Posted on October 29, 2012 - by MG
Today, school librarians and their supporters will stage a mass lobby in support of school libraries at the Houses of Parliament. I’d hoped to go but childcare duty calls, and the child is a bit poorly to be dragged off to That London. So instead of fresh air and rallying around in London, I’m blogging in support.
In 2010, I had the honour of being invited to present the award to the School Librarian of the Year. I blogged about SLYA 2010, but today I thought I’d quote a little from the talk I gave.
One of my favourite authors, Borges, was obsessed with libraries, and in fact worked for years as a librarian. One of his best stories, The Library Of Babel, seems now to be an eerie, almost prescient vision of the World Wide Web. The Library of Babel is a potentially infinite library, in which all knowledge is believed to reside, yet disorganized labyrinthine, web-like in its inter-connectivity and ultimately, seductively distracting: a place where people became (literally) lost for ever.
If you think that the Internet could ever replace a librarian – you need to read that story! At the centre of the story is a mythical figure – the Man of the Book – the one person who knows how to navigate the labyrinth of knowledge.
It’s a shame and terrible waste when a library is nothing more than a roomful of books with no human guide. A child presented with this might almost be in the library of Babel. If they’re lucky they wind up with the right book at the right time. Actually it takes more than luck. It takes luck and persistence.
And a love of reading shouldn’t be something that’s only given to those kids who persist. It’s not just too important for learning – let’s put that to one side. Reading should be a human right.
C.S.Lewis says in the play ‘Shadowlands’ – We read to know we’re not alone.
When we suffer, no-one else can really know what’s going on in our brains. If loneliness is the bleakest aspect of life then anything that combats it – like reading – is pretty darn paramount.
Fiction is the means by which we learn about other people, places and experiences, by which we even learn to understand ourselves. A great librarian will know all about the stories that are being told, and enough about the readers to be able to point them to the right book.
And non-fiction is our gateway to knowledge and opportunity. I love a great fiction section but nothing impresses me quite so much as a good solid reference section; encylopedias, recent journals, accessible non-fiction with plenty of pictures.
I’m reminded of the words wrapped around the great dome inside the Central Library of Manchester:
Never forget that librarians are engaged in nothing less than an amazing task: the getting of wisdom.
School librarians are essential. It’s pretty simple, really.