Thursday, 4 February 2016

Interview with Claire Cross librarian at Rush Common School, Abingdon

What was your favourite children’s book as a child?

It’s hard to narrow it down! For sheer escapism and immersion in a fantasy world, my favourite book was The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis. The story centres around an adventurous little girl, and I imagined myself in Lucy’s shoes, gazing into the clear waters and seeing a mermaid below. My other favourite would be The Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, which is the ultimate riches to rags to riches story complete with noble heroine mistreated by those around her but eventually triumphant.

What do you think makes children’s books so inspirational?

For me, children’s books opened a door into other worlds, allowing me to share the lives of other children, whether they were going on adventures with a magical nanny or training to be a ballerina at a stage school. These were experiences which I was never going to have myself, and I liked nothing better than switching off the reality of my own childhood (which was very happy by the way!) and diving into someone else’s. I loved reading all genres but had a strong preference for those which were either biographical, such as the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, or seemed as though they were, such as Arthur Ransome’s works.

What is your favourite children’s book as an adult?

As you can imagine, I still have all the books from my childhood bookshelves! I still go back to the Swallows and Amazons series and get pleasure from reading them. My preference for reading to my own children over the years was to read my old books, but my husband (writer Nick Cross), has brought all sorts of amazing new children’s literature into the house. My favourite of these is the Larklight trilogy by Philip Reeve, which gets my vote for sheer inventiveness and humour.

Why did you become a librarian?

I went straight to University (or Polytechnic as it was then!) and did Library and Information Studies as a first degree because I loved books and reading and I didn’t have another strong urge towards a career. I don’t think at the time I really knew what librarians did, and it wasn’t until I started work three years later that I found out. Luckily I really enjoyed it, and worked in a government library followed by 7 years in a specialist academic library, before having a long career break to bring up our two daughters. Now I work part-time in my daughters’ school library, although they have both gone on to secondary school now.

What is the best thing about the job? And the worst?

It is wonderful when you inspire children to read or when you match a child with a book they enjoy, but my personal favourite thing is true library jobs like reorganizing the shelves or shelf-checking! The worst thing about the job is the constant never-ending chase for lost books, and I am still getting my head around accepting that sometimes, a book really is missing...

What is your vision of what a children’s library will look like in ten years time?

I hope it will be a warm and welcoming place, a neutral zone which is not a classroom and where children can read and explore whatever type of books they like.

I would certainly like to see the emphasis remaining on reading ‘real’ books as I believe a love of books developed in the primary years will benefit the children for the rest of their lives, and the borrowing of a new book, or the next book in a series is an exciting event in their day.

You have been involved with renovating the school library; can you please tell us a bit about the process of re-envisioning and restocking a library?

When I started work the library had not been opened for a while, and previously had been run by parent volunteers, so although the school owned a computer library system, they had not been using it for loans and nothing had been added to the library for several years. I also found that about 1500 of the books on the shelves were not on the library system, so I started cataloguing as fast as possible!

After getting the library system working again and making sure all the books were on it, I continued to reorganise the space to be more welcoming and practical. My vision for the space was to make it possible for as many little people as possible to sit somewhere comfortable and read!

A fantastic fund-raising effort by our school community and the Friends of Rush Common resulted in the library being given money to buy new books and furniture for the first time in many years. We decided the best way to restock was to ask the children to suggest the books they were interested in, and a survey went out to every child in the school at the end of the 13/14 school year. There were over 200 responses and as a result over 100 new books were added to the library in the fiction section, which was every book suggested by the children. We have also had many hundreds of books donated by teachers and other staff at the school, parents and children.

My pupil librarians love to stamp and label new books and the children get such a huge kick out of seeing brand new books on the display shelves, and especially being the first person to borrow the book!

I also spent some of the money on a large new rug, some bean-bags and new book cases. We now have three soft sitting corners in the library including a ‘story-telling zone’ where children can sit on the soft cushions and use story dice or cards to inspire verbal story-telling. There are also displays showing the champion borrowers for each year group.

I put lots of posters up and have also been gradually covering the walls with book reviews and completed activity sheets by the children. Some of them have really made me laugh, such as the child who illustrated an activity sheet entitled ‘my favourite place to read a book’ with the words ‘one thousand oranges!’ and the one who wrote that Elsa from Frozen was her favourite character because she was a ‘beetul prenses’.

Although the library itself isn’t a huge space, I believe it is being used really well now, with class groups coming over to change their books once a fortnight and open to the children at break time and lunch time two days a week. Last year over 6500 books were borrowed and the school has an excellent record for literacy. My personal goal is that every child should borrow a book during the course of this school year - last year I missed the target by about 20 children out of 410. It is my job to make sure the children know what is available to them, and this year my focus will be on better signage and letting the older children know we do have books they will like.

I have been amazed by the enthusiasm of staff and parents towards the library, and at one point was nearly overwhelmed by the number of books donated! I would recommend that anyone who finds themselves in a similar situation should reach out to their wider school community to ask for help, and also to the children themselves for ideas to improve the space and the type of books they would like to see in it.


What do you think?