Monday, 18 November 2013

Why should we support school libraries?

This is an article I wrote on June 12th 2012 and it's a subject I feel very passionate about and will continue to revisit.

I’ve been an avid collector of Children’s Books for the past seventeen years. Our four children have been spoilt for choice, deciding whether they pleasure themselves with fact, fiction or fantasy. Like many other families who embrace literature as a backdrop to their homes, it is accepted as the ‘norm’ but a privilege, nonetheless. Having grown up in a polar opposite environment myself which was bereft of books, reading just did not figure in our lives. We had approx. ten books - a dictionary, an Encyclopedia Britannica, the Bible, Heidi (my sister’s name is Heidi), a Treasury of Children’s Literature, a few Enid Blyton’s, a couple of Annuals and Emma by Jane Austen…? Seldom were there newspapers or magazines. My father’s dyslexia (he lived with us for the first seven years), straightened circumstance and my mother’s mental illness were all reasons why our shopping bags weren’t brimming over with books, or food, for that matter.

One of three girls raised by a mother with Schizophrenia of Cape Malay origin, living in a wealthy, conservative, Devon, my life was profoundly different from my peers. One of the key manifestations of Schizophrenia is an inability to concentrate for protracted periods of time, a prerequisite of reading. Therefore we had neither reading material nor were ever read to by our mother. This however, is not an absolute tale of woe and is not where the story ends. Our mother did choose to send us to a very progressive pre-school. Almost Nirvana, we would trot along happily to enjoy so many different activities, but one of the thrills of nursery school life was entering the room which was crammed with children’s books. There I would terrify myself with the troll from ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’ and it was there I pestered the lovely ‘Penny’ to teach me to read. So there you have it, a three year old with a passion for books, but like every frustrated new reader, the mechanics of actual reading impeded my enjoyment of the stories. The real magic occurred when we were read aloud to. It was then, the stories really came to life!

We had the continued good fortune of being sent to an equally progressive primary school, which also had a similar approach and a fantastic well stocked library. This was an entire room devoted to quality literature, with easy chairs, project tables and easily accessed from most of the classrooms. Library time was an essential part of the day and not just an occasional ‘add on’. We were encouraged to select books of our liking and the main bonus was that we could actually take them home. This was incredible to me. Absolute Bliss!
So were it not for the #schoollibrary, very few books other than school texts, would have ever crossed the threshold of our home. Yes, I borrowed from friends on occasion. Yes, I was gifted books and bought them as I got older and yes, sporadically, we did visit the public library, but if it weren’t for the school library, I almost certainly wouldn’t have achieved fluency in reading and gone on to third level education. This is just one story. There must be hundreds like it, but it's the reason why I'm passionate that school libraries deserve support, as it's the only 'level playing field' for children to access books of their choice and may be the only place where they can get them.

Presentation College Headford, new school library project-an overview, Jan- Sept. 2103

This is an exciting project which has garnered support from parents, teachers and pupils alike.

Presentation College Headford is a secondary school for boys and girls in Headford, County Galway. It was founded in 1949. The school serves the town of Headford and its hinterland (wikipedia). The school has almost 800 pupils. 

At the outset there was only a small reading room in the school which served as the school library, but an old science lab (which was once the school library) and is situated in the heart of the school, was the designated area for the new improved facility. Mark Hand (my better half) designed and constructed the new room but many decisions had to come from the school body and the library committee that was formed.

How would this room function? It's a multi-purpose space.

When would it be ready for use? It was opened on October 4th by Siobhán Parkinson.

Would there be an I.T station or would it be an entirely quiet area for books alone? There's a limited provision of I.T.

Would there potential for an entire class to be seated at once to research projects? 30+ pupils can be seated at one time, this means a full class can be accommodated during lesson periods.

Would it have a lending facility? Yes, It's a lending library

Would there be a librarian employed specifically? Emmanuelle Milliars is our fantastic new school librarian, her position was made possible the Job-bridge internship scheme.

Where will the stock come from? Donations have come from CBI, #SiobhánParkinson, #MaryEstherJudy (#Dubraybooks), the library committee and the greater school body.

How will it be chosen? A substantial amount of money was collected by the Parents Committee and it's hoped that teachers and pupils will go and choose the books together. Each subject dept. has been invited to submit a wish list.

What input would come from the pupils? Students have been invited to submit ideas re: activities which could be run from the library space. Representatives of the student council will sit on the library committee.

Would the teachers have an input, if so how much? There are a number of teachers on the library committee representing a cross section of the subject departments.

How will it be funded? In addition to funding from the board of management, the parents council have made the library their prime fundraising focus.

PCH library-Before

Library committee members featured in the photo below from left to right: Sadie Cramer, Noel Martin (Deputy Head) Sr Bríd Brennan ( recently deceased), John Boner (former School Principal), James Whyte (School Principal) Brendan Duffy, Brendan O'Mahony, Mark O'Connor and Mark Hand (library designer and maker) he who took the photo.

Also on the committee but absent from the photo are:
Mary Dufficy, Gerry Geraghty, Vinny O'Reilly, Fursa Heneghan, Paul Flynn and PJ Newell 


PCH library-after

The project build was completed prior to the summer break and the facility was ready for use in September with the official opening planned for early October.

We were delighted and excited to announce that award-winning novelist and former Laureate na n-ÓG (2010 -2012) Siobhán Parkinson would be opening the library on October 4th.

Siobhán Parkinson

She has published more than twenty books since 1992, winning numerous awards, and her books have been translated into multiple languages. She has written in both Irish and English,[1] and also translated from German into English.
As of 2011, she was commissioning editor and publisher with Little Island, an imprint of New Island Books. She is a former co-editor of #Bookbird, the magazine of international children's literature organisation IBBY, and former editor of Inis, published by Children's Books Ireland (CBI). She also teaches creative writing at Marino Institute of Education,[2] and has held numerous Writers-in-Schools short-term residencies, with a particular emphasis on working with children with special needs. She has been writer in residence to Dublin City and the Irish Writers' Centre, to Waterford City, and the Church of Ireland College of Education; she is a former board member of CBI and was on the CBI working group to renovate the Bisto Book of the Year awards.
On 10 May 2010, Parkinson was conferred by President of Ireland Mary McAleese as the first ever Laureate na nÓg, a position she would hold until 2012.[3] In her capacity as laureate she expressed the wish that "every child in the country would have access to a [...] #library where they could go and find the books that are going to open their minds".[4]

Siobhán Parkinson

Siobhán Parkinson officially opened Presentation College, Headford’s new library on Friday October 4th at 1.30pm

We were especially delighted to have her do the honours, as she rarely does school visits these days but we felt it most appropriate, given that during her tenure as ‘Laureate na Nog’, her main focus was on the promotion of school libraries.

The opening ceremony

James Whyte (principal) welcomed all, giving a background to the project and acknowledged the efforts of everyone involved. His own passion for literature was more than apparent, referencing John McGahern’s delight as a youngster at being given access to the library of the local ‘big house’ and the ‘freedom’ which came with it. He also spoke of Sr. Brid Brennan, former school principal and to whom the library is dedicated; her vision for the #library and the shock of her sudden passing during the summer holidays.

Mary Esther Judy

We were also delighted that Mary Esther Judy of Dubray Books, Galway, an authority on Children’s Literature and Young Adult fiction in the West of Ireland, introduced Siobhán to the gathering, outlining her many achievements and immense contribution to Children’s Literature.

Siobhán Parkinson

The essence of Siobhán’s speech was about ‘freedom’ and the freedom that comes from accessing literature of our own choosing.   During her tenure as ‘Laureate na Nog’, Siobhán campaigned tirelessly for school libraries, highlighting how seriously inadequate state provision has been in this area and that whilst it’s fantastic that P.C.H. has been able to raise funds for this essential piece of school infrastructure, it really should be a pre- requisite that every school has a library funded by the state. She placed the provision of a library on a par with other essential school infrastructure such as: science labs and sporting facilities. On that note, she cut the ribbon & declared the library open. This was followed by music from the student string quintet.

Gary Brookfield

Gary Brookfield, actor and parent, concluded the ceremony by reading some pieces by Roger Mac Gough, Allan Ahlberg and a piece from ‘Blood Brothers’ (the West-end production in which he performed), again echoing the element of freedom, much to the delight of all gathered.

Siobhán Parkinson

Following the opening ceremony, Siobhán went on to do a session with the entire first year and a more focused session with older students interested in writing etc… Opening her speech to the 177 pupils gathered, she said “There’s so many more of you than there are of them, you could start a revolution!” What better note to finish on, bearing in mind the theme of ‘freedom’. She just might have started something!

sadie cramer
Invitation- Sadie Cramer

Siobhán Parkinson, James Whyte, Mary Esther Judy
Siobhán Parkinson

Emanuelle Millairs, James Whyte, Siobhán Parkinson, Carmel Brown

Gary Brookfield

Gary Brookfield, James Whyte, Sadie Cramer, Siobhán Parkinson, Mary Esther Judy

PCH students Siobhán Parkinson, Ms.Duffacy, Emanuelle Millairs , James Whyte

PCH students

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