I spend all day everyday thinking about books, writing about books and looking bibliographic information up either in old fashioned books or on the internet. How then have I missed this little gem of information about one of my favourite books? Charlotte Sometimes was a book I got out of the school library when I was in my first year of secondary school (age 11/12). I loved it, renewed it for as long as I was allowed, and eventually had to give it back. Short of funds for actually buying books, that I thought was that.
I always remembered the book fondly but as I became an adult with a little more money, I was still permanently short of funds for books (having a wish list in the 100s) and so it remained un-bought. Then on holiday one year spotting a library with a booksale I pootled in and there it was. Hardback. All pages present. Much read, and no doubt much loved, but hanging on in there and just 50p.
Once it was home I kept it on a shelf for a little while anxious that a re-read might take the gloss of my happy memories of that old fashioned school library, all polished pale oak and quietness, and off my childhood love for the tale. Eventually though I gave in and I loved that book all over again - such a relief.
So, what little gem of information have I stumbled on? Well apparently the book was inspiration for a song from The Cure. I'm not a fan of The Cure but how had I failed to notice this over the years? I even remember reading the wikipedia entry on Penelope Farmer a few years ago, when I was doing my re-read of Charlotte Sometimes. Maybe the information wasn't there then? Perhaps the whole world knows and never thinks to mention it because it is a really well known thing? But it passed me by. Anyway in case it had passed you by too there are a couple of lovely entries on Penelope Farmer's blog about the whole saga of the song which you can read here and here - you can't beat a blog post tht ends with an aging author taking a bow at a rock concert.
And just as interestingly you can watch The Cure's video for the song:
I am also struck that libraries have played a big part in my association with this book, both the old-fashioned book-filled school kind, and the small town local authority kind. Looking at my pre-loved copy other children have obviously found this book by the same route. In a week that sees the start of the next parliament, can I make a tiny plea that among all the inevitable funding cuts that we find some way to defend libraries of all kinds. There is also a good post by Martin Edwards on elections and libraries here.
When I was at primary school we didn't really have a school library. As it was a small village school space was scarce and so what passed for a library was a square of carpet and some bookshelves on wheels that occupied a corner of the school hall so long as assembly, lunch, P.E. or music lessons weren't underway, which of course they often were. So it was with great delight that I discovered on my first library lesson at secondary school in St Helens that we had a wonderful traditional school library. It was long, dark and full of books. Wednesday morning with Miss Bancroft was our library lesson within English time. We swapped books and had to fill in a short review form and I loved everything about it: the choosing, the reading, the reviewing. Sadly, we moved house so I moved schools and the new school had a modern library with lots of glass (too hot to read) and not quite as many books.
Fast forward ten years and by a quirk of fate my husband is now teaching at my old school, the second one that is, with the modern library. But it is not modern enough. Building work, a mezzanine floor and lots of computers appear. It is no longer the library, it is O.R.A.C.L.E. which is its even fancier name for the LRE (Learning Resource Environment) of most schools. (ORACLE = Open Resource and Continuous Learning Environments, didn't you guess??)
Around the same time, I was still teaching English, and went for, and got, a promotion which included being 2nd in the department and whole school literacy co-ordinator. As the candidates were shown round the school before the interview we saw the library. It was being packed up with most of the books destined for expulsion. Around two thirds of the space was being cleared of books and bookcases to make way for long rows of computer desks. This was the main space in the library. There was an awkward z-bend of cubby holes to one end, and here resided what was left of what you might recognise as a library. Very sad.
I later realised that what won me the job during the interview was the moment when I said, "Literacy can be encouraged through use of non-traditional means such as reading web-based material, as well as books." Whilst I meant what I said, I was thinking that for the most reluctant male type teenage non-reader the computer can be used as a means to tempt them back into engaging with the written word. Not simply books out, pcs in, and let's forget the library and have a computer suite instead.
Computers are of course very necessary. I love mine and use it everyday. Kids need to learn to use them safely. Our five year old has her own progammes on her own safe desktop and uses it two or three times a week. Kids need access to all the good stuff available on the web and to be able to use word processing and other facilities. But nothing enchants like a book, and for a bookish kid nothing enchants like a library. Schools should cater for readers and non-readers alike with a good, book filled library.
Sadly the Bookseller has this piece on school libraries which makes it seem like things have got worse not better since I left teaching. Books advising on the subject say things like: "The so-called traditional school library, designed for education in an era long since passed, is simply not appropriate for the strong and vibrant school ..." (Designing a School Library Media Center for the Future by Rolf Erikson and Carolyn Markuson, ALA Editions, 2007). Which frankly just makes me sigh.
What are your memories of school libraries and how do they compare with your children's or grandchildren's experiences? Do you think they are still important?