For Readers

Librarians Save Lives

I had a wonderful evening last week, that both filled me with joy and left me sad and frustrated. 

The Amazing Book Award is an award established by four school librarians,  Sally, Amanda, Louise and Rachel. They wanted to create an award that was voted for by young adult readers. I think there are now 3,500 children who vote in this award and over 40 schools that take part.

I was shortlisted for the award in 2017 but couldn’t attend because I was frolicking in a Glastonbury field.

The author rumour mill had informed me that it was a fabulous event though, so I blagged my way in as a special guest in 2018, even though I didn’t have a new book out!

It really was a wonderful event – well run and buzzing with excitement. I even got to meet a couple of enemies..

Storm Trooper, Kathryn Evans  and Dalek. Just your average evening in Shoreham -by-Sea

There were two things that really filled me with joy.

Firstly, Penny Joelson’s book , I Have No Secrets, won the overall award.  This is a book  about a girl with cerebral palsy , she can not move or speak but she knows the identity of a murderer and somehow has to communicate that to others. It’s a proper page turner  and the fact that so many children voted for it tells me that they are full of empathy for the main character. That is hugely heartening.

Secondly, Simon James Green’s book, Noah Can’t Even, won the bronze award. This is the hilarious tale of Noah who’s life is a disaster and then, to top it all, his best mate kisses him and HE LIKES IT.  It really is a super funny , smart read and the follow up,  Noah Could Never, sounded absolutely hilarious when Simon read from it.

Simon James Green reading from Noah Can’t Even 

It was wonderful to see the number of boys unashamedly queuing up with both copies of the book for signing. One blue and one BRIGHT PINK. A pink book about a gay kid being happily and visibly purchased by boys – I wish I could show you the queue, it warmed my heart .

Librarians are getting these books into the hands of kids that need them. That is a wonderful thing. And yet…

One of the amazing librarians who founded this award is being made redundant. This honestly makes me so angry and frustrated I could cry.

How can you make the only librarian in a school redundant? I know budgets are being squeezed, I know difficult decisions have to be made, but redundancy happens because there is no further need for the role and that just is not the case.

Losing a school librarian is like ripping the heart out of a school.

I can already hear the arguments from those who don’t see what I see.

School libraries are a luxury.

No. No they’re not.  School libraries are absolutely essential. If you believe in  social mobility, they are  critical in giving every school child the best start in life.

Reading fiction doesn’t matter that much.

There are SO MANY studies that show reading for pleasure improves abilities right across the spectrum:  concentration levels, problem solving abilities, lateral thinking are all improved by good reading habits.

And very importantly,  being able to truly empathise with what life is like for other people is ESSENTIAL to generating a peaceful, contented world. The best way to do that is to get inside the head of someone else and the ONLY way to do that, is through reading fiction.

Everyone has a kindle now.

In your world, maybe. I visit schools all the time where a child doesn’t own a single book let alone a kindle. Money is for food and rent, not books.

Everyone has the internet.

Do they? Honestly, get a grip. If you’re using a food bank the chances of being able to pay for your broadband are a bit on the low side aren’t they? For some people, the library is the only place they can access free internet.

For some children, the school library is the only place they have the space and facilities to do their homework.

You can still have libraries just without a librarian. It’s the books that matter.

Some books are better than no books but imagine the internet with Voogle instead of Google. A few well meaning  volunteers trying to guide you to the location you need.

A librarian will put the right book in the right hands. A school librarian will persistently, and knowledgeably,  try and do this, even with the most reluctant of readers.

Saying librarians save lives is a bit of  a stretch.

No, it isn’t.

Loneliness kills people.  There have been times in my own life when I was very unhappy. I had no money for books – the library became a place of sanctuary for me. A place I honestly don’t know what I would have done without.

I grew up with kids hiding their sexuality, bitterly ashamed of the way they’d been born. I know people who attempted to take their own lives and at least one person who succeeded. Reading about children like themselves makes children feel less lonely. That has the potential to save lives.

Librarians turn shelves of books into a place that can educate, inform and offer hope.

Hope saves lives.

For more information see the Great School Library campaign being run by CILIP.

Kathryn Evans is an award winning author of More of Me and an accomplished public speaker – if you’d like to book her for an event, please contact Authors Abroad.

9 thoughts on “Librarians Save Lives”

  1. A school librarian did a lot to help me recover from a year of bullying in middle school, but still, that’s hardly saving lives. And, a book about sex? For MIDDLE school? If all the new books rolling off presses don’t include anything better than THAT…!

    What about a book for kids who non-conform in some way that has meaning for nine-year-olds, like eating the vegetables their mothers put in their lunch box and liking them? Or kids whose parents non-conform…e.g. a kid whose “Two Mommies” are the more typical configuration of mother and grandmother, mother and aunt, aunt and grandmother, etc. What about a book for child prodigies? I’m not even aware of a really good one for introverts, yet.

    1. Hello, I think sensitive handling of difficult subjects that cause children pain are important at any age. Age appropriate handling of subject matter is something that publishers are very good at. It is probably true that most published books don’t go for ‘quiet’ topics that cause children difficulty but I do love your idea about the two Mummies being mother and grandmother, that would have lots of interesting story elements. The vegetable idea could even be part of that – why don’t you have a go at writing it? For child prodigies, how about Matilda? And for introverts, I recommend Lisa Thompson’s Goldfish Boy though it’s really about OCD, it does deal with those issues. Or what about Beth in the wonderful Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott? Do you have a school librarian? You could ask them if you do – if not, see if you can find one on twitter, the one’s I know will be delighted to help.

  2. PS: I mentioned the vegetables because that happens to be the social issue facing an eight-year-old I know. I would like for there to be a book for her. I would like for it to be written by somebody that the baby Queen Bees at her school can’t dismiss as “just your mother’s friend.”

  3. Simon James Green’s books are aimed at young adults (and the blog states that this award was judged by YA not children) so they wouldn’t be in a middle school library. I know this because I’ve read the books, heard him speak and am a professional school librarian who is able to use my experience and expertise to assess books and target them at the relevant audience.

    School librarians do save lives … often in small and unsung ways. When we talk about “saving lives” people assume that it’s a live or die situation but how about those children whose lives, and thus their whole future, is being affected by what they are going through at school. The child who is being bullied (for whatever reason), the student who is LGBTQ* and needs trusted information, the Asperger’s student who needs a place they can recharge at breaktime before they carry on with the rest of their lessons, the young person who has no access to books or information to help them achieve the grades they need to pursue their desired career, I could go on …. the library and librarian helps all of these students. Okay, they possibly won’t die if they don’t have access to a school library (although considering 22% of lesbian/gay/bisexual young people attempt suicide (Stonewall School Report, 2018) that comment may not be totally true) but what is the long-term impact of not being able to get the information and/or help they need? I’ve worked with students who have used my library every single day, every single break and before/after school. They have lacked self esteem and self confidence. But by nuturing them, by helping them, enabling them to become part of the “library team” I have seen them grow and blossom, and achieve above and beyond what was expected of them. I’ve had Asperger students become pupil library assistants and thus learn how to intercat socially with others – a skill they then took into the workplace (and the rest of their life). I’ve provided a safe space for students suffering from anxiety and depression. I’ve listened to them, given them information and support. I know I’ve made a difference because I’ve had their parents, the pastoral team and even the Head tell me!

    There are lots of books that cover all sorts of situations – even mum and grandma! – as well as all sorts of children. Not going to start listing them as this isn’t really the place for that – even you need more specific book advice there are lots of organisations that provide booklists such asd BookTrust or the CLPE.

    Regarding the child who likes vegetables and is being bullied for doing so … this isn’t an issue about the vegetables, it’s an issue about being confident enough to stand up for herself. So rather than a story about eating and liking vegetables, a story about self-confidence and determination may be more appropriate. There are a LOT of books out at the moment about empowering girls … have a look at for some ideas.

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