Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Thinking aloud

Over the past six months, instead of getting down to do proper work I have had to write up a "First Year Report", which is really not a report at all, but a "Literature Review", which I find really frustrating. I am a doer more than a thinker although I do think about what I do! The position in which I now find myself is that because of the reading, writing process, having to justify the reason for investigating children's mobile libraries, of fitting the research into government policies, of finding out one thing and suggesting another, I have been thinking around in circles and not really progressed.

I have done a deal with my supervisors, who wanted me and my "hippy, touchy-feely" methodology to produce a "Literature Review". There is nothing, by the way, about the way reading is promoted on a children's mobile library. I have compromised to do a set of headings outlining what the literature review will be when I do one at the end of the data gathering and analysis. In fact, I will do an annotated set of headings, saying what would be, or is likely to be, in that literature review. As I look at what I have done so far so much seems irrelevant , so much seems to have been imposed by suggestions form the supervisors, who have their pet ideas. I am sure that they are only trying to help, but I think I would have liked more input on the how to do it, rather than the what to do.

So, what happens on a children's mobile library, and why does it matter? It matters because they are a service to communities, they introduce children to literature, some who would not otherwise go into a library. They offer a service to nurseries and early years settings to increase the number of books available to children and staff. They offer a library service, free of charge, to schools where individual children can find books or other information about things that they like. They are a free source of reading material to children who read avidly. They offer fun and interest and freedom of choice. Library services that have children's mobile libraries claim all these things, but is that what happens? Could they be better? Can they do a better job?

Most of all the service matters to the children that use it. I have also thought of the research as producing a sort of handbook of "Best Practice". Will this be good enough justification for my supervisors?

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Stuff about reading

Having the first year viva over and done with, I am now concentrating on books about reading, so that I can analyse the actions of people in Children's mobile libraries to work out if they are promoting reading. I have also discovered that I need to use page numbers in the citation, so that is why there will be odd numbers appearing in the text.

The first book is "Measuring reading abilities: concepts, sources and applications" by Peter D Pumfrey, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1977.

On page 2 he talks about the statistical measurement of reading ability. "Figures can be used as a smoke screen to obscure our lack of understanding and control of the reading process...... unless we are aware of the limitations both of mental measurement and of our conceptualisation of the reading process". I think this means that it is difficult to measure reading because it is conceptualised. It is such a complex act that it is like measuring an abstract notion. figures don't work, because it is the wrong scale. He also believes that reading is an activity through which the child's cognitive development can be furthered. A tool for increasing thinking. He also believes that it is a "common fallacy" that all children will have acquired the necessary basic competence in reading by the end of infant school. P7 A reading test is a sample of one aspect of a child's behaviour related to language and thinking.

p11 "Often, those children falling at the lower ends of the hypothesised normal distribution are catagorised as children with reading difficulties. To some extent, the difficulties in reading that a child experiences are generated by a social desire for a conformity that is possible at varience with the nature of human beings". In other words, some children take longer to learn to read, and will not necessarily do it as well as others. It is not expected that everyone will excel at sport, we do not measure each child's sprinting times, or how far they can kick a ball.

p162 Children can decode print correctly whether they know it or not, whether it is or is not a real word. This demonstrates that understanding is not necessary to decode. This is not reading.
However, p163, a childs experiential background contributes to the ability to decode a word becasue they will have the ability to guess the word from the context of the text, using cues.

OK so most of this is about reading and not about the passing of of reading knowledge. I think that these idea's show that there will be some children left behind by the education system and provide evidence for the argument of mopping up those children with the use of mobile libraries. that or teaching them to read at secondary school, but then they feel a failure, like me and running!
I have just found this in the latest DCMS report about libraries (Empower, Inform, Enrich) and I like it so much that I have to share it!

By Chris Meade
Director, if: Book

Once upon a time books were made of parchment and carried around in buckets. Then came the codex, designed by early Christians as a means to fix the canon and make sure no one glued extra bits onto the end of scrolls.The first books,hand written by teams of monks, cost a fortune. Gutenberg invented the printing press but went bankrupt when his invention failed to catch on. It took the Reformation to make publishing commercially viable, when every faction going was producing new tracts and pamphlets.The paperback provided cheap portable fiction for the troops and the workers.
The e-reader briefly bridged the gap between page and screen, but soon every laptop and mobile was a platform for prose. Far from killing literature, new devices led to a renaissance of artworks mixing text and images, sounds and conversations.The book was no longer defined as an object but as an experience, a unit of meaning, some of which were produced in beautiful, customised printed form, others in lavish online editions. But perhaps surprisingly the term remained—thanks to Macbooks and Facebook,Audiobooks, Digibooks, Skybooks, ifbooks etc, but the term was used to include events, performances, recordings, websites which demanded a certain level of attention. And all books were also communities, though mostly quiet ones, like library users silently sharing the same virtual space.
Libraries used to contain copies of works that were otherwise inaccessible to people without parting with their cash. Books were chained to desks, then loaned out for short periods, then after culture went up to the cloud, their role became really important, providing a safe local space in which to meet real people with the expertise and ideas to help us each explore our particular interest.
Where once people had been intimidated but uplifted in places of culture such as theatres and libraries, now all content emanated from the same devices. There was no longer any need to differentiate much between movies, books, ifbooks, pop music and opera. Whereas once these commodities were sold and performed in completely different places for different prices, now all was stuff, funded from the licence.
So we needed to create new means to uplift the spirit and encourage deeper attention and focus. Unlibraries flourished—designed to inspire and intrigue through displays, events and atmospheres which helped minds to expand; they sold and loaned out souvenirs of intellectual journeys undertaken there, were havens for debate and the simple, basic pleasures of social networking.
The modernisation review of public libraries

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Cultural services putting "every child matters" into policy

I have unearthed two documents form different parts of the country that analyse the way to integrate Every Child Matters into their systems. One is from the East Midlands, called "Unlocking the Potential" by Dixon and Roberts. The other is "Review of Museum, Library and Archive Activity with Children and Young People" by Naylor and other authors for the North West. This is what they say.

Dixon and Roberts
  • Museums and Galleries do not work with children's services at a strategic level, but libraries are doing some.
  • Children's services would prefer to have strategic relationships with libraries, museums and galleries than to commission their services.
  • Libraries have a greater awareness of children's service priorities and are more willing to reflect them in the library services.
  • young people should expect libraries to offer participation in library development, Volunteering opportunity
  • a place to develop citizenship
  • free, safe welcoming spaces IN THEIR LOCAL COMMUNITY
  • Formal and informal learning support
  • Inspiring books, reading materials, activities
  • information of education, training and careers
Naylor, et al

  • Hard for libraries, museums and archives to be strategically involved with other partners at government level, but there is an opportunity at local authority level.
  • Libraries are better at doing this than museums and archives. Their strategic plans are closer to Every Child Matters. "Public Libraries have a longer track record in this area having always a more clearly defined pedagogic and social purpose than museums and galleries"
  • there is not a lot of literature about the impact of the cultural sector on academic attainment because of a lack of longitudinal research. Apart from Libraries, that work with PEEP, EPPE and bookstart. These have had studies published about them and many studies are ongoing.
  • There is no baseline on which to judge the impact.
  • There needs to be research to capture in impact and output of working with children, research with control groups and ethnographic analysis of the nature of the learning that goes on.
  • Youth Matters is also another notional programme that fits with every child matters. There is a youth capital fund. (or was, depending on forthcoming government cuts). It is mandatory for young people to be involved in the design of services.
  • Generic Learning Outcomes are are good idea
  • Nearly all public libraries do rhyme-times and story times, but their benefits are unknown.
  • Local Authorities are meant to deliver partnership programmes and embed them in the community, partnership working is the key.
  • libraries are actively increasing literacy work across the board
  • There is not much in depth ethnographic work to analyse the nature of learning.
  • Difficult to work out what influences in a child's life leads them to economic success or failure.
  • Libraries need to support the school curriculum (Mobile libraries do)

Will transliteracy make all this research obsolete?

I went to a conference yesterday about working across subject boundaries, such as computer scientists working with performers and ethnographers. I found the entire thing so refreshing and interesting, people talking about the breadth of research experience instead of just channelling all their thoughts into an imagined problem, like the children's librarians at the conference at the weekend. The workshop that unsettled me the most and has made me worried that this research project will ultimately be of little value in the real world was one on transliteracy which looked at the situation we have these days of working out how to read not only written and printed symbols, but also media, "orality", signing and digital social networks.

The argument that reading text is not the only literacy has been around for some time, but the workshop put the argument in the context that it is not really necessary for people to do so. There is a tribe of Amazonian Indians who have decided that only certain members of their tribe need to be able to read and write to communicate with the rest of the world, the others have to concentrate on the real things in life such as hunting for food. This reminded me that Welsh was basically an oral language and it took many centuries for the druids to allow poets and story tellers to write down their works, or so it is said. They were afraid of the loss of skill, the long memories passed down in story form by bards. I think that the skill of verbal memory in the population has declined or is it that the people with those skills are not encouraged and celebrated.

The children's librarian conference at the weekend was so concerned with making everyone the same, to enhance reading so that the entire population could read Jane Eyre or Wuthering heights and enjoy those books that I came away thinking that really people should have the choice to be literate or not. There should be a mixture of skills in the population, we can't all be academics and we can't all be leaders or there would be no-one to teach and no-one to lead. So, is a little vehicle trundling around the towns and countryside distributing books to children a total anachronism in the forthcoming digital society? Will there be any point in doing that when children will be learning to read and keyboard on their "i" or "e" devices that have that ability to download thousands of stories and gallons of information? It seems a little pathetic.

A managing director of a leading publishing house commented at the librarian's conference that it did not matter if words were published in books, i-phones, kindles or what ever, there would always be authors with stories to tell. The leader of the transliteracy workshop, who invented the term, talked about the need in companies and organisations for an individual that can understand and interpret data in whatever form it takes. I commented that in my world that person was a librarian, and I fully believe that the librarian of the future is someone who can "Twitter", use Goggle and other databases, add tags, navigate the web and understand the dewey decimal system with equal ease. That person would be transliterate. This leads to the question does everyone need to be? Like the Amazonian Indian tribe, surely only some people in a society really needs to be while the rest of the population gets on with life, with plumbing, making bread, growing potatoes and persuading children that reading and adding up is a good idea.

So why bother to find out if a little library van has an impact on children's lives? I think it is because it is happening now, no-one has found out the effect that it has on children. In the future it may not just carry books. Although I believe that it does not just carry books at the moment they also carry stories and the stories can be hidden inside people as well as books and electronic Internet devices. The service cannot change if it does not know what it happening at the moment. If the impact and social effect is not charted and recorded then something important in the development of a child from a passive learner to an active participant in their own learning may be lost. If the study finds out that other inspirational ways of doing the same thing are more effective, then the study will show that authorities can cheerfully stop the services with no harm to the development of our children.

Transliteracy was defined by Professor Sue Thomas of the Institute of Creative Technologies, De Montfort University, Leicester. The website is

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Plethora of Initiatives

I have just come away from a CILIP youth libraries group conference, well I was there all weekend and arrived home yesterday afternoon, so I thought I would know all there is to know about what is happening in libraries for children and young people. But No! I have been doing some more searching for every child matters information and today I have found that there is a Youth Libraries Board, a Library offer to young people and an initiative called "Fulfilling their potential". Can I include all these into my report? It is beginning to get more and more complex.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Setting it in the context of Every Child Matters

Any work with children these days seems to have to revolve around the five principles of the government initiative "Every Child Matters". The government greenpaper of that name sets out the principles of:

Be healthy
Stay safe
Enjoy and achieve
Make a positive contribution
Economic well being

These five things are the basic outcomes of working with children. To say that in a clearer way, children should learn how to keep physically and mentally healthy, to understand how to avoid dangerous circumstances, to have the ability to enjoy life and achieve their potential, to be able to put something back into society by being a responsible citizen and attaining and retaining enough money to live comfortably. This is a tall order. There are many issues about the list that could be discussed, but for now I am just accepting that they have to be taken into consideration when I study Children's mobile libraries.

The green paper says that the government was spurred into action by the Victoria Climbie investigation, but I suspect that they had similar plans in mind before that happened. I would hate to think that laws are passed as knee jerk reactions to current events, and not a swell considered and thoroughly thought through ideas. There already was a lack of communication between services although it is never certain that even if the police, social services, health service and the school did communicate that Victoria's guardians would still manage to deceive them all. However, the green paper calls for child specialist multi-disciplinary teams to be based at children's centres and put "Children ant the heart of policies". There should be one person heading those teams with the authority to make decisions that will change children's lives.

The government also hope to make children's work well paid and high status with a well paid, flexible workforce. High Calibre people should be attracted into the children's workforce. There should be better, joint training about children and the pooling of budgets. Services to children will enter the realm of commissioning, by the children's commissioner at the head of local children's trusts. Well, this has come about, the children's trusts, and children's commissioners with the green paper becoming law in the 2004 children's act. Local government offices have shuffled around to accommodate the changes but one element is lacking in the act. No mention is made of the contribution of libraries, museums and archives to development of children. The cultural sector has been forgotten.

This has not passed by the Arts council, and Museum and Archives Council. Their report "Creating Better Outcomes for children and Young people by improving the commissioning of Cultural Services" looks at the problem that cultural services find to be part of the children's services commissioning system. The report is based on a study and set of workshops involving children's commissioners or their representatives. Generally they don't think of looking at the cultural services for provision although all of them knew how rich a vein of education and experience can be obtained in a museum, art gallery or library. IT was felt that Cultural services straddle all the definitions of providers, public, private or "Third Sector", and because they are not included or defined in any of those categories they slip through the net. Another difficulty is local authorities put cultural services in different departments, some in education , some in regeneration, there is not a defined place where they should be. The onus is then on the cultural services them selves to tell children's commissioners what they can provide to achieve the five principles of Every Child Matters.

Commissioners are looking for efficiency and effectiveness. They want value for money.The cultural sector has to collect evidence of their impact on the outcomes of the children's plan and share it. Cultural activities are best placed to focus on enjoyment, prevention and early intervention, especially libraries and literacy. There are already partnerships between libraries, sure start and children's centres. The report says organisations need "The ability to demonstrate better out comes and evidence of making a difference is the top priority for organisations wanting to be involved in providing services for children and young people." What is the relevance of this to children's mobile libraries? Commissioners are looking for people who work with children to be CRB checked, trained and skilled at working with children and vulnerable children. Can the library service grantee that they employ people with those skills and provide the training? Can the library service prove that they are delivering value for money to be effective and efficient? This is a good reason for the research.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Lincolnshire Mobile Libraries

I visited Sleaford yesterday, which is an attractive, neat, clean town set in the Lincolnshire countryside and where there is a mobile library depot. The Lincolnshire mobile library service went through a major change about two years ago. Being a large rural county they had eleven mobile libraries generically servicing villages and rural communities. Some villages had trailer libraries visiting for a day at a time. Some rural customers had books taken into their homes by mobile library staff. Many of the stops were at village primary schools. When the service was analysed in its entirety, it was realised that a generic mish mash of stock on each mobile was not given enough choice and selection to each genre of customer, If customers come in Genre! The fleet was sorted out to specifically target certain people, and certain situations.

Each mobile is now specialised, either to be a local library substitute, or for home deliveries, or visiting care homes. Most significantly for me they have three vehicles dedicated to visiting primary schools, where the children come on board and choose books, and two underfives vehicles that go to nurseries and play schemes where stories and activities are told. All the mobile staff are timetabled to work across the scheme and work on each vehicle. They are expected to work one day with elderly people and another with underfives. Drivers also have to drive all the vehicles and cover each other when necessary . There is one relief driver who is part of the team and can be called on when necessary.

When the service changed, there was a large reshuffling of stock, the children's vehicles were stocked with books existing in the service, and from begging and borrowing from other libraries. All was achieved within the fleet budget. The fleet vehicles are leased, the livery is included with the package and old vehicles get replaced. The service also appears to have strong library and council support. The changes happened when the mobile fleet manager was appointed. The home visit vehicle was so successful that the council has paid for another. What impressed me was that all of this was achieved by thinking logically, using what was available and adapting it to need. There appeared to be no large blazoning of trumpets and flag waving with fancy and expensive vehicles. It initially appears to be a good, cost effective model. Whether literacy is purveyed with the books, and if the visits have an effect on the children is yet to be found.

Monday, 10 August 2009

link to a sad picture of a drowning bookmobile and a happy one of children reading!

Monday, 6 July 2009

A brief summary of mobile library services in Kenya

Kenya has nomadic populations and poor road infrastructure. The poor transport network makes it difficult for people to visit a static library. The Kenyan National Library Service was formed in 1969. By 2002 the mobile service was eight bookmobiles that were becoming unreliable and expensive to repair, one motorbike book box system which was community ran in central Kenya, and two camels providing a service to the pastoral nomads in the north east of the country (Atuti 2002) The mobile service has been assessed a number of times with the conclusion that the book box and camel services are cost effective. Masha Hamilton, an American novelist based a book on her experiences with the Camel Library Service and has since set up a system of book donations to the service. There are presently 13 camels serving a wider region in the north east of Kenya (Hamilton 2009). The most important thing about quoting this service is that it is out reach in the extreme, people thought the nomads were unreachable, but they are not (Atuti and Ikoja-Odongo 1999). The goal of the mobile library service is for the “Enrichment of inconvenienced user communities”. The six objectives start with “To promote literacy and reading recovery programs in rural areas”. The service has been researched thoroughly and has been found to be “feasible” (Atuti 2002).

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Tales of the Arabian Nights

In 2006 a literacy project from Lahore in Pakistan won the Ibby Asahi Award. (see It started as a static book bus in Lahore which was the first children's library in Pakistan by Basarat Kazim. The reason was not to simply distrubute books to children more deprived than we can imagine, but to teach them to read in a relaxed enjoyable way. The bookbus was called "Alif Laila", which means "the Arabian Nights". It became so successful that it spawned literacy projects that were used in schools and a purpose built children's library (de Silva, 2008). It has come full circle and now the project runs a children's mobile library called "the Storyteller" which travels the valleys of pakistan carrying books and stories (Burg 2008).

The cuban mobile library

I have already mentioned the importance that Che Guevara attached to having a literate population. Last year and American Librarian, Dana Lubow, took a fully stocked bookmobile to Cuba to donate to Granma's "1868 provincial library". It travelled through America and Mexico, reaching Havana at August 17th, 2008. The mobile library and it's contents had been donated by American citizens. By January 2009 it was operating in Granma province and it's rural locations. Dana's Blog has a number of photographs, take a look for yourself at

The donation of the bookmobile came about because of strong links between a group of American Librarians and Cuban librarians. the bookmobile was not needed by the librarians to improve the literacy of the nation, there is a high literacy rate in Cuba, the problem is because of the economic sanctions that the US has with Cuba. Nothing can be imported from America so many of the existing books were getting well worn. The librarians wanted books and a method of distributing them to highly literate rural communities that were thirsty for more literature. They are reported as saying that the bookmobile "was a welcome addition to the Cuban librarians’ arsenal of professional tools to promote literacy, reading, education, self-improvement and community development throughout the countryside and into remote rural areas where municipal libraries cannot always regularly reach".

Monday, 15 June 2009

A Study similar to the one I want to conduct

Study of Mobile libraries in Clwyd, 1990, by Ian Dyson

This was written from the point of view of rural services. Dyson spent a day each on two of the mobiles from Clywd's fleet of nine talking to staff and customers. In this respect he conducted an ethnographic observation, taking note of representative comments from the customers. He noted that the ethos of the mobile library service was different to that of static libraries. They provided a greater social service that just being a library delivery service. They were focal meeting points for small communities, the operators performed other functions, taking books into people homes during snowy conditions, giving help and advice, answering queries, local knowledge.

He considered other types of library provision, and compared advantages and disadvantages. Cost of service per head of population appears to be the major consideration when authorities are auditing such provision, but Dyson argues that they do not take all the factors into consideration. A part-time library in a rural location could be flexible with opening hours, but cost more by purchase of a building and a proportion of static stock. Sharing a premises and therefore cost is possible, but takes effort to negotiate with other bodies. An example of shared premises is having a library in a school, which Clwyd did, however, charges were introduced that made the situation too costly. It is interesting to note that in recent years libraries are again going into other buildings, for instance in Derby city and somewhere else that I heard of recently has one in a community centre.

Dyson discusses the pros and cons on trailer, van and container libraries, which were good value. The drawbacks for that sort of provision is the time taken to take the out to stops, and customer access. He approaches the idea of busing the elderly customers into static libraries where they could socialise as a cost effective excersise. He also highlights the plight of rural children, they may be in school when the mobile library calls. He suggests that school library service provision could be increased but realises that if more money is put there then it decreases elsewhere. He thinks that their ever growing needs should be considered with urgency.

The arguments that mobile libraries have such a limited book stock are dispelled by Dyson relating to comment of one customer who stated her preference for the mobile library over the nearest static one because she know where to find what she wanted in the mobile library, but got lost in the larger branch library. He goes on to illustrate that a smaller selection of stock does not always mean less borrowing. When one of the local libraries needed to remove stock to barcode them for a computerised system, spaces in shelves were filled by face on book display, and issues increased.

Children's mobile library welcome in Capetown

This blog entry describes the users and mothers of a much needed service in the townships of Capetown.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Using child psychology techniques for researching children's libraries.

This is a paper written by Lynne McKechnie of Western Ontario University. It is good evidence for an ethnographic study in CMLs and gives me good techniques for analysis of the observations that I will be doing. It is called "Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development - a useful theoretical approach for research concerning children, libraries, and information." and it is found in Journal of Youth services in libraries, Vol 11, No1, Fall 1997 pages 66-70.

Lev Vygotsky was a developmental psychologist and he believed that children learn thinking and understanding by practising it with a more experienced person until they manage to internalise the skill and do it themselves. Learning is interactive and a child needs a go-between to feed in knowledge at the correct level and pace to buffer the space between what they know and what they don't know. Lynne McKechnie used an ethnographic field study to find out how pre-school girls used public libraries. They were audio recorded in interaction with their mothers.

She found that using the library provided learning opportunities about how libraries work, and the acquisition of emergent literacy skills especially in one to one exchanges between mother and daughter, who were instinctively using the zone of proximal development. She quotes examples of her observations when the mother asks questions about the illustrations, reinforces the child's statements, repeats their statements to verify them, and gives them encouragement to explore and think for themselves. They guide them through the books, linking words with pictures. She concludes that if children need a human catalyst to help them learn reading skills, this affects libraries in the following ways,
  • libraries should provide spaces for story sharing, with a parent or carer
  • staff can identify supporting behaviour from parents that use it naturally, and teach the behaviour to other parents.
  • Library staff can learn to work with children in their zone of proximal development.

If this is done, "libraries will have a positive impact on children's lives."

The sort of modelling behaviour that Lynne McKechnie has researched is one of the things I need to be looking for when I do observation on Children's mobile libraries. Then I can assess the contribution that has towards literacy development.

Monday, 1 June 2009

What can mobile libraries do to help social exclusion

This is an analysis of my thoughts after reading the Library and Information Commission Report, "Open to All? The Public library and Social Exclusion" Volume 3: Working Papers", 2000.

As this report was published nine years ago, some of it's information is now outdated. It is interesting, however, to see the thoughts at the time and track the changes that have come about since then. At the time there was concern that public libraries were seen as catering for middle classes. Muddiman (2000), considers that social exclusion is complex, widespread, and needs to be tackled by the whole library movement "Rather than strategies which approach exclusion as an ephemeral of peripheral concern." In 1998, the Schools Standards and Framework Act set up Education Action Zones to give priority to literacy and numeracy in partnership with schools, business, LEA's and parents. They were given £750,000 from government and £250,000 from private partners to find innovative ways to increase learning. They had an intended lifespan of 5 years, when some of them turned into Excellence in Cities action zones. I found this information on the DfEE website. I would like to find out what has happened to them. It seems like another reserach project. I mention this, because some children's mobile libraries had some dealings with the EAZ's. I know we visited certatin schools and certatian area's as part of the Reading Rocket because they were in the Education Action Zone's of Derby. It would be interesting to find out if any of that money was used to fund Children's mobile libraries.

In the conclusion of Vincent's chapter about Public libraries, children and young people, and social exclusion, he predicts that the "Flurry of Activity", out reach and community initiatives, at that time would not last long. He believed that external funding would run out leaving projects to be either mainstream funded to the detriment of other services, or to stop entirely. I think that his prediction was right, it is certainly what happened to the Reading Rocket. However, the Bookstart scheme started in 1992, and has grown and developed giving free books to children up to the age of 5, and some offshoots of the scheme giving free books to children of the age of 11. I think I really need to check my facts for that. The good thing about the bookstart scheme is that it brings together health visitors, educational or care establishments, parents and Libraries. West Sussex libraries have two children's mobile, one of them has been around for a while, and because of the success with its work with the bookstart scheme it has persuaded its authorty to purchase a second mobile library.

Back to Vincent, he lists a number of library initiatives that involves to fostering of literacy in libraries. for insatance summer reading schemes. holiday activities and work with men and boys. He acknowledges that libraries have a responsibility to advance literacy. He states that at that time less children visited libraries on their own becasue of parents fears of percieved dangers and traffic hazards. Parents do not take them themselves instead. He feared cutbacks on out reach and community based work and cites mobile library services for children as being under threat. He also believs that there will be in consequence a reduction of feedback from local communities and a reduction in library posts with a special responsibility for children. He is worried about the training of librarians, and in 2000 there was a reduction of courses for librarians specialising in working with children.

This is at a time when children's library work was becoming important. The 1995 "Investing in Children" report says that taking the library into the community into places that are different, is the way to reach parents and children who would not go into a library building. People who visit a children's mobile library are commonly heard to say "I have never been into a library before".

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

More about the ways to assess the unassessable.

This is an analysis of the report "New Measures for the New Library: a Social Audit of Public Libraries" by Rebecca Linley and Bob Usherwood. (British Library Research and Innovation Centre Report 89.) It is linked to Kerslake and Kinnell's literature review. "The Social Impact of Libraries". It appears to be the ground work done to compliment their literature review. Both reports are part of a wider project to "Demonstrate in measurable terms that public libraries offer value for money" (Harris and Green, 1997).

I was drawn to this document because it claims to "evaluate library services in a new way." The study uses "a form of Social Audit" to examine library services in parts of two diverse authorities, Somerset and Newcastle upon Tyne. The authors chose qualitative research for the same reason as I , to actually explain the numbers and to tell the whole story that numbers cannot answer. The social audit comprised series of interviews, focus groups and workshops with all the people in any way involved in the library service; various groups of customers, staff and council members. The resulting data was written up as a case study for each authority. It was labour intensive, but the researchers believed that library staff could carry on and evaluate their service in that way.

It occurred to me that apart from Environmental Health inspections, restaurants are assessed by someone experiencing a meal at the establishment. Egon Ronay or Michelin do not count the number of customers and how quickly they are served to award stars. If they did, MacDonald's would win hands down every time. The service, uniqueness and the taste of the food is considered and the physical ambiance actually sampled before the coveted stars are awarded. My son works in TKMaxx, yes I know it is not a restaurant, it is a shop, but that is also assessed by the company's own management who send mystery shoppers into the store to see if service and standards are being met. Perhaps these ways of assessing the outcomes of libraries would be considered too subjective.

Although the social audit means bringing together numbers of customers for focus groups and interviewing people at length, which I consider too time consuming for front-line staff, a number of authorities are now working with community panels before opening small community libraries (Derby City Libraries are doing that). There is a basis for continuing the panel as a regularly consulted user group to inform and assess the function of that library. Linley and Usherwood suggest that their findings are true for the two places that they studied, but extrapolations can be made to extend them to similar places with similar situations. Perhaps their methodology was not rigorous enough to see repeated patterns from cross-sections of society. I feel that my choice of grounded theory will achieve that generalisation that they have missed.

The findings, however, are useful. The authors state that the educational effect of libraries on children is difficult to unravel from the other influences on a child. Why then does the government think that what happens in school is the only way to test children's ability? Usherwood and Linley assert that there is a "Complex relationship between intermediate and final outcomes". They believe that "the library supports the development of children's reading skills." In the conclusion the investigators state that there are many influences over individuals during their lifetime but "That it is clear from our data that the library plays a significant part." Focus groups of parents and carers of young children agreed that libraries help develop the reading ability of children and improve the English skills of children whose parents' first language is not English. The focus groups also think that a public library is a good neutral place for literacy initiatives. The easy availability of free reading matter in a library was considered to be vital for people with low incomes.

Some staff felt that the perception of libraries by political forces was not as an educational force. One library worker said "We always get tagged on the end of things, education always gets loads of support and we're seen as a sideline from education and not as a part of it......." . Locality seemed to play a significant part in the decision to visit a library or not. Children in particular visited libraries that were close to their home, so they could go on their own. this is an argument for a vehicle to go to the children who do not live near a library. They are more likely to visit a children's mobile library in their street than a library the other side of their neighbourhood.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Monday, 30 March 2009

The Role of Public Libraries in Literacy Education

These are notes taken from Maria Elena Zapata's article, " The Role of Public Libraries in Literacy Education" published in Libri 1994, vol 44 no 2. At the time she was Director of Public Library Networks in Caracas, Venezuela. In this paper she makes many points about the delivery of literacy in a global context that can be applied anywhere in the world.

She speaks of literacy as a new concept of social development. She wrote this 15 years ago and now Britain certainly considers that literacy is vital to social development. (Insinc, Framework for the future, Peoples Network). The focus is again on the prevention of illiteracy, defining the problem of illiteracy as "an expression of unequal access to social wealth, information sources and knowledge," and "Illiteracy: and expression of inequality". She also explains that literacy is not simply a matter of someone being able to decode the marks on paper into words, there needs to be meaning an understanding in the mind of the reader. They need to acquire functional literacy, which allows individuals to participate in social development. With this in mind, libraries need to provide information resources to "People Participating in Literacy education". My argument is that a Children's mobile library provides the resources in the places where children are learning to read, or should be learning to read, the question being "Can Children's mobile libraries help prevent illiteracy?" I have just checked the UNESCO website and the figures that they quote as being the most current is 774 million are illiterate globally, and 64% of those are women.

Zapata argues that illiteracy is not only a symptom of poverty, but a cause as well meaning that some levels of society cannot access their human rights. She explains "Knowing how to read and write is the prerequisite for practising the right to learn which is one of the conditions for the effective and universal application of these principles." It becomes a self generating circle. The process of learning to read gives people the skills to "Access and Process information, to create apply new knowledge, to participate in social processes designed to modify the environment and create better living conditions at individual community and national levels." Even in a democratic society citizens need to know how to read and write at a reasonable level to be able to "understand, analyze and reflect on their personal and social situations and to become active participants in promoting changes". To correctly exercise your vote you must be able to understand the policies of the political parties and chose the one that suits your own opinions.

As a logical first step and a way out of an illiteracy circle, is to teach reading and writing at an early age. Then, Zapata continues, pay attention to the young people and adults who have not attained adequate levels of reading. Libraries can help their literacy in two ways, as a partner of educational intuitions and as a service unit for the general public. A children's mobile library can have this dual function with great ease. It can tour around from school to school working in a tailored way to each educational establisment, and it can go out into a variety of communities to provide resources, skills and advise to members of the general public. The ways in working which Zapata suggests for a static library include the training of teachers and of librarians, both working together to assess and discover literacy teaching methodologies and the access to a range of appropriate printed materials. She suggests that static libraries provide travelling boxes of books and materials to day care centres, well, surely a whole library is a better option, if available. She suggests the provision of information about services offered by the library. the Leicester book bus goes one further that that, it provides information about the city's literacy policy, including schools. Finally she considers that staff should be trained as story tellers to continue the oral tradition. This applies particularly to staff on children's mobiles, they are an efficient use of trained staff, who will use their story telling skills multiple times during one day, instead of a few times a week.

Zapata also believes that libraries need to provide books to children to promote reading for pleasure. Because Zapata wrote the article with a global perspective, she suggests the "Artisan production of reading materials which rescue and give new value to the oral traditions and values of indigenous cultures". She is considering the places where the libraries' users are ethnic groups, some with no official language, but it is equally appropriate in any place. Making books for children, with children and by children gains their interest makes them realise the purpose of books. They end up with a product they feel ownership of and interests them which motivates them to read. Making books is a large part of the Peers Literacy intervention. It was also a large part of the reading policy of my eldest child's' school in Bristol over 20 years ago.

In the conclusion of the paper, Zapata stresses that public libraries are a "Vindication of Democracy" because it is in a library than anyone from any social background can find anything that interests them. If that is true of a static library, then it is also true for a mobile library that can go into the communities to allow any child a democratic choice.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Words on Wheels

Today I visited Paul Phillips and WOW (Words on Wheels). Paul is a development librarian at Birmingham City and WOW is his mobile library. The whole show is just him, no library manager, no library assistant, just him going around the schools and playgroups of Birmingham, telling stories, reading stories and encouraging parents to read with their children. He also cleans and maintains the vehicle and obviously drives it as well. The idea of a non-issuing mobile library vehicle was conceived around 20 years ago, and the resulting vehicle went into service about three years later, so it is around 17 years old. the livery is hand painted, designed by a previous Birmingham Artist in residence, and painted by an artist that worked in the coach builders, sadly now closed. Paul himself takes care of maintaining the artwork.

It originally did not have a special title, Paul chose the title Words on Wheels to convey what it was about without mentioning the word "Library". The vehicle was based in the Mobile library depot but the librarian in charge of it was officed in Birmingham central library, at some distance from the vehicle. As she was not qualified to drive the van, each time is was due to go out somewhere she had to organise and agency driver. This did not help the reliability of the service because agency drivers did not look after the vehicle and were not always available to fulfil a booking. It was funded through Urban Aid funding, and had gathered such a poor reputation that when funding had ran out the service was shelved. The vehicle stayed in the council depot for a year or so, until Paul got the post of development librarian and managed to achieve a years funding. It has been going ever since.

The success of the project is due to Paul's efforts, winning various Mobile Library prizes, nationally and internationally, linking with disadvantaged groups, networking and achieving an income for Birmingham city. Schools, pre-school facilities, nurseries, book him in advance and although he is busy each day, does not return to the same venue for many months, perhaps a year. Paul considers that Children's mobile libraries are a tool for delivering literacy, and he is convinced that he does that, but feels he does not have the evidence to prove it, although he has had letters of praise from the children that have experienced his visits. His criterion for measuring success is being asked back.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

This is more comment on "The Social Impact of Public Libraries; a literature review" continued.

This is further comment on "The Social Impact of Public Libraries; a literature review" by Evelyn Kerslake and Margaret Kinnel.

They refer to Tawete (1995) who says that the need to increase literacy and other skills was a primary reason for the establishment of UK public libraries and continues to be one of the main reasons public libraries are established in developing countries. Zapata(1994) suggests that public libraries address illiteracy by preventing future illiteracy among adults by "developing a reading culture amongst today's children" and by reducing illiteracy among adults who never learned to read. The prevention of illiteracy is the point that I am considering. Do Children's mobile libraries help prevent illiteracy. Is this a better phrase that Promote literacy?

For some children, as the teacher I spoke to said, a library is the only place where they may find a book. Kerslake and Kinnel say public libraries are "...the means of making books accessible to children through display, promotion, advice and assistance. They are the one potentially constant source or supply of books...." they also state the importance of literacy to the economic growth of a country, and the early sharing of books with children that provides children with the impetus to carry on reading. Today we have Bookstart and Surestart trying to do that task. They also mention Cynon Valley Borough library's "Readabout" Bookbus that worked with playgroups and schools, delivered books and did storytimes and craft activities. They also mention summer activities linked with mobile libraries that go into rural areas, just for the summer holidays, specially in Norfolk. One called the Village Green Storytime project, and the other the Great Western Booktrail.

More of the social impact of public libraries

This is more comment on "The Social Impact of Public Libraries; a literature review" by Evelyn Kerslake and Margaret Kinnel.

Public Libraries were historically concerned with the improvement of the lower social orders, to "control and civilise them," and to liberate the "working and middle classes with self instructing literature". Later, the ideal of enabling the individual as a good citizen was included into library work, and in the 20th Century this idea prompted Children's services in libraries. Later in the decade, in the 1970's, the community became important, with the library becoming a hub for community knowledge, and community Librarians, trying to direct library services to people who are not currently using them. Libraries then historically have the purpose of making a social impact, of effecting the people in their community.

This people focused, soft approach is very difficult to capture, count and analyse. How can you measure the success a library user getting a better job, or a child loving books? It is difficult to justify that to the accountants. Because of this libraries have stuck to the safe way of justifying their spending of public money, quantitative evaluation. The educational and cultural aspect of Public libraries are however, vital supports when there are changes in society such as : long term employment, flexible labour, unskilled labour forces, increase of older people, migrant workers.

Libraries have an impact on
  • the community in which it operates
  • the impact of skills
  • and an economic impact.

I am interested in the first of these categories, to see what the effect of a library going out to the people has on the community, even though it is targeted at children.

Kerslake and Kinnel state that "There are two particularly significant yet marginalised groups in UK society for whom the public library makes provision where other institutions do not: children from all ethnic groups and people with disabilities". There is a study from the US of librarians going out to homeless shelters to provide activities to encourage literacy, and storytelling to develop social skills and confidence.

Friday, 6 March 2009

One less job to do

I met with a head teacher today, to talk through the idea of getting some teachers together who's schools were visited by the Reading Rocket. I wanted to know;

a) If there was any noticeable increase in literate behaviour by the children who came on board the Reading Rocket.

b) Is there any measurable data about the children's literacy that I can use.

c) What did the class/school/individuals, gain from the Reading Rocket visits.

d) Did she think I could get a focus group together to discuss the noticeable effects of the loss of the Reading Rocket.

Her comments on a) was that at this stage, a year on, it is difficult to judge such things, it is too much in retrospect. She suggested that the literate behaviour could be judged on a functioning children's mobile library, by taking a group of children aside and talking to them about books
(eg, how to handle a book, turn the pages, which way up it goes) at the start of the study, and then again at the end of the school year.

In her opinion, the measurable data (b)), would not show up any increase in literacy. Her school in particular have low reading ages, and there was no apparent increase in the general figures during the time of the Reading Rocket.

On the other hand, in answer to c) the children gained a great deal by the children's mobile library visits. Having a large selection of books from which they could make their own choices, without parental interference, was good. The high quality of the condition of the books was very important. Even the books that belonged to school were tattier. A clean, well looked after book is so much nicer to touch. Many of the households where their children originated would not have had a selection of books, if any at all. Many of the children would not have been taken to libraries so not only did they have the benefit of the stock, they also were developing borrowing skills, which would stand them in good stead for life in the future.

As for d), she did not think that a focus group could usefully contribute at this time, because it is so long since the cessation of the service.

So, that is one less job to do.

Perhaps it is not the children/s mobile library itself that increases literacy, but it is another tool to use in the promotion of literacy.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

the social impact of public libraries

I have found a paper that gives a very good background argument to my research. "The Social Impact of Public Libraries; a Literature review" by Evelyn Kerslake and Margaret Kinnel of the Department of Information And Library studies, Loughborough University, 1997. They analyse the literature that considers social effects of public libraries in a qualitative way. They start by explaining that "...the History of Public Libraries all over the world is packed with examples of their social importance; as developers of adult and childhood literacy... " this statement confirms the validity of my wanting to understand the literacy effect of Children's mobile libraries. They are simply public libraries that go out to people, instead of people going out to them. As a public library they have a responsibility to develop literacy. I need to examine the way that they do this and weigh up the effect against the cost.

They also state that "it does not follow that everybody uses public libraries." This statement gives weight to the argument that mobile libraries need to go into the community, because for many reasons it is the only way that some people would access a library. This needs to be a question that I ask in my research. I need to look again at geographical barriers to information flows, and the document that supports it. The biggest justification for my methodology is their consideration that the quantitative research that is done by public libraries, for instance counting book lending figures and visitor numbers, has been carried out "at the expense of any focus on theoretical work (Usherwood, 1989,p138), which among other things, would examine and develop the contemporary rational and meaning of the public libraries." Therefore, if the rational of a children's mobile library is to promote literacy and the love of books, then that cannot be counted by the footfall, the number of people entering the library, or the number of books that they borrow, because they could come in for a chat, to see other people, because they are with a friend, and the book they may borrow may not be challenging their literacy skills, or may be borrowed and never read. Of course there is an argument that even having books at home, or just flicking through the pages is the start of a literacy process. Taking out a book is not a measure of someones literacy, taking out a series of books over time can be, because you can measure the difference in complexity of books borrowed, have they become more advance in vocabulary and content? Should I do some sort of long term thing like that?

They state that the Dept National Heritage, now Dept culture Media and Sport, now something else, concur with the sentiment and emphasise the significance of public library services to children and those improving their literacy skills. They believe that "social impact is often undervalued or overlooked in assessments of the public library". They reason that the complexity of doing that sort of research is why it is not done.

Monday, 16 February 2009


Today I was at a course on Qualitative Analysis, just for me to confirm that I really understand all the things I have read. While I was there I was having thoughts of how my methodology has changed from the initial thoughts, and realised that it important to write all this down to log my reasoning. The Question "Are Children's Mobile Libraries expensive toys or investments for the future?" could very well be answered simply by using government statistics, Ofsted figures for reading and literacy, library target figures and library visitor figures matched against local government expenditure on libraries, specifically the running costs of a mobile library. This sort of Quantitative research would give an answer, but not explain the reasons behind the answer. It would not show that at one particular stop, where only ten children come aboard, that the mobile library is visiting a special school and that it is the only place where those children can access appropriate books, for instance. It would not be able to tell simply by the school figures in a specific area that there are certain pockets of disadvantage in that area, certain families that have a poor literacy background and their children are benefiting by the actions of library staff and access to books and ingformation. The point is that the children's mobile library has the opportunity to access people who otherwise would not be able to have the chance to become self learners, would not thave the chance to develop their literacy skills.

This in turn leads to lower self esteem lower achievement and a less informed workforce. It becomes difficult and costly to improve these people's literacy as they become adult, is it more efficient to use the money when they are children? My aim is to asses the social and economical value of children's mobile libraries. In fact is there an impact on the literacy of parents and other family members when children borrow books? The answer to these sorts of questions can be better found by Qualitative research. There are still a variety of ways that I could choose to do this, and I have not completely made up my mind yet. I am certain that I will be a participative observer, visiting, watching and experiencing children's mobile libraries at first hand. I think I will use ethnographic methods to do that part of the research joining in storytelling and informally talking to the children. I need to find which mobile libraries will give me the best opportunity to do that so the type of sampling I use is important. I first thought that random sampling would be the fairest way. This was when I guessed that I would have a large sampling frame, say fifty or more children's mobile libraries operating in Britain. As I have discovered a much smaller number, and uncovered some of the stories of these mobile libraries I realise that each seems to have a certain uniqueness, and some stand out for various reasons. To get a well rounded sample across the range of types of Children's mobile library, then I must use purposive sampling, choosing the best ones to provide an answer.

I am not only sampling the Mobile library, however. I need to learn more about the subject. There is little literature, so I need to talk to people who know about working on children's mobile libraries, and people who have had the experience of monitoring children's literacy before, after and during the experience of regular visits to children's mobile libraries. These people will be chosen by theoretical sampling, because the will provide theoretical insights. I will use these key people to them lead me on to other people who I can interview or form into a focus group (to investigate the Reading Rocket phenomenon, teachers and nursery staff), or to gain access to mobile libraries (Mobile library staff). Could this then be Snowball sampling. I feel that an insider approach will get better, more sympathetic results that If I "Cold Called" mobile libraries.

I need to be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of these methods, including my own previous experience, the experiences of the staff, the children, and any bias that could creep into the study. It could all become very subjective. I must remember to write up the experience I had of working on a children's mobile library, the experience I have had of teaching children to read and the part the experiences have to play in the research. This is Reflexivity. I need to write some advantae and disadvantage lists. Perhaps it is too early to make methodological decisions, but noot to early to have the disussions with myself. this bit of refelxivity is probalbly a bit botring for anyone following this blog, I apologise, but I need to record my thought processes, because I will forget them by my third year and wonder why I chose to do things in the way I will have done. (There are a lot of tenses in that sentence).

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Emerging stories

I have been searching newspaper and magazine archives and come up with some interesting stories involving various Children's Mobile's. the Leicester book bus was apparently almost scrapped in 2000, when the city council wanted to save money by closing some community libraries, and introducing a generic mobile library instead. Library patrons of the various communities, and the book bus, all protested strongly, so the service not only continued, but has recently been given two new replacement vehicles.

It has historically visited City festivals of varying nature, a model railway exhibition giving storytelling sessions with a railway theme, and launched, promoted and delivered parents guides to children's education on behalf of the City council. It attended a new school opening and carnivals. In Pembrokeshire during 2001, a book bus toured schools to find out what sort of books children wanted in local libraries. I do not know what happened to the service after. Going back in time, around mid to late 1990's Scotland had a special bus (Photo above, from Scottish Libraries) that appears to have visited a number of Scottish cities. It is reported to have done a special dyslexia tour but I have not yet found out what has happened to it. In 1992 Anne Sarrag took a her own book bus to Edinburgh, one that she apparently bought and ran privately. The picture that is developing is children's mobile libraries come and go as funding expands and diminishes. This is what I want to invesitigate.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Any Ausies out there?

I have just been searching for evidence of Children's Mobile Libraries in Australia. I have found a survey of all of Australia's mobile libraries that was done in 1998, but it is not clear whether any of the libraries were specifically for children, although it does say that half of them had provision for children. If there is anyone who knows about Australian Mobile Libraries please post a comment.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The enthusiasm for learning new things

I have just had two days of intensive workshops about different, some obscure, types of research methodologies. I find this so inspiring, that i am dying to use some of them in my research, Which of course means that I may get enthusiastic about something that is quite inappropriate. I love the visual image that is produced by Social Network Analysis, and could just stick it in the thesis to show the links between different authority vehicles, or the links children have significant reading experiences, or the number of books they read, or the number of libraries they visit, but will that show their literacy? similarly, the repertory Grid method is a lovely one to do, so simple and so objective, but will it give me the answer to my research Question? Can it prove literacy? Grounded theory seems to be much more appropriate, ethnographic methods can be applied, observing what happens on Children's mobile libraries, or I should say observing the intereaction of the actors in the situation of a Children's mobile library. Qualitiative research is definately the style needed to explain what goes on and how to answer the question. On the other hand, discourse analysis is just "Reading between the lines" and is just too hippy for even me. That is not to say that I will not take any notice of what children say when I talk to them. Well, it's linchtime now, and I will inwardly digest the ideas while masticating my food.

Two more meetings

I have had two more meetings with librarians involved in the running of a mobile library, with the outcome of needing to arrange two more meetings with other interesting people. At least its not exponential. I have found out the full specification of a vehicle, I have discovered a different reason for running a Children's Mobile Library, and found out the management point of view including their excitement at starting a new venture. It would be good to compare the information I have just got with the information from Ian Stringer. It appears to me at this time that there are different models for the use, running and political need for Children's mobile libraries and not all authorities have literacy as their main aim.

Monday, 19 January 2009

Mobile Meeting at Meadowhall

You can tell when people are used to working in a mobile library. They do not confine meeting spaces to offices, or buildings, even. I have just had a meeting on a bench in the middle of Meadowhall Shopping centre, (Sheffield) with the worlds authority on Mobile Libraries. Well, he appears to be that, he is the most passionate advocate for mobile libraries that I have met (apart from me) and he sits on National and international professional bodies representing the mobile library of Britain and the world.

When I arranged the meeting I did not realise that he had worked on, and driven, a Children's mobile library himself. In 1986 his library authority (Kirklees) needed to save costs, so decided instead of having a children's librarian in each of their libraries they would have a team of six to circulate the libraries. The team of six chose to design a mobile library in which to do their circulation. They asked a coach builder what was the largest size vehicle they could build on a suitable chassy for only 7.5 tons and when the dimensions were established they chalked out an area on the playground of the the old school in which they had their offices. The weight of the vehicle at the time meant that it could be driven by anyone with a car licence. Although a qualified librarian, Ian drove it. they basically built a life size cardboard model to sort out when and where everything should go. The vehicle was to be multi functional.

It had to earn its keep by doing bread and butter work as a delivery van, taking books to schools and branch libraries. This saved the cost of an internal mail delivery van. It also delivered displays to schools and Branch libraries, which was a popular move because it brought new stock with it which increased book issues. The team developed learning packages for use in schools, and provided schools with books and other artifacts they needed for their current projects. It was used as a base for events which meant that some static branches that were very small could hold story sessions and holiday events, the vehicle parking outside the library as it's temporary extension. It was time efficient becasue the mobile library could be decorated and set up once then used in multiple locations. It was used to give library lessons in schools. The schools liked this because the children did not need to leave the school premises (Van parked in School playground) and all the regulations for out of school visits, such as one adult to every two, or five children, and various risk assesments were not needed. Yet the children had an experience of a visit, of visiting a library.

The Children's Mobile library staff noticed that the children that benefited from these visits the most were the slow learners and those who normally were inattentive in a classroom. Put into an out of classroom situation they became engaged. It was a story telling vehicle, a trick to gain attention of the more unruly element was to sit the children down facing the front of the vehicle, then deliver the story from the back, the children having to swivel around, making the back row suddenly the front row, and they could not escape the attention of the story teller. It was designed to be a venue for puppet shows, which happened in each half term holiday. It was a venue for Author visits. this was also seen to be a money saving device. As the Route of the children's mobile library was around schools in Pennine villages, It would have been impossible for each school to afford to have an author visit just them. The library was able to book an author, then take him/her to the venues, incurring only one set of charges from the publisher.

The vehicle was a promotional device for the library and museum service, attending events. It was also a corporate, local authority promotional presence representing the local authority in the Lord Mayor's parade, giving out authority leaflets and even taking a batch of tourist information leaflets to their twinned town in Germany because it was cheaper than posting them. It was all because of "Last of the Summer Wine", I am not sure if it was being screened in Germany, or some episode was shot in Germany. Kirklees council is the local authority for Holmfirth, where Last of the Summer Wine is filmed. So, Ian's children's mobile library was involved in a civic reception and was visited by the state governor. It's other claim to fame was as a mobile work of art.

To get around copyright issues a Mural artist was hired and given an arts council grant to paint the van (using proper vehicle paint, of course). The fleet manager was a little concerned about touching up any scratches that the vehicle got, but the artist reassured him by saying that she has saved the paints in her garage, and could come and touch up the paintwork at little cost whenever they needed. The fleet manager than had thoughts of decorated bin vans. Anyway, because the mobile library was a unique piece of art, it was displayed at Harrogate Art Gallery. It was so versatile, that in the evenings it became a mobile meeting room for consultations between parents and local authority elected members. Still set up for school visits, parents and members could see what was going on, and where the money went, as well as having an independent place to meet. The design of the vehicle was crucial.

Ian emphasised that a tail lift at the the back of the vehicle was more functional than a door at the side. There was more access at the back and it was ideal for special schools with children in wheel chairs and poor mobility. Ian encouraged some of those children to "Drive" the lift. He devised a board game to be played with a large die that a child with very little movement could drop and play along with the others. visiting the children's mobile in that way increased their self esteem. Blackout facilities were needed then to be able to use a projector. A screen at the back showed slides or films, and was sometimes used as a backdrop to the them of the time. A stable door became a prop for the puppeteer when trying to attract a crowd to enter the vehicle.

With a crowd of children on board, a safetygate was needed at the top of the stairs, and at the entrance to the staff counter. It had lots of cupboard space for storage and large windows so that people could see what was going on inside and be attracted to it, and staff could keep an eye on what was happening out side, and avoid incidents of tailgate surfing, or other anti-social happenings. Onboard power was supplied by a converter, but supplimented by an extension lead to get mains power from schools. This helped the life of the batteries. Heating was by way of a diesil heater. Ian recommends two, one each side, which is more economical that one large one. Opening roof lights are important for light and air. the lighting in the van should be of varying types to provide atmosphere. Power steering and air brakes are essential. As is a Staff toilet. Emptying it could be an issue, and the right emptying facilities should be provided at base.

A sink and hot water is a must, not just for staff, but to enable painting and messy activites to go on inside. Because of the windows and massive storage space the Kirklees Children's mobile could only cary 1000 books at the time which is at least half the normal load. Mecahanically mined boys liked to see into the engine and find out what a "Turbo" looked like. the on boerd badge machine was an attraction at events, and a means of promoting the library. The eyecatching livery (the mural) decpited generic story events, and a lot of local scenery. The vehicle was called "Lili", because if the key number was 1717, which spells LILI upsidedown. It was not perfect, however, and after working on something for a long time, you can always find improvements. Ian considers that the large heater was inefficient and air-conditioning would have been wonderful. A three axel chassis is too heavy, and even more storage space would have been better. a reversing camera is a must these days, but the step should be manual becasue it would work whatever the weather. a mirror placed to check if the step is out while driving, or a warning beeper, would have been of benefit. A screened staff area would mean that one member of staff could take a break while the other serves would give double shift lunchtimes. Remember this vehicle was operating in 1986. Now other items would be available.

The Reading Rocket had a mobile phone, a microwave, a printer and mobile computing facilities. Ian would add a Solar panel (Bradford libraries have one), a scanner and a satellite. A sattelite is expensive to install, and it depends what package you get, ie which satelite you are linking to, but the coverage is good, and the ongoing costs are more reasonable. Ian was obviously proud of his vehicle when he talked to me about it. He considered that it was successful for the five years it funcioned before more cuts meant that the team was disbanded. It achieved regular visits to local brancehes and schools, taking them books. It attended gala's fairs and functions, stocking up with books relevant to the event. It was a bigh hit a special schools and at the Mosque, where there again the children did not have to go out side the environs of the establishmnet, but entered a different world on their doorstep. It was an intemediary facility. It could go into communities that could not easily go out into libraries.

It was of great value in area's of unrest, where a branch library could be vandalised, the mobile could just upsticks and go, taking the stock and staff safely home. It carried appropriate books for ethnical minority children. It was an attraction for local celebrities and took its wares to sports grounds (the local rugby stadium) theis was reaching out to the non reading audience. that idea could be a link to the Literacy trust scheme for footballers encouraging reading. It appeared at the kite festival, and canal festival, where it liaised with a narrowboat. they hired one (or acquired one) that went up and down the canal with a story session. Ian not only was enthusiastic about mobile libraries, but his inventiveness made sure that LILI was a multi funtional and versatile vehicle.

Monday, 5 January 2009

The revolutionary power of reading

On Friday I watched the latest film about Che Guevara (Che: part one, produced by Steven Soderbergh). I suspect that his role was glamorised for dramatic purposes, and it was based on his own recollections, so the feeling I got of him being a great hero, good man, reformer and someone who cared deeply for humanity and all round good egg, may have been a ploy of the film maker. However, there is a scene which shows Che in the middle of the Cuban jungle, at the end of a days march, sitting down away from the rest of the other men, reading a book. Another man comes up to him, one of the recruited peasants, and Che tells him to do his maths homework.

At the revolutionaries' camp a school is set up to teach peasants to read and write, because the revolution is not won just by the sword. the reforms that Castro and Che wanted included giving the working people of Cuba the power of knowledge, the revolutionary power of reading. if you can read, you can overthrow the establishment. This part of the film should be shown in schools all over the country.