Happy New Year to all our readers.
It is amazing how time has sped and yet another year has passed – a cliché but still very true; I never cease to be ‘amazed’!
Looking back there is much to savour. There is a greater awareness and presence of translated books. Poetry publishing is exhibiting a liveliness that belies any diagnosis that this area is dead. There is a new YA Award to celebrate. The CILIP Carnegie and Greenaway Awards announced a partnership with Amnesty International UK, which will ‘commend human rights in children’s literature’. The Pictures Mean Business campaign is raising the profile of illustrators. Research is providing proof of the value that reading to, and with, children has on literacy and social wellbeing. None of these are innovations as such, but they are certainly healthy signs.
Of course it is not all rosy. Small publishers and independent bookshops in particular, continue to struggle in the face of the all-embracing reach of Amazon. It is no easier for authors and illustrators to find an outlet for their work, and even if they do, they may not be given the chance to develop. Libraries and library services remain in the firing line and under threat. However, the launch of My Library by Right campaign by CILIP is a welcome move, and will need vigorous support from all. Sadly there is still little actual mention of qualified librarians to staff libraries, with the children’s services in particular often being seen as appropriate for temporary assistants or volunteers. There is continued emphasis on information management, rather than recognising the importance of cultivating the imagination, and recognising that in order to develop a reading habit children need to enjoy it. There appears to be no children’s module on the UCL syllabus for their MA in Library and Information Studies, suggesting that once more work in children’s libraries is not seen as a good career choice. It’s a far cry from my vision of two qualified children’s librarians in every library! The implication is that working with children’s books does not require thought, that there are no questions to be answered, and that finding the right book at the right time for the right child is just a matter of looking at the bestseller shelf.
If I seem to be very single minded in my advocacy of professional children’s librarians, it is because I believe they are very important. After all, everyone knows the value of a lively, well-informed teacher to spark interest and engagement; and independent bookshops make a virtue of staff knowledge to attract customers. Librarians provide readers with the opportunity both for a very personal interaction and for making unexpected discoveries. It is quite easy to find a book that matches a child’s existing taste, or fits into current publishing trends. But what about experimenting with different authors? The recent death of Peter Dickinson brought this to mind. Many of his books are out of print, but they can still be found in libraries. He is an author who never wrote in a single genre, but always challenged and entertained. There are also plenty of authors writing today who need a school or children’s librarian to point a reader in their direction, but to do this, these librarians need to be knowledgeable.
Luckily there is still Books for Keeps to provide support – and with an archive that goes back to the 1980s, I recommend it to you! And can I urge you to Keep Reading!