Reimagining the School Library

Great graphic from

Great graphic from

This week I found myself in Northampton, the birthplace of Ray Gosling, and immediately had a Ray Gosling experience with a cab driver. I discovered he was a former antiques dealer who specialised in oriental rugs but had recently turned to record collecting. He asked me to peer over on to his front seat (it was a black cab) where there was a box of delights of various things he was trying to flog. We then discussed abstract art, the best uses of a shed, reading, accents, his council estate, and how to deal with fly tipping. If it hadn’t been for the library conference I was attending I could quite happily have stayed with him in his cab all day.

I had made a 2hr 45min train journey (2 changes) from Nottingham to give a 15 minute talk at ‘Rising to the Challenge: Reimagining the school library’. It was a lot of effort for a relatively short plug for DOTU but one I wouldn’t have missed for the world. Locked away in a room with 30 librarians is my idea of heaven. But my real motivation for attending was to see what school librarians had to say as they are integral in shaping the lives of many children.

The conference was framed around a quote from Alan Gibbons (Alan has written our Geoffrey Trease comic out on 8 Jan 2015): “It is not enough to have a school library. A library without a librarian is a room. A school library is not just a room. It is a relationship. It is also a culture.”

There were lots of interesting talks that included: the National Literacy Trust, ebooks, the library experience, augmented reality, the Story Stack Project, the importance of questions, adapting to change/economy and much more. Unfortunately I missed the morning sessions but was glad I got to hear Nicki Adkins’ talk on ‘Establishing reading and independent learning from year 7’.


Nicki compared her job to that of Bruce Willis in Die Hard and how you have to have a can do attitude in the face of adversity. I won’t ruin it for you (or tell you who the terrorists are in her metaphor) as she’s going to do us a guest blog soon, but it left me feeling so happy that there are enthusiastic librarians out there really changing kids’ lives through some innovative strategies and approaches to learning. From Nicki I discovered the @nerdfighters who, apparently, will take on challenges and help support your projects. They have been contacted.

There was also some incredibly frightening statistics from Debbie Morrison OBE, Principle Kingsthorpe College, about the differing opportunities for kids from public and private education, and the percentages of people who end up dead before they’re 26 if they haven’t got into a job or education when they leave school. These sentiments echo our own, with recent research into literacy and opportunities suggesting the UK is facing ‘downward mobility’. As with the librarians at this conference, our aim is also to create a thirst for reading and to utilise digital to enable numerous routes into literature.

I’m still buzzing from the conference and feeling so inspired by the passionate librarians of Northampton, and Adele Finch for inviting me. I don’t know if there is a similar conference in Nottingham but if there is I need to get to it as there were lots of offers from Northampton librarians to come back and talk to their pupils. If anybody can help with this or encourage schools/librarians to get us in for a talk, please do get in contact.




The Sparrow’s Nest: A Library for Anarchism

If you haven’t guessed yet, this is a website that loves books and in particular the homes that books live in. There is no better embodiment of this principle than The Sparrows Nest, an anarchist library that is actually situated in a house in St. Anne’s. It’s a volunteer-run organisation that has never received funding and recently celebrated their fifth birthday. You can visit on a Tuesday between 11 and 2 but they are flexible and can open up on request.

They specialise in anarchist and anti-authoritarian writings and history as well as local working class struggles that go beyond this particular niche of the radical spectrum. Most of their stock is through donations but they do buy books in as well. They are also home to some of the Ray Gosling archives, thereby ensuring his legacy remains in the community he fought so hard to protect from city planners in the 1960s. The large majority of the Ray Gosling Archives are held at Nottingham Trent University under the careful eye of Professor John Goodridge, local activist Colin Haynes and Ray’s sister Juliet. But more of this in a future post as I’m on a working group to help digitise these archives to make them more accessible.

Although the Sparrow’s Nest has all of the classic books, pamphlets and journals that you would expect to find in such a specialist archive, what separates them from, say, a university library, is that they have twenty meters of shelf space dedicated to anarchism. As a lot of this has been donated this includes unique correspondence, such as minutes from meetings, flyers, etc which helps document the progress of ideas and thoughts in a way that academic publications can’t.

For the last eighteen months they’ve been digitising the archives to make it more accessible but are limited by the equipment they have at their disposal. They have considered applying for funding from places such as the National Lottery but this, of course, throws up ethical problems as to the suitability of such organisations in line with their own principles: “Funding anti-capitalist political activities by exploiting other peoples gambling habits is an ethical dilemma” said one of the volunteers who requested to remain anonymous “but it would be nice to update our digital library and make it easier for people to find information. This kind of cost is something that could only be funded through a large grant of some sort or other.”

sparrows nest

In an ideal world I would love to see our local universities and the county council help to fund such initiatives as their archives are invaluable and are often used by PhD students after obscure journals. Financial support would enable them to raise awareness about their collection which would be most beneficial for academics.

A good example of this would be a collection of 1,100 documents about a London based group of Syndicalists from 1940-60s. This is a period often neglected as it is the void between two key events in anarchist studies: The Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and the student uprisings in France in 1968. The collection includes correspondence between members around the country and across the globe and is the kind of material that nowadays would be sent in an email that would be deleted once read. It’s an incredible archive and the letters discuss issues such as anti-war demonstrations that were going off in their area during the Cuban missile crisis and the resistance the civil rights movements encountered by the local Klu Klux Klan.

But the thing I love most about this library is the name. It mocks the Nottingham Arrow, described by one of the volunteers as “the city council’s propaganda rack”.

To arrange a visit contact the volunteers via their website

To donate books please send to Box AF c/o The Sumac Centre, 245 Gladstone Street, Forest Fields, Nottingham, NG7 6HX, England UK.