The Future of Reading was the title of the Literacy Forum held at the Education Show on Friday 5th March. It was a very enjoyable and informative day – giving me plenty to think about as I plan the development of our new library!
It seems clear that we are at a cusp in terms of formats – just as the scroll gave way to the book, maybe we are at an historic moment when digital versions will take over from printed paper. Maybe not! There is a lot of discussion not only about this but whether we are also seeing the beginning of the demise of libraries.
One of the reasons that I wanted to go along to the forum, run by the National Literacy Association, was that the NLA is going to write a manifesto for reading as a result of the discussions. I feared that the “librarian’s voice” might be drowned out if some of us were not prepared to speak out about our role. Well, it became clear that the few librarians in the room were stroppy enough to make themselves heard!
Anyway, what were the most memorable things for me about the day? There were some great speakers, including David Crystal, Aidan Chambers, Chris Meade, Dave Whyley, Wendy Cooling, Michael Rosen and many more. What they all had in common was a passion for reading, some even showed a similar passion for libraries, a few even mentioned librarians too!
The wonderful Aidan Chambers, past President of the School Library Association, talked about reading as a function of power: those in power deciding how reading is taught and promoting certain kinds of reading as worthy. Having worked in many challenging schools before coming to this one, so much of what he said about current education being based on “economic function” resonated with me. He feels that those in power deliberately prevent students from attaining higher level reading skills as high literacy would lead to thinking! Politicians ignore the research about reading and the impact of libraries, even though it shows how reading and the use of libraries can improve student attainment.
It was wonderful to hear Aidan’s affirmation of the importance of libraries and librarians – telling us to judge a town or a school by the quality of the library and those who manage it!
Aidan and many of the other speakers also talked to us about e-books and other digital texts. Like me, they had found e-book readers easy to use – even for those of us who were brought up with print – “People of the Book” rather than “People of the Screen”. There were interesting discussions about the ability to publish digitally – thus opening up the world of self-publishing to all. Both Chris Mead and Dave Whyley, working with different projects, asked us to look beyond paper-based reading and look at multi-platforms – laptops, e-readers, mobiles – thinking about the words rather than the paper. I also enjoyed thinking about how digital publishing enables collaboration and media-mixing.
Wendy Cooling enticed us with wonderful picture books – reminding us all that children need the wonderful language and illustrations to develop their reading. Adults can also enjoy them too – judging by the reactions of the audience!
Michael Rosen also talked about the political aspects of literacy, recounting some of his experiences as Children’s Laureate when meeting with politicians. He feels that the present situation is discriminatory in that children who come from homes where parents read to them and they are surrounded with books, have a head start over children who do not have these advantages. He saw reading fiction as reduced to “facticity” – with teachers using worksheets and asking fact-based questions, rather than engaging children with whole stories and whole books.
In the afternoon, we moved into workshops – I looked at technology and the future of literacy. Our questions were:
1) How can we get teachers more involved in using technology?
2) What will happen if we don’t?
As you would expect, if you know me, I could not resist the opportunity to offer the librarian’s help is modelling the use of technology with students. Certainly, I have done this myself quite often – using exciting web-based services with students and helping the teachers to become more confident – using a wiki for example. I also have an e-reader that I have demonstrated to staff and students. I see the school librarian as a leader in this area – if we are not prepared to learn about new technologies and use them with our teachers and students, then our libraries will almost certainly become backwaters – not what any of us would wish!
This has become a very long post, so I must finish with David Crystal’s summary. He talked about us reaching a time of change, but that we needed to find balance. The word “transliteracy” came up again – not worrying about the object (a printed book), but the words on whatever format we might find them. To achieve a reading culture we need to give children time – to read and to be read aloud to. David also mentioned the importance of libraries – but I did feel that someone needs to educate him further on the role of librarians – he seems to see libraries merely as rooms of resources!
All in all, a very thought-provoking day. There was far more said than I have room to write about here – not least all the great projects that people are working on around the country. Let’s hope that the NLA manifesto comes out with some strong words about the role of the library and librarian!