families alike, so it is wonderful to see the amazing array of titles that have been put forward. All of the judges hope that young readers will find books that they can enjoy and then enthuse about, so we look forward to hearing from you all.
This edition of the IBBY (International Board of Books for Young People) journal is a wonderful look at the world of information books, from a very wide perspective and includes an article by Chris Brown about his reason for promoting this award: https://www.ibby.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/ibbylink40-summer2014.pdf