Wednesday, 29 April 2015

YLG Wales Unconference 2015 - Reading for pleasure

Three cheers to the Wales Youth Libraries Group for running a fascinating and successful Unconference on Saturday 25 April in Bridgend. This relaxed event provided an effective forum for a select group of children's and school librarians, two authors, a publisher, and an imposter (Me) to discuss and share good practice. Our focus for the day was "reading for pleasure" and encompassed the Summer Reading Challenge (SRC), a thought piece from children's author Dan Anthony ("Steve's Dreams") on reading and writing for pleasure, a brief consideration of using comics and graphic novels, and the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards.

Summer Reading Challenge

As an "outsider" this event reminded me of the significance of the SRC in the calendar of children's librarians. Children are encouraged to read six books over the school summer holidays, with the aim to combat the dip in reading levels often seen between the end of one school year and the start of the next. But many libraries grab the opportunities that SRC provides to:
  • encourage library visits, recruit new members, promote regular events, and to involve the wider family in visiting and using public libraries. Other schemes are often run in parallel with SRC: toddler challenge, and the teen reading challenge for instance, but there is also presumably scope for reader development work with adult visitors too! Many libraries also use the SRC as a valued opportunity to engage volunteers.
  • boost liaison and engagement with primary schools in their catchment area. In Swansea visits to schools are used before the holidays to promote the SRC. In September the staff return to award certificates and medals to the successful participants as part of school assembly. Other authorities use this as an opportunity for superb PR with award ceremonies taking place in the Mayor's Parlour or Council Chambers, again involving wider family and lots of social media coverage, perhaps even the local newspaper.

And this year's SRC theme? Record Breakers. This was thought to offer great scope for drawing in the interests of boys, but also for some unusual record breaking themed events in libraries. It will be fascinating to hear how it goes!

Reading for Pleasure

Dan Anthony provided food for thought, and led an interesting discussion on engaging teenagers in reading. Many participants thought the key was to finding the right book to entice someone back into reading. The publishing field is strongly segmented and so finding the right genre of book is crucial. And then maintaining that reading bug through the recommendation of similar titles. Dan also thought that subversion was a great way to bring teenagers back into reading. "Steve's Dream" works very much on this principle. Making time to read for pleasure can also be a challenge. The distraction of smart phones, computers and games, not to mention a packed school curriculum, all compete hard against reading for pleasure. Manga and graphic novels can have a strong role to play here too.

Firefly Press - a new publisher for Children's books

We also heard about Firefly, a recently formed publisher currently working on a Welsh Government funded project to develop a small collection of contemporary children's titles with a strong sense of place and resonance within Wales. Firefly don't just see themselves as a niche publisher in Wales. They have ambition to publish quality titles that will sell across the UK and beyond, and to increasing diversify into publishing for the young adult market too.

CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals

Finally we considered the nomination, long listing, short listing and judging procedures for the Carnegie and Greenaway Medals. Young people's reading groups and classes can get involved in the Awards by shadowing the judging and appraising their own favourites. The shadow groups' opinions often differ from the formal judging panel, but altogether these annual awards create significant feedback for publishers and authors. Most importantly the Awards celebrate excellence in writing and illustration for children and young people, creating dialogue, publicity, energy and a fantastic focus for libraries. The contribution that the YLG bring to these awards is staggering. Their work needs and deserves further recognition and praise!


For me, as an imposter, this had been a Saturday extremely well spent. The enthusiasm, creativity and energy of all present was infectious. Even in this difficult economic climate for libraries, children's and young people's librarians are continuing to achieve inspirational results and have a huge and positive impact.

And my over-riding takeaway learning for the day? Don't let a lack of budget put you off! Don't think "we don't have a budget for that, so we can't / won't do anything". Instead, reverse the thought process. Far better to think, "so ok, we don't have a budget, but what can we still achieve without need of funding?". This questions opens the floodgates to creativity, innovation and continuing dynamism ... And quite probably quite a lot of fun, positive impact and success.

Thank you YLG Wales for a brilliant event, for your hospitality and your generosity of spirit. I do hope that you will run future unconferences, and that others will have the opportunity to attend such high quality professional development.

Image credit -Chenspec via licensed for reuse under CC BY-SA 3.0

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