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Inspired to stay at the leading edge

Pearl Valentine discovers a welcome reminder of the real aims of libraries.

FOCUS ON THE CHILD:LIBRARIES, LITERARY AND LEARNING By Judith Elkin and Ray Lonsdale Library Association. Pounds 37.50.

Children of all ages have the right to a body of literature that reflects naturally the varied experiences and rich cultural diversity of the people who together make up our society." Ray Lonsdale and Judith Elkin, the authors and editors of this work, are committed to the view that unfettered access to this body of literature, through properly organised, funded and managed public libraries, is crucial to a child's development.

Libraries are under pressure to demonstrate value for money. In recent years, librarians have been urged to learn from the business world: to evaluate and sharpen their management techniques. While this is necessary, it diverts attention from the real aims of the service: to stimulate children to read, to encourage the use of books, and to provide opportunities for continuous learning and to create well-informed citizens. This book is a welcome reminder of those purposes.

Setting out to analyse the state of library services for young people in the UK, it also aims to be an inspirational source-book for students and practitioners of library work with children.

Both aims it achieves admirably. A new student will find a comprehensive guide to the current issues, with pointers to essential texts and wider range reading to encourage in-depth exploration of a topic, while even the most experienced practitioner will come away inspired to develop services in innovative ways, drawing upon stimulating examples of best practice from library services.

Starting with a look at the pressures shaping today's child, the book considers how changes in society and technology have altered views on the kinds of services needed to help children achieve their full potential. It exhorts public libraries to extend the provision of new media to children's libraries as a matter of urgency, while recognising the tensions created by reduced funding, local government reorganisations and continual changes in educational management and curriculum.

Topics such as changes in the children's book market are summarised. A useful reminder of the skills of collection development, fundamental to library provision for children, is followed by a discussion of marketing strategies and ways of promoting the service.

Official reports relevant to library services to children are discussed, while the accounts of service response to important reports, such as Investing in children (1995), reflect developments in service delivery.

While recognising that children's librarians will need to be dynamic to manage the challenges they face, the authors are convinced that sophisticated reading and information skills remain the key to the technological future. Imaginative young people's librarians have always been at the leading edge of innovation in library services; this book will inspire them to remain so.

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