So after one of the most turbulent summer terms at school, rounding up the year in the library and preparing to transition to a new school, I have finally completed my survey for my Master’s dissertation.
Fellow librarians, I need your help by taking and sharing this short survey for my Master’s research. I am looking at the connection between culture, information behaviour and primary school libraries and how we can better help our students be able users, seekers and creators of information. It should take around 15 mins to complete. Thanks in advance!
Historically, Children’s library collections have been focused on edification and education. The emergence of children’s literature and young adult literature as separate genres to adult fiction has been highlighted over the past century. The market for literature targeted specifically at children has grown exponentially over the last century to include fiction and non fiction, with a focus on developmental phases notably in the creation of the picture book, and other interactive texts. This demonstrates a reflexive relationship between pedagogy, society and the publishing industry that libraries engage with when creating and updating collections. The selection of texts for children in both school and public libraries has undergone several iterations of policy development, from a purely educational perspective to enjoyment of reading, banning of comics and penny-dreadfuls (which has waxed and waned over time) to the current ‘let them read what they want as long as they’re reading’ approach which is gaining momentum in library circles.
The debate over the withdrawal of books that no longer meet societal standards also influences the development of the children’s library. Many of the discussion around withdrawing books such as Dr Seuss’ “If I ran the zoo” and Lynne Reid Bank’s “Indian in the Cupboard” from libraries seems to centre around ensuring children are exposed only to the ‘right sort of books’ versus understanding the past and why such images, depictions and language are no longer acceptable. The argument being made for the former is that having such books openly available to children with no context to help parents discuss them, as they lack training in this area, is propagating harmful ideologies. Libraries and librarians could be ideally placed to support this kind of discussion, however, the decline in trained librarians with experience in pedagogy employed in the public library system in the UK makes this idea very difficult. It is far simpler to pull the book from circulation and have it destroyed, therefore eliminating part of a history that perhaps should be recorded and examined. Interestingly, the Lynn Public Library in the USA, specific Children’s Library Collection Policy states: “Responsibility for children’s reading/viewing rest with the parents or legal guardians. Parents or legal guardians are the only ones who may restrict their children, and only their children, from access to library materials. Minors have free access to library materials in all departments. The library staff does not serve in loco parentis (in the place of a parent).” In addition to this, the policy also clearly states that the library does not approve, endorse or disapprove of content in controversial materials purchased by the library under their guidelines in that the material is of interest, not prohibited by law, published by a reputable publisher and widely available in bookstores. The freedom of the individual’s right to access all information is put foremost as is the parental rights and responsibilities for monitoring what their children read. This position is also part of the Buckinghamshire and Southwark Council Libraries’ policies here in the UK as well, whcih may be indiciative of public libraries in the UK as a whole. How this approach may change over time will be interesting to monitor.
IFLA’s guidelines on how to develop a collection for children emphasise the importance the collection reflecting the community it serves. It also states the significant role of collaboration with patrons in developing the collection. There is always a point of tension in library budgets between provision of digital resources (including devices, wifi etc), creating a balance of materials in terms of topics, perspectives, fiction and non fiction, and the requests of patrons for the latests book by a particular author. IFLA emphasises the need for children’s collections to be ‘in all local languages… created by local authors and illustrators…[and] support local school needs’ (IFLA, 2018 p10). A balanced approach to inclusiveness and diversity represented in the materials is also highlighted, where there is a expectation that equal representation is given to all groups and perspectives. A recent diversity in children’s books report showed that only 22% of books published in the UK and aimed at children have explicitly non-white main characters, it is even less for LGBTQ+ characters. One criticism is that to make storylines about diversity more “publishable” the illustrations feature animals or creatures rather than human beings of different ethnicities or religious groups. In order to redress this balance in representation in children’s collections, purchasing will need to be highly targeted in the coming years. One way libraries can meet this need is to utilise social media to keep up with new publications and diverse authors and illustrators – particularly local ones. The wider challenge of provisioning for specific communities and their needs, or transitory communities, is not explicitly addressed in the IFLA guidelines, but rather the word ‘should’ is use with a inference that libraries need to be flexible and sensitive to the communities they serve.
IFLA also emphasises the need to provide physical and digital resources, potentially by partnering with specialised libraries for those with specific accessibility needs such as large print and braille books, and ensuring that their digital content is also accessible. They also state that computers and wifi should be provided in the children’s section equally to the provision for the adult section. This does raise questions about the design of space and number of books and physical materials. In my previous post, I discussed the development of the children’s library space, in particular spaces for young children for play and interaction. How this is balanced in the UK where there is a finite space for public buildings and where school libraries often exist in corridors (Great School Libraries, 2019) again is a challenge for libraries and local authorities, and one that is not easily solved. Addressing space through digitisation is one option, but one that leaves the digitally disadvantaged communities that need library services the most, behind.
As always, budgets, training and engagement seem to be the most influential factors in libraries. Children’s collections and their development are no exception to this rule.
The advent of the Children’s library space in the United Kingdom at the end of the 19th century/beginning of the 20th century, marked a shift in attitudes towards children and childhood. The Children’s Act (1908) further consolidated the status of the child and childhood, enshrining rights for children in law. The library provision for children also began to evolve starting out as a separate space resembling a school room, to keep noisy children apart from the quiet adults, to a more homely cosy space in which a range of activities could be accommodated. This latter vision, promoted by key library figures such as John Ballinger and Berwick Sayers, had a Montessori style approach where the environment was ‘prepared’ – set up in such a way to promote engagement, not just compliance and quiet (Sayers, 1911). In his later work, ‘Manual of Children’s Libraries’, Sayers (1931) encouraged the use of flexible furniture arrangement so that children could engage in games and performances as well as reading and studying. Sayers promoted the idea that children’s sections of the library should be comfortable safe havens, a trend which has seen a resurgence in recent times.
The Sayer’s model, implemented in the Croydon Public Library where he was Chief Librarian, was by no means universal across Britain. It seems that many more libraries in the United States were taking a similar approach which inspired many members of the British library community to make changes to children’s library provision. The architectural landscape o libraries began to change again in the 1960s as more open plan designs for municipal buildings gained popularity and a free movement approach to library design emerged. Inspired by the Reggio Emilia movement, where the place, the environment was an additional teacher, the library become more flexible rather than defined into designated areas and in these types of libraries children were encouraged to engage with the building as a whole. The mid-century, Scandinavian aesthetic became prevalent in soothing colours for the adults, and more brightly coloured areas to attract children. It should be noted that display modules for books for children remained as linear shelves with occasional book bins or flat fronted display slopes.
The rise of the teenager in post war Britain also saw an increased demand for spaces for adolescents in libraries., including libraries devoted entire to young adults pioneered in the UK in Walthamstow as early as the 1930s (Black and Rankin, 2012 p27). This provision seemed to be part study space, part library for pleasure and improvement and part youth club. The 1980/90s itineration is described Black and Rankin (2012) as being coffee shop meets bookstore chic, in order to make the space attractive to its target market. The emphasis on adolescent libraries shifted in the late 1990s/early 2000s, to focus more on Early Childhood provision. Libraries began to realise that a key group of users, parents and young children not yet in school, could be better served by library spaces that promoted a safe environment with appropriate physical and developmental accessibility. This later trend seemed to have two main elements, thematic design and interactivity. Brightly coloured and often ‘themed’ areas for young children with an emphasis on play became more prevalent, along with interactive story times, crafts activities and multi sensory/multi modal engagements for children to interact with. All of which are exemplified in the Ideas Store library model in East London (Black and Rankin, 2012).
The role of consultation in designing public library spaces seems to have many opaque layers. Councils want to ensure value for money and best use of the space for the entire community. Librarians have their own requirements for positive work environments. Patron demographics will also all have their own ideas about how best to arrange the library space. The competition between physical books, meeting spaces, the cozy safe haven of sofa reading spaces, computer terminals and work spaces and the needs of the children’s section of the library, create a difficult equation to balance for architects and designers, who also want to design a unique and beautiful building. Adult patron input into the consultation process is difficult enough, let alone engaging with young children who generally do not respond well to quantitative survey tools. Alison Clark’s (2010) Mosaic Approach, takes a novel ethnographic approach to consulting with children utilising mixed methods of observation, map-making, slideshows of photos taken by the children and child-led tours along with parent and practitioner perspectives, to build a more complete picture of the space, how it is used and what it could be. Clark used this model during the redesign of a nursery school to great effect as she constructed a narrative using all of the elements to help the architects understand what is important to the children from their perspective. The narrative approach to understanding place and space gives those in charge of such projects a rich picture of what is but more importantly what is possible.
This collaborative approach to developing children’s libraries is also supported by Önal’s 2012 study into Turkish public and school library design and development. The social, physical, psychological and behavioural dimensions of library usage were used to define the excellence in library service provision (2012 p66). These had four key characteristics; interactivity, media-richness, scaleability and granularity. The collaboration with children in the design process promoted ownership of the space by the child patron, sharing of perspective and increased participation in the library space, ‘designing a library space affects behaviour… [and] can support satisfaction, happiness and effectiveness’ (Önal, 2012 p78). From the case studies evaluated by Önal, the most important features of libraries in the eyes of children were that they are flexible and comfortable spaces, properly staffed by librarians who understand how to engage with children and families, designed for the patrons (not professionals) and where multiple solutions to challenges could be implemented rather than a one-size fits all approach.
There is an emerging trend in children’s library design for makers spaces and spaces for social engagement. Opening in 2016, Biblo Tøyen, is a library for 10-15 year olds, no adults allowed and the aesthetic is part mad scientist lab, part children’s TV show set. Built in a deprived neighbourhood in Oslo, Norway, the library was developed in consultation with children and psychologists to create a welcoming and comforting space where children were able to engage in the things that matter to them, such as gaming and making, as well as reading and borrowing books, and participating in workshops using tools, materials, 3D printers, coding and robotics. Some of these workshops have a literary focus, others are more free form. Budget does not appear to be an issue – the library uses drones to automate their RF book tagging for location identification, has dedicated children’s librarians and the latest technologies available to them.
The question of scaleability and sustainability in the long term remains, as does the transferability of a model such as this to other parts of the world where library budgets are squeezed. The co-location of libraries and additional social support services is one potential solution. Coming out of the pandemic, Libraries can be revitalised as hubs of the community for learning, advice and social engagement, particularly for families of young children, but in Britain funding seems to be the catalyst and we have yet to see a plan from Boris Johnson’s government.
References Black, A., & Rankin, C. (2012). The History of Children’s Library Design: Continuities and Discontinuities. In K. Latimer, I. Bon, & A. Cranfiled (Eds.), Designing Library Space for Children (pp. 7–37). Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter Saur. Bon, I., Cranfield, A., & Latimer, K. (Eds.). (2012). Designing library space for children. Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter Saur. Clark, A. (2010). Transforming children’s spaces: Children’s and adults’ participation in designing learning environments. London, England: Routledge. Önal, I. (2012). Building Excellent Libraries with and for Children. In K. Latimer, I. Bon, & A. Cranfield (Eds.), Desiging Library Space for Children (pp. 65–82). Berlin, Germany: De Gruyter. Sayers, W. C. B. (1911). The Children’s Library: a Practical Manual for Public, School, And Home Libraries. London: G. Routledge & sons, ltd. Sayers, W. C. B. (1932). A manual of children’s libraries. New York: C. Scrioner’s sons.
This week I begin my self-study journey at City LIS, diving into the field of Children and Adolescent Libraries and Collections. I have developed some guiding questions for my inquiry under the unifying central idea:
Children’s libraries are unique communities designed to meet specific needs.
Form: What makes Children and Adolescent library collections and services unique?
Function: What is the role of CaALCs librarians in public and school libraries?
Change/Perspective: What are the challenges and issues facing CaALCs both historically and in the near future? Representation, community building, de-colonising the collection, inquiry learning in the library,
Causation/Responsibility: What is the impact of children’s libraries?
As I progress into the discovery phase I am aware that my inquiry might take an unexpected turn, throw up some left-field ideas and (hopefully) challenge my misconceptions. I look forward to it. I would also like to hear from those of you in the LIS and educator community, whether you work in this specific sector or not, your ideas and suggestions are appreciated. I am interested in open dialogue and am here in this space to engage with positive intent and listening heart.
When the latest grouping of lecture topics were initially introduced, I was highly sceptical about how coding, text visualization and APIs were part of librarianship. As a technology integrationist, I was at least aware of most of the main ideas and skills sets, though APIs gave me pause. What changed my mind and helped me to understand how these practices fit into the library science landscape were the practical exercises in cleaning up data, creating and analyzing data sets from Twitter and doing my own analysis of texts using visualizing tools.
In my previous post, I spoke about the challenges of starting from scratch with my catalogue as the collection had not been properly maintained for around 7 years, and much of the metadata was missing or unsearchable. After reading Helen Williams’ account of how LSE tidied up their catalogue (2010), I kicked myself for not thinking of it sooner! Of course, I could have downloaded the entire catalogue as a CSV (it’s not that big) and used simple algorithms from Regex to identify and correct the dodgy data. There are some challenges with that as I share the catalogue with the Secondary library, but with filtering, I could just look at the files relevant to the Primary division. I am planning on doing just that once I have completed scanning the collection to remove some of the locations from our old building that are still plaguing the database and create more searchable metadata.
While I’d heard of APIs before, I’d not really understood what they were and how they could benefit learners. I can see now how libraries can future-proof themselves by creating data sets through API tools, gathering social media interactions around events or people, or using web scraping to collect large-scale data for later analysis. The idea mentioned by Albertson (2019) that engaging with these kinds of data sets “is a way of measuring the reach and impact of scholarly communication” that goes beyond citation searching as you can search for the type of impact through hashtag and retweet analysis, was very interesting to me and I wonder what influence this will have in real-world terms e.g. will reach equate to additional research funding, salary rises, or will it become a performance indicator on appraisals (perish the thought!)
As for text mining and visualization, I have been using Wordles and the like with students for about 10 years as a means of helping them identify key themes and characters in a text, or to find excessive repetition in their own writing, but I hadn’t seen the application of this fun, and pretty, tool to large scale data before. I found using Voyant to compare texts very interesting and thought this would be very useful for my students to assess originality or understand the emergence of ideas over time.
There is so much potential for these types of tools to demonstrate understanding, to compare and contrast ideas and timeframes, and to stimulate curiosity and engagement. This is most evident in the Digital Humanities field. Reading about the Venice Time Machine Project (Abbott 2017) fired my imagination and helped me to see the value AI, machine learning and automation of labor-intensive tasks has for the library and information sciences. I am really excited to see how these data-rich projects will be used for education, potentially through gamification, to help immerse learners in worlds from long ago to better understand them and themselves.
Abbott, A. (2017) “The ‘time machine’ reconstructing ancient Venice’s social networks,” Nature, 546(7658), pp. 341–344.
In the DITA module thus far, the value of good-quality metadata in creating searchable, descriptive and efficient catalogues has been strongly emphasised; particularly the role metadata has in cataloguing non-traditional documents (eg. not books or written texts). While this may appear to be obvious when you think about it, the challenge of developing systematic metadata is one I have been grappling with in my day to day work.
Two years ago the entire catalogue for my school’s collection was lost – this was before I was the librarian and the catalogue had been stored on an iPad. There were reasons for this, no dedicated librarian or resource manager, budgetary constraints that meant a free app was the easiest way to track books for staff who had many other hats to wear. When the account for the app was closed, all the data was lost. I was in the process of negotiating a new, affordable, cataloguing system when COVID hit, and like most of the country I started working from and the focus shifted from our library collection to online resources. When we migrated the catalogue at the secondary division across, remnants of the old primary school catalogue were there, but the metadata on location, format types etc were inaccurate and needed to be purged completely. By the time I got the library up and running, the City LIS course was in full swing and the session on metadata couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.
Having taught web design at a secondary school level using Dreamweaver in about 2006, I wasn’t completely clueless about what metadata was, I just didn’t really understand it in the bibliographic context. The plethora of acronyms for bibliographic standards and how the records are developed were very overwhelming at the beginning, but as I read more and asked deeper questions, the history and context began to emerge. What I found really interesting was how the different systems or methods for standardisation developed from AARC through to BIBFRAME (Billey 2015), and that this is a constantly evolving practice and theoretical framework that inform each other. The relationship between how we use metadata and how we record it seems to change over time (Lybarger 2018) depending on what we need to do with it now, but also in the future.
I am averaging 300 books per week at the moment, cataloguing furiously in the time slots I have available between library lessons, information literacy sessions, planning meetings, coaching sessions and the ubiquitous supervision duties. Not bad for three days a week. WorldCat has been invaluable in developing good-quality bibliographic records as my cataloguing system brings down some metadata, such as titles, author, sometime the book type and a thumbnail of the text, but not all. My focus has been on identifying the keywords and summaries that make a catalogue searchable for users. Unfortunately, the OCLC metadata subscription service is financially out of reach for my tiny library. I am grateful that the records and metadata is available in a standardised format via WorldCat – I just have to enter the data manually, which time consuming but ultimately worth it. Why? because metadata underpins our information seeking, whether online or in a library catalogue, and ‘good enough’ metadata isn’t really good enough.
When completing the initial reading for DITA, it occurred to me that it is very easy to either grossly underestimate or be extremely paranoid about the way in which information underpins our modern lives depending on how you view the world. From CCTV to search histories, eye tracking software to our shopping habits: information is being recorded about us every moment of the day.
The bigger questions about who is recording the data, how they are using and whether I am waiving my right to privacy by simply engaging in the digital world often feel overwhelming and too difficult to comprehend. I wonder too if my behaviour is influencing choices made by the data collectors, or if I am the one being influenced? As a teacher, I am constantly learning, evolving, and working hard to ensure that my students are equipped with necessary skills sets and critical thinking processes to navigate the complex and fast changing world we live in. I think of myself generally as pretty savvy when it comes information literacy but have felt out of my depth with the terminology at the academic level and it took a lot thinking and reading to feel like I am beginning to grasp the nuances (which I’m still not sure I have).
In David Beer’s 2018 article, ‘Data and political change’, the idea of data and technology driving the democratic process, where people are simply playing out ideologies they believe to be their own, is posited in reference to the writings of early 20th century sociologist Georg Simmel. What struck me was how prescient Simmel was in identifying how today’s algorithms, personalised and on demand, would create an echo chamber that configures what Simmel called ‘fragments’ or data into a whole cloth; a complete world view that doesn’t easily allow for dissent or alternatives. I see this played out on social media when myself and my connections were caught completely off guard by the result of the 2016 Brexit referendum and subsequent victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election, because our world view is formed by those we choose to ‘follow’ and the personalised nature of advertising and recommendations on social media sites. All the exit polls, news articles and advertisements displayed for me online were very much anti Brexit and pro Hilary Clinton.
Interestingly, a new study into why people might not be truthful with telephone pollsters (Are Election 2020 Poll Respondents Honest About Their Vote?, Litman et al 2020) may also help explain the extent of this ‘echo-chamber’ phenomena. In this study people were asked about whether or not they were truthful when questioned about who their preferred candidate was. Those who were untruthful cited fears over a lack of anonymity leading to “reprisal and related detrimental impact to their financial, social, and family lives should their political opinions become publicly known.” If this has some transfer to the sphere of social media, where the degree of scrutiny over our public data can have a serious impact on our personal and work life, then I have serious concerns over polarisation of data and its power to persuade and influence people. Irrespective of what political or social viewpoints they hold, shouldn’t people have the right to express their point of view without fear as long as it is done respectfully? Could data actually be the end of freedom of speech?
In our second lecture for DITA, we looked at how technologies that have arisen from the development of computers have had many benefits. From Ada Lovelace’s initial programming punch-card system (yes, it is programming!), to the tiny micro computers we put pockets called mobile phones, the opportunities for creativity, information sharing, the implications for a wide range of industries, and the capacity to solve complex problems quickly and with multiple considerations is immense and cannot be underestimated. Linking this development to the ideas presented in the first session, I found Jer Thorpe’s view very interesting that thinking about systems rather than data “helps us to solve problems more efficiently… to more deeply understand (and critique) the data machinery that ubiquitously affects our own day to day lives” (‘You say data I say system’, 2017). Systems, to me, are more dynamic and seem to evolve depending on what people need them for, which implies human input is a greater part of the process than the dystopian predictions of Georg Simmel may have shown.
It is clear to me that the role of the information professional in building information literacy and critical thinking capacity in individuals and organisations is essential for a data driven society to function well. Though I’m not sure how this be can done when it sometimes feels as though the system itself is fighting against critical thinking (fake news, advertising, political agendas), where people (including myself) are exhausted from information overload and only exposed to a particular world view. I feel that this is a problem I will be thinking about for a long time and asking myself what pieces of the puzzle am I missing, and what have I got wrong, because being aware of the problem doesn’t put me outside of it.
I begin this blog as a CITY LIS student studying for my Masters in Library and Information Science. I am a qualified teacher with experience in both primary and secondary education, largely working in the international school sector. I transitioned to a library & technology role this year, which I am enjoying thoroughly, but making the balance between studies, work and home healthy and sustainable will definitely be a challenge. Stay tuned for reflections on my course work and general library business!