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Librarians can change children’s relationships with books

Connecting young people to reading material that genuinely excites them can change their whole experience of education, says our anonymous epistolarian…

  • Librarians can change children’s relationships with books

Dear Miss

You probably won’t remember me; but I will never forget you.

Why? Because when I was 12 years old, and almost ready to give up on school completely, you turned everything around for me.

I reckon that’s something most teachers dream of hearing their ex-students say – but of course, the thing is, you weren’t a teacher. And I’m not exaggerating.

When I started at secondary, I think the last time I’d picked up a book without being forced to do so by an adult would have probably been the Beano album I got in my Christmas stocking when I was about eight.

I did enjoy it, but once I’d read the last comic strip, I wasn’t left hungry for more.

My parents would occasionally buy me books, or take me to the library, but nothing they suggested really interested me.

I wanted to be outside, with my mates, riding our bikes or at the skatepark, talking about TV and video games. None of us talked about reading.

Later, I just wanted to be at my computer.

I did OK at primary school, I suppose. But not brilliantly. And Y7, with its extra subjects, multiple teachers and new social landscape to negotiate came as quite a shock.

I was so overwhelmed by it all that I just kind of retreated into myself – spending even more time gaming, and telling myself that the work was ‘too hard’, so there was ‘no point even trying’.

I was convinced my friends were having a much easier time of it, so I withdrew from them, too.

That’s how I ended up hanging around in the library – where you worked.

If I was in there then I didn’t need to speak to anyone, or join in the banter and mock-fights that happened at breaks and lunchtimes.

Which meant that I wasn’t at risk of having to explain how hard I was finding everything.

I’d grab a book from the shelves and just sit with it open in front of me. It didn’t matter what kind of book it was; I wasn’t reading. Just escaping.

You were always there, at the desk – but because you were a ‘librarian’, not a teacher, I didn’t feel under any pressure.

And then, one lunchtime, you wandered over to where I was sitting, vaguely flicking through a book about the solar system, I think it was.

“Are you enjoying that?” you asked, gently – and I think something in my expression must have given everything away, because instead of waiting for me to reply, you added, quite casually, “It’s just – I wonder if you might be interested in doing me a favour? We’ve started a new section of the library, with a whole collection of ebooks, and I’d really like to know what it’s like from the student perspective. Do you think you could give it a try?”

Taken by surprise, I found myself nodding.

Reading from my phone (or, sometimes, when there was one available, a school tablet) was a revelation for me.

I realised that, for whatever reason, I’d formed a negative association with books – but when the words and sentences were accessible via a screen, I felt much more positive about the interaction.

You suggested some amazing titles. I started gaming less; reading more. Every few days, I’d talk to you about it, and we had some really great conversations.

Suddenly, it seemed like my opinion mattered – you were interested in what I had to say, and you didn’t think I was thick.

My confidence grew – and eventually, I found myself listening more carefully in lessons, and finding out that, actually, it wasn’t all too hard.

The first time I put my hand up to answer a question, I’m not sure who was more shocked – me or my teacher; but I got it right.

You didn’t work a miracle, miss, I know. But you did what great librarians do; you found a connection that brought me into the world of books – and from there, properly into the world of education.

I wish that every young person could be lucky enough to have someone like you at school.

Yours sincerely,

The boy who didn’t read

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