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The Last Elf
by Silvana de Mari

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The introduction by Alec Williams provides lots of handy tips on getting everyone reading!

Introduction

8. A Library Makeover?

Have a fresh look at your library area; more importantly, ask others how they see it.

Take the library out of the library:

Can people tell, before they get to the library, that yours is a school that values reading? This should happen right from the school reception area! Have plenty of evidence around school - posters, signs, photographs, or even small collections of stock in other locations (sports books in the gym, magazines in the dining room) - to connect with the library.

Designed for reading:

Is your library central within the school, and on traffic paths, so that it can be noticed? If not, is it clearly signposted from all areas of the school? Crucially, has it enough space? Has it got plenty of face-out display for books, dumpbins, and reading corners? Does it have floor cushions, easy chairs or sofas to aid browsing; listening posts for CDs and audio books? If your library needs a re-vamp, get some students in to advise - or to help with carrying out the makeover.

Atmosphere and Ambience:

Is your library welcoming? Does it say ‘be yourself’ or ‘be careful’? Right from the start - the displays outside, signs on the door, and the first things they see as they enter - does it look like a comfortable place, one that intrigues, and one that’s cool for children to be seen in? Does it have big posters of pupils or celebrities reading? Is it somewhere students can drop in, play board games, and meet friends? Do they feel a sense of ownership about your library? Is the library yours, the school’s, or theirs? Students are more likely to use a facility that other students endorse, and are involved in.

On the shelf and on display - tempting readers:

Can students find genres that interest them, even in A-Z sequences? Is your library always changing, with ‘author of the month’, ‘book of the day/week’, mixing of fiction and non-fiction? Are signs exciting and eye-catching (‘Dare you read these?’ rather than ‘Ghost Stories’)? Get pupils to help you choose the genre names, to make them meaningful and catchy. Many students (especially boys) say they don’t know what to choose, so make it easier, using lots of recommendations, displays, and bookshop techniques. Show pupils that you have a huge range of reading material, including fiction and non-fiction, comics and magazines, short stories, quick reads, poetry, jokes, graphic novels, picture books, and more.

Here are some more suggestions for giving your library a fresh start:

  • Make some easy changes first. New signs, posters, photographs of children reading, and ‘Watch This Space’ posters to show the school that you’re starting a new approach; put these around school, not just in the library. The National Literacy Trust has free posters for a quick face-lift (see, for example, the Reading Champions football stars posters; there are some posters featuring ‘urban’ black role models at the Star Reads site, and the SLA also does some great posters (http://www.sla.org.uk/nyr2008-posters.php, and http://www.sla.org.uk/isld-posters.php).
  • Make sure you promote material for all these groups of readers with the same enthusiasm as any of your own personal ‘likes’. Include promotion of material for your particular ‘target groups’ amongst talks to all students.
  • Keep the library fresh, by regular changes. Like supermarkets, move sections of stock around temporarily to see where they’re borrowed most. Market research shows that faced with no clear directions, most people in the UK turn left; perhaps this might mean that the A-K authors in your fiction sequence are borrowed more? Do you need to spotlight authors at the other end?
  • Make a feature of your ‘returned books’ section. If it’s a trolley, put it in a more prominent place, for students to see; it’s a place they’d like to look in, for reading suggestions. You could even label the two sides ‘Loved It!’ and ‘Hated It!’, to see where readers choose to leave books they’ve read.
  • If you regularly have small queues at your issue desk, have a display for students to see while they’re waiting - like the sweets at a supermarket! It could be an area of stock you’d like to see used more (‘Pick up a Poetry Book!’, for example), a featured author, or some hints and tips to readers.
  • Identify the most-used sections of the library (Where students meet each other? Where board games are played? Where the bean bags or easy chairs are?), and simply leave books around for them to pick up and glance at.
  • Try bringing separated subjects together (joke and riddle books among a ‘Funny Stories’ section, for example, or love poems among a ‘Romance Stories’ section, if you have one).
  • Are plays or poetry books hidden where they are? (Dewey puts them ‘between Fishing and Disasters’) Move them to somewhere more prominent!

Finally, make sure that any library staff or helpers (both adults and pupils) are sensitive and tactful towards library users, and that all users - especially those venturing into the library for the first time - are genuinely welcomed.

Supported by:

Department for Children, Schools and FamiliesSchool Library AssociationReading for Life

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