Friday, 30 January 2015

Libraries that get children excited

One of my five theories from my PhD research was that children's mobile libraries "worked" because the anticipation of them arriving and then disappearing made children excited. I noticed many times, all over the UK, that the children who came onto the vehicles were happy, smiling, looking pleased and excited. There were two or three children, I think, that were more cautious and shy and showing that they did not really want to be there, but that was out of about 700 children that I observed. There was even one pre-school child that came on with her mother, before any other children had come on to the vehicle, that was running up and down the vehicle with the simple glee of being surrounded by books. She want to borrow far too many. Her mother said, when apologising for the daughter's behaviour, that she was always excited on the day that the CML visited because she liked it so much. Here are examples of two other vehicles where the excitement happens:

My theory, which I may have mentioned before, is that when something is ephemeral, and comes and goes away, but you know that it will return again, makes humans interested, It is not always there, so you don't get used to it and you think you will go, but not get around to it. If it visits just briefly, then you are much more likely to go because you can only catch it then. It is a bit like a travelling show, or an ice cream van, or a fish and chip van (yes we have them in the UK). You must get there before it disappears.

The next time that you know it is due, you anticipate the pleasant experience that you had last time (assuming of course that you did). Your brain then starts to produce adrenaline, which makes you excited (a bit like going on a fairground ride). This works positively for learning, because the adrenaline makes your brain more alter and receptive to what is going on all around you, and if what is going on all around you is books and words and stories, then more of it is going to sink in and stick.

This is why the children in the Goddard School South Brunswick didn't want to wait to put their jackets on before running out to the bookmobile.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Random Updates and Reminiscences

One of the small irritating problems that we encountered on the Reading Rocket (a children's mobile library) was accessing Derby City Libraries' library management system live from our lap-top. Mobile technology was still developing at the time, and although some authorities were using satellites dishes on top of their mobile libraries, our technicians considered that the expense of satellite dishes, their deployment time and reliability was not as effective as using an internet dongle. This meant that we could access the Derby City Libraries system and the internet over a mobile phone signal. This was great, most of the time, but there places in Derby that received poor signals and on occasions the driver of the Reading Rocket would have to move the vehicle a few feet up or down a street before we got good reception. It seemed particularly bad in places where we were near mobile masts, like if we we just too close.

It is quite remarkable, then to read this story of a mobile library in 1980s Colorado which not only could be the very first mobile library with an on-line computer, but perhaps also a very early example of WiFi. The signals between the Mobile Library modem and the library mainframe computer were by radio, meaning that library had to have its own frequency. More of the story can be found at:

It is really quite common for children's mobile libraries to be illustrated with pictures from well known book authors. The Reading Rocket was covered with illustrations from Nick Sharrat's book Rocket Countdown (Walker Books) This was all perfectly legal, we got help and permission from Walkers Books and Nick Sharrat himself came to officially launch the "Rocket" and I still have my signed copy of Rocket Countdown which Nick said he signed with Jacqueline Wilson's pen. During my field work I found examples of work by:

Chris Riddel (Manchester's Reading Voyager)
  Mick Inkpen's Kipper from West Sussex

and Little Rabbit Foo Foo by Arthur Robins in Stockport.

The attractiveness of a familiar picture or artistic style appears to draw attention to the vehicles, and perhaps gives some sort of clue as to the content, not ice creams or hot dogs! I have found this other example of the tradition going on in the Caribbean island of St Martin where a local author has allowed her character "Lizzie the Lizard"to be put on a mobile library that visits schools on the island. 

And here are some pictures of the Reading Rocket:

Friday, 16 January 2015

Getting involved in something new

On Tuesday I went to Waterstones in Derby, actually a place that I usually try to avoid because it is the seat of my addictions: Books, Ordnance Maps, that sort of thing. I find it very hard to leave any bookshop without buying something. However, this time I was there for a different reason, Derby is getting around to having a book festival and it was the launch of the advertising for the festival and general announcement that it is going to happen. Here is a link to the website:

Which is a bit sparse at the moment, but I am sure it will fill up with information as things are finalised. There are pictures of the event on twitter (@DerbyBookFest) and there is a Facebook page. I have managed to get myself involved with it's organisation because I think that Derby needs a good cultural event, and anything that may promote books and reading is fine by me.

There will be many events over Derby between 1st and 7 of June, some of them directly organised by the festival team and others by local cultural organisations and businesses. The idea appears to have snowballed to a great extent with local theatres scheduling book themed performances. The headline act is Michael Morpurgo who will be closing the festival with his band, and several well known teen authors, for example Bali Rai, are going to go around schools in Derby. There are projects and competitions as well as author talks, and hopefully something for everyone. And it didn't leave without buying a book, I got "All Men are Liars" by Alberto Manguel, it was rude not to...

Friday, 9 January 2015

The Book Trade

When I agreed to teach a 12 week module on the Book Trade for undergraduates at 10 days notice, I really did not think that it would be as much work, so tiring and as rewarding as it turned out to be. Now the marking is done and the module over I can relax and mull over the pro's and cons of the experience. I have to admit to a certain amount of bravado when it comes to teaching, I have been teaching for something like 30 years, in some way or another. I worked in Adult Education for ages, then did a PGCE to teach Design and Technology, did loads of supply teaching, when you have to walk into a classroom and instantly start teaching a lesson that someone else had prepared, sometimes in subjects where you just don't have a clue. Gujarati was a challenge, and I have also previously co-taught graduates and done one off lectures. So I thought that a pre-planned 12 week series of 2hr lectures would be a breeze.

The first problem was IT access, the university IT people were very methodical with the way that they give out access rights and email addressed to "new" staff. I put new in inverted commas because I was not entirely new, I have worked as a university teacher there before but has a minor break of 2 years when I defected to another university. This meant that I couldn't get onto the VLE for the first 5 weeks of the 12 week module. The second problem was getting inside the head of the previous teacher and trying to convey the meaning of the presentations that had been planned. This, combined with the lack of IT access, did lead to some tricky situations, such as not knowing how a certain bibliographic database featured in one lecture actually worked, because I couldn't log on to the system to find out. 

I was also told that I couldn't use the planned assignments because this group of third year students had done them in their first year, so I hastily invented some with no idea of how feasible they were and whether the students would be able to find out enough information for what I asked (The assignments were approved by the programme manager, so they could not have been too outlandish). After 2 years of sitting at a desk playing with a computer every day I had forgotten how exhausting it was to stand up and talk at people for two hours (Actually, although I more or less stood up and walked around for two hours, I did plan the sessions for student interaction, discussion and activities, so although I am capable of talking for Wales at any Olympic Talking event). 

The benefits, however, overcame the problems. The students were great, polite, keen and receptive. I was really pleased to see the number of them that attended specially arranged talks with their subject librarian, a visiting lecturer and a field trip to the local Waterstones where the manger talked to them about being part of the book trade. I also learnt a more about the book trade than I had when doing a similar module for my Masters at Aberystwyth. Teaching a subject is a brilliant way of learning because not only do have to absorb the information, you have to understand it to a level when you can explain it to someone else. I had to update my background reading and find current statistics. I really would have like a longer time to do that and to put the module together.

As the semester this academic year was longer than the previous year I also had to write a few new lectures, but I found them much easier to deliver. In fact I did pepper the pre-written lectures with my specialist knowledge. The proof of the pudding is in the eating so I was very pleased when the students did their presentations (an "on-line encyclopaedia" article about an aspect of the book trade) and when I read their written assignments (pretend you are giving an annual report to the board or shareholders of a Bookseller). They had not only taken in much of what I had told them in the lectures but they  had also found out a lot of information independently, despite my fears there was sufficient information out there for them to find, and some of them wrote very convincing annual reports (I did check that they had not just filched them from the internet).

I found out a huge amount of information about booksellers such as Waterstones, WHSmiths, Amazon and Barnes and Nobel just from reading their reports. Repetition is a good learning tool! I like lecturing, but I far prefer to plan well in advance. I just hope that the students liked it too.