Tag archives: social justice

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

University of Missouri seminar with Library Songwriters: Skipton Rewind Club

What a treat on Monday to co-deliver a seminar for University of Missouri doctoral and masters students on the role of libraries in terms of social justice. There were lots of fascinating discussions. The differences between the UK and the US were extremely interesting. Even the term social justice is problematic in the States. But many of the challenges are broadly the same, and it was great to explore ways libraries on each side of the Atlantic are responding, and to identify strategies for improvement.

John Vincent of The Network led excellent sessions on effective library provision for new arrivals and on LGBT issues. My session was on how libraries can support young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. The top photo shows groups deliberating on methods for making libraries relevant and attractive to such teenagers, and breaking down barriers to use. We were enormously privileged to have a dozen members of Library Songwriters: Skipton Rewind Club, winners of the CILIP Libraries Change Lives Award, attending. Interestingly, there was a great deal of overlap in the ideas the students, university staff and UK librarians present talked about and those the young people promulgated. In particular, everyone was adamant that active involvement by young people in decision making in every aspect of provision and at every stage is fundamental to success. Staff training emerged as another very high priority: vital for combating negative attitudes and stereotypes.

The Rewind members then showed us how theory can be turned into practice with a brilliant presentation on how the club operates. They were inspirational, and shared masses of ideas for good library interactions. The club has been a catalyst not just for all sorts of music-related activities, but also for better community relations. It has increased members’ skills in lots of areas, music of course, public speaking, as we saw, plus marketing, fund-raising and more. Importantly, the club is entirely collaborative and each member works to their strengths. Skipton librarian Claire Thompson gave us a valuable insight into her role as facilitator. The club ended their slot with a scintillating performance of one of their songs.

A huge thank you to all who came, especially the Rewind Club members and Claire, and to York Library Service for hosting the event.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Class Ceiling

I have just caught up with this excellent radio programme about class and social mobility. The first of a series on the subject, it sets out to ask what can boost or block a child’s chances of breaking the ‘class ceiling’ at home, school and university.

The programme opens with an analysis of social mobility in the UK. Presenter and journalist Polly Toynbee questions whether she would have made it into her profession if she had not come from a family of writers and academics and been surrounded as a child by books and discussion. Middle class parents demonstrate how they are providing platforms for their children from the earliest age that will open doors: buying them stimulating toys, taking them to baby yoga classes and to rhyme times in libraries (great to hear these being publicly valued), later making sure they get a good education. We are left in no doubt about the importance of family background: a baby’s environment has a permanent effect on her or his growing brain; class differences are evident in levels of achievement at twenty-two months; the gap between the verbal skills of rich and poor children widens by 50% between their third and fifth birthdays; 77% of middle class children get five good GCSEs, while just 32% of working class students do.

Interventions can change things. Reading is mentioned as a game-changer a number of times. Two mothers talk movingly about the impact of the early years PEEP project on their parenting, and on their children’s confidence and abilities. Both single out the importance of sharing books with their children. Gavin Kelly, Education Adviser to the previous government, discusses the success of the Every Child a Reader programme, and laments its scrapping in many areas. David Willetts, who sits on the present government’s social mobility committee, tells us that children with high ability from low income families must never be written off, that interventions are relevant at every stage. However we also hear that not all interventions have the desired consequences: the opening up of university education has largely benefited the middle classes. Not exclusively though. Cockermouth School has an outstanding record of getting students from disadvantaged backgrounds into top universities as a result of intensive mentoring and individual guidance sessions. The possible effect on social mobility of the rise in university fees is left an open question.

Important listening.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Seminar on libraries and social justice for the University of Missouri

I had the huge pleasure of being one of the trainers at a seminar on Tuesday for PhD and Masters students from the School of Information Science and Learning Technology at the University of Missouri. They are currently on a study tour of the UK, studying for two courses: ‘Libraries, literacy and social justice’ and ‘International libraries in context’. The theme of Tuesday’s seminar was social justice and public libraries, and it was organised jointly by the International Library and Information Group, the Network and myself.

My session was on promoting reading to young people, particularly the links between literacy and teenagers’ life-chances, and the important role of libraries in making reading relevant and enjoyable to teenagers. The discussions were fascinating, and very wide-ranging. We were particularly fortunate in having four young people talking movingly and eloquently about their reading and their involvement with Barnet Library Service. Very many thanks to Kareem, Casey, Rebecca and Elizabeth for their fantastic contributions, which really brought the subject to life, and to the wonderful Barnet library staff.

The seminar ended with an extremely stimulating question and answer session which focused especially on how libraries on both sides of the Atlantic can continue to contribute to social justice at a time of severe budgetary cuts.

I came away from the seminar with my head buzzing. I always love being involved in training that has an international perspective. There was so much food for thought, and lots of ideas that will have a bearing on future training, and indeed on an article I am just embarking on which will be exploring the theme of my session.