Friday, 11 May 2012

And now dear readers, it is time to reveal all!

I should have mentioned, on the 4th of April, that I did become a Doctor! The Thesis was duly defended and passed, subject to corrections which are not too many or too difficult. It is now time for me to tell the world about what I found. I will do this by breaking down the findings into small, post sized pieces and when I have done all those, I will do case studies of each vehicle that I observed, anonymised of course. This task should keep me occupied for a while!

Today's contribution is about the thing that is special about children's mobile libraries (CML). I defined a children's mobile library as a vehicle that provides all the services of a static children's library, but I felt that as I was specifically investigating mobile, not static children's libraries, I needed to find the element that made them special. Otherwise I could just have observed any children's library. I admit that what I discovered was blindingly obvious, children's mobile libraries work because they are mobile, they come and go away again.

This transience has a number of effects. It makes children and their parents or carers excited about visiting the vehicle. The excitement that children feel stimulates their brains into the right sort of state to absorb information therefore they learn better. The coming and going ensures that customers "Catch" the vehicle, they know when and where it is coming, so they make the effort to go, unlike a library that is always there, so you could choose to go whenever you want to but end up not going. I had not done very many observations when I noticed that one phrase was repeatedly told to me by many people. They liked the CML because it was "Different".

It was different because it was "Like a trip out", because the books were different, because the stories were different, told by a different person in a different way. The idea of this different thing that turned up out of the blue every fortnight, or three weeks, or month captures the imagination, and the anticipation of the event makes people, especially children, excited. Now, as an ex-teacher, I know that half your battle in controlling a class is stopping them from getting too excited, but it turns out that to learn well, you have to have certain amount of adrenaline and nor-adrenaline flushing around your brain. This wakes up the brain, relaxes it but also makes it alert, just what you want when trying to get the little dears to learn something. So, if you have all these children coming onto a vehicle stacked with everything to do with literacy (books, videos, stories, computers, pictures, words), their brains are picking up all the clues they need to piece together the jig-saw of reading ability.

But what happens if the brains are constantly stimulated? There is no time for feedback, for reflection, for setting down the experiences into memory, so you need a time of calm.This happens when the CMLs go away, and life returns to boring reality of the classroom, or nursery, or home and dinner. That sort of time lets children sort out and make sense of the things that they have just seen and heard. Remembering the story, for instance, or recalling a picture in a book, or thinking about the book they want to borrow next time or the enjoyment of the one that they have in their hand, just borrowed.  I have a diagram to explain all this, which I will put in here.
"Build up" is what happens when customers are expecting the vehicle, "Occurrence" is what happens inside the vehicle and "Release" is the moment of calm and thought after the vehicle has left.

There is also a theory by someone called Carmelli, that travelling shows, which seem to appear overnight and disappear just as quickly, attract people because people feel that they have a brief moment to experience a small part of something eternal, that keeps circling around forever. Mobile services certainly seem to attract the human mind, just think of ice-cream vans, and what a treat it is to have one in your street. It takes a mean parent to refuse a child an ice-cream when the van comes into your road, even if it is nearly lunch-time. Children's mobile libraries feed off this sort of attraction.

If you want to follow up Carmelli's work the reference is "Carmelli, Y.S. 1987 Why does Jimmy Brown's Circus Travel?: A semiotic approach to the analysis of circus ecology. Poetics Today, 8(2). 219-244". There are many books available on education and the brain.