Fertile ground for budding bookworms

20th April 2007 at 01:00

Your local library is a wellspring of material to foster a love of reading, writes Gill Moore

Libraries are not places where you expect to be surprised. But since I got involved with the Reading for Pleasure campaign, I've started to see a great deal more potential in using the local library as a teaching resource. Some of my students have been taken by surprise too - libraries are not what they remember from their childhood.

Our local library is a light and airy place, with comfortable sitting areas, tables and a coffee machine, where you can read your book, newspaper or magazines in comfort. You can borrow films and music, too. Our branch even has a jigsaw exchange, although this is run by a volunteer and is not part of the library remit.

Libraries provide good access to computers, which is valuable for students who have not got one at home, or who need a friendly member of staff nearby to give them confidence. Many Skills for Life students are not working. The library can provide them with a comfortable space to study for a course, trace their family history, do a job search, catch up on the sports results, or take their children for a fun activity.

But as important to me as a literacy tutor are those librarians who can help me persuade students to read for pleasure and sustain them in the reading habit. Did you know that 80 per cent of library authorities or services have staff trained in adult literacy? I was surprised to find that librarians are well aware of the literacy core curriculum and the meaning of the basic skills levels.

They can come into college or your family learning group, and most will be happy to host visits to the library for your students. For readers at entry 3 and level 1, they have displays of suitable books including Quick Reads, Sandstone Press, New Island, plus some of the Barrington Stoke and Livewire titles. Librarians have access to a database called First Choice which recommends titles which emergent readers will find interesting. The books have been carefully selected for ease of reading. They may have audio tapes to go with some of these books, too.

It is easy to read the core curriculum and note the priority for utilitarian activities, but skills targets can be met from wider reading, and often it will increase motivation for the students.

Reading books in class gives a context for discussion and critical thinking skills as well. It is important for students to be able to read application forms, tenancy agreements and advertisements, but reading for pleasure will widen their horizons and deepen their love of learning - and for that, you need ready access to suitable books.

Some libraries give tutors a ticket so they can borrow sets of books for group reading, and negotiate extended return dates.

The libraries are involved in the BBC's RaW (reading and writing) campaign and display RaW materials and give access to activities online. A number of colleges have worked with libraries to set up reading groups. Sometimes these are timetabled within course hours, sometimes run at the library at a convenient time as a drop-in, sometimes as a college summer school.

Librarians also work with tutors or lead reading groups themselves. If you are thinking about setting up a reading group in the summer, it is worth asking the librarian if a children's activity could be run simultaneously, so that adults who care for children during the holiday can attend.

The National Research and Development Centre for adult literacy and numeracy, recently published a report: Effective Teaching and Learning of Reading (Brooks, Burton, Cole and Szczerbinski, London, 2007). This demonstrates that "change in reading scores was significantly related to just two variables: working alone and in pairs."

People who worked alone less made better progress, and those who worked in pairs made better progress. People who reported more self-study between classes also made better progress.

So if engaging your students in Reading for Pleasure is what you want to promote, phone your library now and see how they can help you. And if the libraries can keep your students reading through the summer, they are more likely to come back to class in September with enthusiasm and their reading skills intact.

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