Lighting the future of libraries

Last weekend we headed over to Old Windsor to the Lighting the Future joint SLG, YLG & SLA* conference for our very first exhibition.

With over 300 school librarians and children’s public librarians attending this was a great opportunity to chat to them about Hot Key Books and our fabulous launch list. We shared a table with our sister publisher Templar Publishing in the publishers’ exhibition, where we displayed our nine launch list titles all beautifully displayed on our gorgeous Hot Key embroidered table cloth (thank you Jenny!) with lots of proofs and memory sticks with PDFs of all our launch list which went like Hot Cakes!

At the exhibition opening the Mayor and Mayoress of Windsor and Templar Publisher Amanda Wood said a few words about the importance of libraries and reading and the fabulous Simon Bartram (illustrator of The Man on the Moon among other things) launched the exhibition.

Apart from the opportunity to talk to all these passionate librarians I also slipped into a couple of really interesting plenary sessions. I caught half of a ‘Question Time’ style panel discussion called ‘Reading in the Political Spotlight’ with Nic Amy, author Aidan Chambers, CILIP CE Annie Mauger, DJ and author Simon Mayo, The Reading Agency Director Miranda McKearney and David Reedy discussing questions from librarians including the panel’s thoughts on Michael Gove’s ‘Fielding test’ on which books should be in school libraries!

There was also a fascinating discussion about ‘Reading and Technology’ with a panel comprising Jonathan Douglas from the National Literacy Trust, Dave Coplin from Microsoft and Independent Trainer Bev Humphrey.

Bev spoke about the importance of tapping into the enthusiasm young people have for technology to hook them into reading, citing in particular the power of book trailers and Twitter to promote reading. She felt that technology allowed the barriers between readers and authors to come down, which can be motivating for readers – that it’s a great experience to be able to interact with the author whilst reading their book on Twitter.

When it came to ereaders, Bev felt they weren’t that useful for reluctant readers as in the end it’s the same as reading a book although it doesn’t help disguise the length of a book which can be motivating. On the other hand she found ipads and interactive ebooks very useful to encourage reading.

Jonathan Douglas went on to explain that there has been a steady decline in young people reading both online and offline in all formats year on year. Young people are accessing the stories they need to make sense of the world and learn from through visual means – not just text. Look at the popularity of YouTube. He explained his ‘Pendulum Clock’ theory (a long story!) that it’s often easier to communicate something visually than through words and we need to communicate the message/story via the best methods available. Visual storytelling is something that is growing quite rapidly.

Essentially there has been a paradigm shift from text to visual and there is a need to examine what reading and literacy is as children’s reading habits change so rapidly.

Dave from Microsoft spoke about ‘technology as a force for good’ – his job is all about helping people understand what technology can offer. We love knowledge and entertainment and don’t care how we access it. Books and reading connect readers with wisdom of the author and the internet connects everyone to the wisdom of everything – the Internet has great potential.

He went on to talk about the reading circuit – the fact that children these days have ‘butterfly brains’ as they are constantly flipping from one thing to the next. Children love all technology and books and we need to equip

Dave is very excited about the future of computers, that we will be using every surface to access screens which will stop the constant upgrading of hard ware and help with the environment.

He went on to talk about our digital heritage – that it’s better to teach young people critical thinking – how to access and use information – (ie is the Wiki page correct?) rather than how to create a spread sheet using software that will be out of date in a couple of years. And this is where librarians come into play as they play a crucial role in teaching people how to access information and use it – and how to use a library, the internet, anywhere you search for information.

Dave’s message was – don’t worry about technology – use it to augment our experience. Don’t focus on the tool, focus on the task. Technology isn’t a barrier it’s an enabler!

Questions asked afterwards explored the role of librarians, the need for them to embrace technology and use it to their advantage, the environmental impact of Microsoft servers  versus trees for paper, the impact of DRM on social reading and much more!

There as a real buzz at this year’s conference as school librarians and public librarians were able to talk about and share their different experiences in a time that is difficult for everyone. It was great to see that despite obvious challenges, librarians are determined to fight for their future and the importance of reading.

*That’s the School Library Group, Youth Library Group and School Library Association for the uninitiated!

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