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I’m really excited to say that I’m going to be appearing at YA Shot on 28th October in Uxbridge, London. I will be chairing a panel about Hopeless Romantic: Doomed lovers and ideals of romance with Lucy Saxon and Catherine Doyle. You can check out the rest of the programme here, and I really suggest you do – there are nearly 70 authors running a variety of YA and MG events, and it’s going to be an incredible day!
The event is specifically aimed at bringing access to library events for disadvantaged schools, to encourage a passion for reading, creative writing and libraries. It will also show attending students how a love of reading can actually turn into a career.
As I’m running my Behind the Book interview series to highlight the different professions related to publishing, I thought I would take the opportunity to talk about YA Shot for their blog tour. There was no better person to discuss why libraries and outreach is so important than someone who works in one, so today I’m interviewing Sarah Barnard.
Sarah is not only an old school friend and valued beta reader, but she’s also a Library Assistant at Coventry Libraries. She runs a really excellent and diverse review blog as well, where she articulately discusses all manner of UKYA related issues. Her interview here is no exception!
What does your job involve?
My job title is “library and information assistant”, so primarily, I assist. I’m out on the floor, interacting with the public and very often putting books into hands. I also get to do displays, outreach work, and the great joy of modern libraries that is rhymetime. Things my job does not involve: shushing people!
How did you get started as a library assistant? Did you do any work experience?
My English degree is relevant, but enthusiasm and good people skills have been more important to success in my role. Being a passionate reader helps as well. When I joined the relief register (a list of people who can be called in to cover short term absences) it was my first ever ‘proper’ job, and having that foot in the door was crucial for getting a permanent contract.
Why are libraries so important?
Books. All the time, books.
But apart from that… A library is a safe, welcoming community space where you can find information and entertainment, and all you need is a library card, not a credit card. Something like three in ten UK children own no books, making libraries a lifeline when literacy levels are such vital indicators of future success. We work with wonderful organisations like Booktrust and The Reading Agency to promote reading for pleasure at all ages and stages of life.
It’s not just about books, either. In 2014, 84% of households had internet access – but where does that leave the 16% without, when everything from bills to shopping to job searches to visa applications needs to be done online these days? For a lot of people, library computers are the only computers they can access.
Libraries are community hubs. They’re inclusive spaces and aid community cohesion. Whoever you are, whatever your situation, when you walk in, you’re guaranteed to find a friendly person who wants to help you. (That’s me!) For some, going to the library might be the only social interaction they have that day. Google is no substitute for the human touch.
What did libraries meant to you growing up?
THERE ARE SO MANY BOOKS IN THIS WORLD AND I CAN READ THEM.
I was (obviously) a very bookish kid, so the library was heaven. The excitement of progressing from the children’s section to the teenage section… and then, eventually, the impossibly vast adult fiction section… I’ve never lost that sense of wonder over packed bookshelves. I also did my fair share of homework in my local library, which was a five minute walk from my house. The alien glories of the microfiche and the clunkiness of early internet are things I never would have had access to without the library.
What do you think libraries can do in the future to ensure they reach people who need them? And how can people support their local libraries?
We have to do more outreach work. We need to reach out to young people – there’s a real lack of programmes for 12 – 25 year olds, which I’ve spoken about with other people in other UK libraries. If we’re talking about improving prospects through promoting literacy, that’s such an important age and I really don’t think we’re doing enough. YA Shot is an amazing step in the right direction, and I hope it blazes a trail for others to follow.
To support your local library, pay it a visit. Talk to your librarian. Borrow books, CDs, DVDs. If they don’t have a book you want, request it. If you haven’t already, go to your local library with proof of your address, sign up for a library card, and use it!
National Libraries Day was 7th February this year – make sure you celebrate it next year. Be loud about it if you’re passionate about library advocacy, through social media, or writing to your local newspaper or MP.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
The best thing is when someone walks in and asks me to recommend a book. Have you ever seen a small boy’s face light up when you hand him a Doctor Who book? I’ve had so many great conversations about books I love. There are loads of littler things I love about my job (is there anything more therapeutic than tidying?) but there’s something incredibly potent about being able to hand someone a book that could change their life.
Is there anything you feel particularly strongly about working towards with your career?
I’ve become obsessed with literacy advocacy. Being able to read and write well is an invaluable skill that improves not only your job prospects but your quality of life and facility of self expression and understanding. I really want to find a way to harness the energy around the UKYA movement and translate it into more young people reading for pleasure. I’m also interested to see libraries moving into social media and the ways that can work for us, which is again about reaching that demographic of young digital natives.
I try on a personal level to promote diverse books, and I would love the opportunity to work towards the goals of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement in the further stages of my career.
Has being involved in publishing changed how you read books for pleasure?
I read far, far more now than I did before. Of course, this is partly because I’m no longer an English literature student! I’m more likely to be aware of the current big releases, which doesn’t always lead to me reading them (you should see the length of these reservation queues) but means I know what issues well, what’s got everybody talking. Surprisingly, I think I buy more books than I used to. I suppose I’m constantly engaged with them.
What advice do you have for anyone looking to work in a library?
Remember that it’s as much about the people as it is the books, if not more. You won’t actually have any time to sit around reading!
See if your local library is taking on volunteers. A lot of libraries are volunteer-run now, so if you volunteer you’ll be getting valuable experience at the same time as helping keep a resource open for your community.
There are courses offered at universities across the country in Library Studies, at undergraduate and postgraduate level, which are worth considering if you want to be a qualified librarian. CILIP (Charted Institute of Library and Information Professionals) has a thorough jobs and careers section on its website, with a list of accredited qualifications.
What are your favourite children’s books now and from your childhood?
Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising sequence is close to my heart, a magisterial and beautiful fantasy series that I always, always return to. Harry Potter and His Dark Materials are no-brainers, and Animorphs is also very important. I’ve somehow become entangled in UKYA, and read a lot of fantastic books-for-teens which are just plain fantastic books, like The Accident Season and Only Ever Yours.
Sarah Barnard is a writer and library assistant who lives about as far away from the sea as it’s possible to get in the United Kingdom. When she’s not reading, she likes to gaze adoringly at her succulent plants or practise the ten or so ukulele chords she knows.
You can follow her on twitter @slouisebarnard
Occasionally she even writes for her blog: Sarah Likes Books
Tickets for YA Shot will be on sale from August 19th at 4pm here for £20 (adults) and £15 (students) or £30 for a family ticket. All proceeds will go to YA Shot and its Year-Long Legacy Programme, which will provide the Borough’s libraries with free events like writing workshops or author talks for disadvantaged schools in the area.