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In support of school libraries

Author Cathy Cassidy's thoughts on the importance of school libraries:

I see a lot of school libraries on my travels around the country as a children’s author - they are often where my school events begin and end, with a chat and a coffee and a meeting with a bunch of super-keen student librarians. I’ve seen libraries that look like something out of Hogwarts, all galleried and gorgeous and smelling of wood polish and magic; I’ve seen shiny, futuristic libraries that wouldn’t look out of place on the Starship Enterprise; and of course, plenty of libraries that aren’t fancy or grand at all, but buzzing with life and filled with kids and bright with artwork and posters. Where there is a school library - and that mythical, magical creature, a school librarian - there is hope.


My secondary school had a library, but it was neglected and dusty, with elderly, dog-eared books and no librarian. It didn’t open at break times or lunchtimes - you could only get in there in lesson time, if an intrepid English teacher took you there. It was just a room full of books, and most of the time a locked one, which was kind of tragic, but I managed to get my book fix from three local public libraries, so all was well. Things are different now. Public libraries are closing all around us, and school libraries are a lifeline for those young people who don’t have books at home.


If kids hook onto the joy of reading for pleasure, the results are clear; they will do better at school, better at all kind of things, in all kinds of ways. And how do we make sure they find this crucial stepping stone to creativity, learning, life? There are lots of expensive initiatives to grade reading skills, push literacy, get kids reading, but without libraries to back them up, not one of them is worth a thing. Young people need free access to a whole variety of books from across every genre, and yet not all schools can see this. Some revamp their libraries into Learning Resource Centres, gleaming with new computers, stripped bare of fiction; some close their libraries altogether. In one school I visited recently, the head asked me if I could suggest ways to encourage reading in the school... they didn’t have a library, and seemed not to see the connection.


School libraries are awesome. They are a refuge for the lost, the lonely; a haven for the bookworm; a hotbed of creativity, revolution and adventure. School libraries often contain book clubs and cake and laughter, as well as shelf after shelf of brilliant stories, dreams, other worlds. They teach young people how to find their wings and fly, and without them we’d be lost.


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