Friday, 6 October 2017

Books in native languages

 Now, I am not really sure what the current correct term is for someones mother tongue, or father tongue for that matter, the language which they hear round and about them when they are born, the one that they grow up speaking, or the ones that they grow up speaking if they are fortunate enough to be brought up in a bi-lingual household. There is considerable research around that says to be fully literate you must first be securely literate in your birth language. Once you have cracked it in one language it makes it much easier to be literate in another. I have just read "Lion", the story of Saroo Brierly and one of the things in the book that shocked me was his illiteracy at the age of 5. Because of his circumstances although he was able to speak, he never really learnt any vocabulary meaning that he could not communicate with people to explain that he was lost.

I personally feel rather cheated by life. I was certainly securely literate in English, the language that everyone spoke around me, and I developed a full, rich vocabulary full of description, metaphor, poetry because I come from the South Wales Valleys and the socialist background of Chapel, where creativity, education and learning were the guiding principles of life. So no problem there. But, Welsh was not spoken, the road signs were not bilingual at the time. There were no Welsh playgroups, or nurseries and Welsh was not an exam subject in School, so I missed out on the chance of being bi-lingual and knowing more Welsh than being able to sing the Welsh national Anthem or Welsh Hymns or Nursery Rhymes. It would have been great if I could have had some children's books in Welsh to develop literacy in Welsh.

Perhaps that is why I am a bit concerned about the charitable ventures that send books off to overseas places. Are they killing off minority languages by flooding the place with books in English? It is also why I am really pleased when I come across ventures like this mobile library for refugees in Greece, because they have a collection of books in the languages of the refugees.

Now I am not so sure about this venture. Although it shows compassion and generosity of the people of Norfolk, it doesn't really say whether the books are in English it implies that they are, as the bus it to be converted into a mobile library for the Ivory Coast and will be "like an English resource centre in Adibjan". According to Wikipedia, Adibjan, the largest city of the Ivory Coast, is French speaking. I may be getting this out of context, as the organiser is from the Ivory Coast herself. Maybe there is a desire to learn English in the Ivory Coast and this is just a resource to help that. It way well be a way of making sure that the literate children of the Ivory Coast become literate in more than one language.

Summer now gone, but the memories remain

I always loved the school summer holdiays, as a child and as an adult when I had children of my own. It is 6 glorious weeks when children are running amok and pestering their bored and irritable parents. Well, that is what I used to do, but that was way before computers and the Internet and interactive gaming meant that you played Monopoly with your friends. Sometimes you could stretch a game out for days!! (you had to have a friend with parents that didn't mind their dining table being occupied for that long).

It is far more likely that children today will settle down in a corner and sink into the Internet with one or more mobile device. However, you can drag them outside, make them walk somewhere,take them to run in the park or go on a bus or in a car to your local library. Many blog posts ago I talked about the Summer Reading Challenge. My field work started one year at the time of the Summer Reading Challenge and ended at the same time the following year. So, today the Summer Reading Challenge begins. Each year the Reading Agency develops this initiative to make sure that children's reading levels are kept up while they are not at school. Children that sign up have to read at least 6 books from their local library where they will also receive various rewards. There is a theme each year, and this time it is "Animal Agents".

Many libraries hold special themed sessions and there are colouring and activity sheets to give out. I have been looking through my archive of Google Alerts again, and I found that in 2014 the children of Sarn and Bridgend fought a dragon, paraded through the town and inspected a Fire Engine as part of that year's challenge. A detailed account can be found here.

Some libraries take the chance of the Summer Reading Challenge to engage young people to help out with their activities. This means that children from 5 -12 years and 13 - 18 years can be gainfully occupied. At the CILIP conference this year I found out what Bolton Libraries do with their Summer Reading Challenge volunteer workforce. They have proper training work with younger children on craft activities, this year they are being trained to do storytelling, and they too are rewarded, frequently with pizza! They are trusted and respected and given real choices on the way that the volunteer team operates. For example, when the scheme was set up the young people decided that they should be called "Imaginators", because they were there to help children stimulate their imagination.

I heard a young man speak about his experience as a volunteer. He is at the stage of having applied for university and found that having been an Imaginator for a number of years he was able to add his experience and skills to his CV. He felt that it gave him an "edge" over other candidates. He is going to study History, but he feels that at some point he would like to get back into the library and information world. He is no longer a volunteer at the library, because the library now employ him in a Saturday job.

I found this quite inspiring. I think that Bolton Libraries are taking exactly the right approach to volunteers. They are not just a cheap substitute for full time staff, they are not there just to pad out numbers, they are there to be educated, socialised into the world of work and to gain experience that they can use for the rest of their life.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Some are good, some are dubious

I have been looking back over my collection of Google Alerts again to weed out the interesting articles from the gathered emails of schedules of bookmobile of mobile library routes. I considered whether there was any historical reason why I should save the schedules and from a big data point of view, that may be interesting, but I decided against it, think that if they are still on the net from 2013, then they should be there if anyone wanted to do a heat map of the mobile libraries driving across the USA.

I did come across some interesting articles two of which are rather unusual and one just cheerful. I also came across some news items of mobile libraries closing, or being under threat. Together they show that although there are very good things happening with Mobile Libraries there are also bad things and sometimes people's motives may be a bit dubious. There are a lot of thoughts in that sentence, so lets take them one at a time, starting with the bad things.

 Bad things

Mobile Libraries, and specialist children's mobile libraries (CMLs), are easy targets for budgetary cuts. When I traced the history of CMLs I spotted the pattern of them popping up like mushrooms at various times, living for a number of short years, then, just like mushrooms disappearing for a while, sometimes to reappear after several years when another grant was available. In the UK over the past few years there has been enormous pressure on local authority funding and libraries have taken the full thrust of savings. So in 2013/2014 I found a number of articles about threats to mobile libraries in rural locations which were considered a life line to the local communities. I am not sure whether the mobile library services were actually cut in the end, something to pursue another day.

The UK was not the only country where mobile libraries have closed and isolated or minority communities are the hardest hit. I found an article about one in the USA which had been running for over 50 years, and had many visitors from Amish communities and one from Canada too.

I thought that I had found a good article when I saw the heading "Peace Corps Brings Bookmobile to Isolated Georgian Communities", from the Philadelphia News. It refers to Georgia the country between Turkey and Russia, not the US state of that name. I am not including the URL because the site is full of adverts, some of a dubious nature. I am sure that you can find it if you google it. However, I have my doubts about the ethics of that particular bookmobile:
  • The vehicle is a converted school bus from the US - What is wrong with using local vehicles?
  • It is operated by the US Embassy
  • Although targeted to the youth in the settlements, it "promotes American Culture" - What is wrong with Georgian culture?
  • The books are in English
Now, I believe that the Embassy and the Peace Corps consider that they are doing a good thing for those youth, and learning about other countries is a good thing, but if you are trying to engage displaced young people and help the disadvantaged then  at least start with what they know, their own language and culture. I just get the uneasy feeling that this bookmobile may be more about propaganda that altruism.

Good things

The first good thing, to counter library closures, here is a library opening.This is an example of a service that paused until money was found to start it again. The community is rightly proud of bringing back a service that will mainly serve schools, but will then visit other parts of the community.

The second good thing is a bicycle mobile service. Now, I am sure that you have heard of them before, but this one is not in Peru, or Cambodia, but in Arcata, California.

The project, as it was in 2014, was the idea of university teacher and bicycle enthusiast Melanie Williams who is combining her passions of teaching, literacy and cycling. All the books have a cycling theme and she explains her reasons for doing this in her interview with the local radio station. Part of the interview is about the Book Mobile and the latter part about her work in promoting cycling. If you have 15 minutes to spare it is well worth listening to what she says.

Friday, 26 May 2017

MP encourages parents to support children's reading

With the forthcoming "snap" election it is really heartening to know that an MP has spoken out about the importance of parental encouragement for reading. Sadly, it is not anyone in the UK, but then at the moment we do not actually have any MPs, we just have contestants for the role.

This particular MP is Mr Edwin Nii Lante Vanderpuye, the Member of Parliament for Odododiodoo Constituency in Ghana. In his speech for 2017 International Children's Book Day he urged parents to promote a reading culture for their children and he told children to "read, do not stop reading, read anything at all". Mr Vanderpuye carried on with reporting the library services available in the area, which includes a mobile library that visits schools. To read more about it see:

If only our potential MPs could be so passionate about reading and libraries in their campaigning. There is a chance to encourage them. CILIP is spearheading a campaign to get all parliamentary candidates to state that they will use evidence base facts in their electioneering.

Why not ask them to commit to keeping libraries open  and to promote reading as well.

The Trouble with ISBNs

This is a post that I wrote for my work blog. ISBNs seemed like such a wonderful idea as a way to identify a unique work, but that was in the days of books being only in two formats, hardback and paperback. Now they could be anything, and the quantity of ISBNs are increasing rapidly. Perhaps it is time to have another think about them.


 As a Librarian and shuffler around of books I have found International Standard Book Numbers (ISBN) to be really useful. Unlike what is portrayed in popular media the role of a librarian is not to stamp books and go "Shh" at people aggressively. It is our job to find things and to put things in the right order or place so that other people can find them too. I like to simplistically say that the purpose of a librarian is to sort things out into piles and that is a reasonable basic analogy of what we do. We take the things that hold knowledge, such as books, scrolls, documents, vinyl records, compact discs, digital texts, databases, e-books, anything and we make them "discoverable" by arranging them in ways that are  easy to find. So books can be sorted out into the type of knowledge that they contain, such as History, Geography, Religion, Science and so on. There are many ways that things can be sorted, which is why there are many classification systems - Dewey Decimal, Library of Congress, for example. A book is assigned a particular classification number according to the knowledge that it holds, its content, so there can be many books attributed to the same number. Of course the titles and authors are different. So, what if you want to find a particular book? This is where ISBN numbers come in handy. The number is an official International Organization for Standardization (ISO) standard  which was introduced by the book trade in 1970 to identify one publication or edition of a publication published by one specific publisher in one specific format. It was set up to allow automated machine reading of books, or "book like items", such as maps. The thirteen digit number is made up from smaller number groups that have been mathematically calculated to represent different elements. Let's take one of the numbers from the books in the photograph above.
 The number above shows that it is an ISBN (preface), it was published in the UK  (geographic element), it was published by Ladybird Books (publisher or imprint) and it is this particular book (edition). In fact it is a hardback book titled The Shed. The machine readable part of the ISBN is the bar code, which can be scanned by a supplier, bookshop staff or library staff to identify that particular publication. ISBNs are issued through national agencies and held on their databases. This means that if you know that you want to buy a copy of the Ladybird Book of the Shed and you have its ISBN number you can type that in to Amazon or a library catalogue you can find out where to buy or borrow it.


So each ISBN number is a way of identifying that a printed, hardback copy of the title "The Shed" written by J.A.Hazeley and J.P.Morris was published by Ladybird Books Ltd, Loughborough in 2015. If the publisher decides to sell a paperback or e-book version, or the author wants to update or correct the words or change the illustrations in a second edition, then each one would have a different number in that edition element. Great, perfect for identification - by a machine. Just imagine that you are a  librarian you only want one copy of The Shed and you don't care whether it is hardback or paperback, or you are trying to make space on your selves and only want an e-book and all you have is a long list of numbers and you can't work out which is the e-version, which the paperback and which is the one with different pictures. You see, the "edition " part of the numbers is a unique grouping just for that instance of publication. It is not a code that means e-book, or hardback, or third edition. This is the problem with ISBN, they are just too unique sometimes.

What is needed is an identifier for the intellectual output of that book, whatever the format. Now, I am not very well acquainted with these, but in searching for information for this blog post I have come across International Standard Text Code (ISTC) identifiers. This appears to be a number allocated to the textural content of something, no matter what is wrapped around the outside, metaphorically. So, perhaps these are the numbers to use at a time when any piece of text could available anywhere in any format and the variety of format choice just keeps growing.

This blog was first published on 24th March 2017 in Evidence Base Blog

Friday, 10 February 2017

Not a library, but a bus to spread reading and literacy

In Tampa, on Tampa Bay, in the American state of Florida lives a little yellow bus, called Bess. This bus is full of books and is a not for profit enterprise, that travels accross the USA distributing new books to children in areas of deprivation.  Staffed by volunteers it visits schools who read the stories to the children in classrooms before giving out the books. The intention of the project is to build up libraries in children's homes and give children the opportunity to own a book, which they may not have otherwise.

The idea was started by one woman, Jennifer Frances (Jenn) 14 years ago. It intially operated only in Tampa, but decided to go nationwide after its first 5 years. Jenn says that she was inspired by her grandmother (Nana Bess) who gave her the love of books and reading. Jenn wants to do that with each child. The vehicle manages to operate through donations and sponsorship, from a variety of sources, including Mecedes Benz to a book publisher.

I think that we are very fortunate that here in the UK we have the Book Trust's Bookstart scheme, which also gives books to children. This is a larger enterprise than Bess the Bookbus. Books are distributed to each child in the UK, not always in a little yellow bus, but Sheffield used to have a little blue bus, like a zoo, to go around schools and centres giving out stories and Bookstart packs. I am not sure that it still has. Usually the books are given away at libraries or health clinics, by library staff or health visitors, and children recieve them at the ages of 0-12 months and again at 3-4 years.

Here is the Sheffield bus, with the Bookstart Bear.
Bookstart is a UK charity, has a certain amount of government funding and accepts donations. It works closely with publishers to produce books suitable for children with additional needs and dual language books. Bess the Bookbus, and Bookstart have the same aims - give books, get children reading. 

Friday, 13 January 2017

Places where they do it better

Today it has snowed.

Snow outside my study window


Now, living in the UK that shouldn't be news, snow is part of our regular weather pattern but it seems to excite us and whips up the media into some sort of frenzy about cold and the destruction of life as we know it. I switched on the television news to see a reporter on the streets of Canterbury.The reporter was pointing out the small scattering of snow that had settled on a grassy verge, you could tell it was grassy because you could see the grass. Then the camera turned to show the road which had many tyre marks in freezing slush. Traffic was flowing normally and safely, people were walking around as normal. The reporter was explaining that this was snow and when it froze it became icy and slippery, which was dangerous.