sail-header-edge

Helen Goodbarton on Libraries #NottsLit5

Helen Goodbarton
Wed 9 Dec, 2020

Children's author Helen Goodbarton on why libraries suffused with fun are an essential part of learning to love words

Nottingham is in for a treat! The images I’ve seen for the proposed central library in an online article give an impressive scene. Modern, bright, geometrically pleasing architecture, brushed steel shapes hanging from the ceiling. One imagines the pristine, silent, and calm place where the studious peruse the shelves, understanding the intricacies of the duodecimal system well enough to find whatever they need. Shelves upon shelves of the best of literary works the world has to offer. Exactly what a library in a city honoured with the status of UNESCO City Of Literature should encapsulate, right…?

Not for me! It’s not those images that excite me, but these few words in the article, quoted from Councillor Dave Trimble “… the best children’s library in the country.” Yes! This is exactly what we should be aspiring to, and I hope it goes above and beyond. If we’re not focusing our efforts on nurturing future readers, does the library have a future at all?

“Give us creative, colourful, fantastical spaces made to inspire, full of enquiring voices sharing their own thoughts.”

Read On Nottingham’s website tells us that ‘32% of five-year-olds in Nottingham did not have the reading and writing skills expected for their age by the time they started school’. National Literacy Trust and Experian research found that ‘out of England's 533 constituencies, Nottingham North and Nottingham East rank 8th and 15th for greatest literacy need’. We know from countless studies that reading skills are best developed by instilling in children a love of literature. Any possible in-roads into reading should be considered and here we are presented with ample opportunity. The library should be so much more than an amenity, it should be aspiring to be a destination to children and young adults from Nottingham and beyond.

So, to the beating heart of this new library; how far are the designs willing to go? Looking around the world, there are some fantastic libraries to inspire us. The Monterrey Library in Mexico has bookshelves that children can climb onto, and a space for letting off those bursts of energy that children are so often full of. The library of Muyinga in Burindi has hammocks suspended from mezzanines, the Soneva Kiri Library in Thailand is a children’s wonderland in the trees, and, looking at pictures of Brentwood Library, Tennessee, one cannot help but fall in love with its fantastical architecture which makes it look like you’re walking through a giant’s bookshop!

The new library’s plans speak of a children’s section providing spaces for story time. I imagine this could be a pirate ship, a fairy glen, an alien spacecraft; a place plucked straight from a story, where children can’t help but want to sit in and listen in wonder. I’m excited by the play cave area mentioned, for children to explore; I’m imagining an actual cave, dramatically lit with climbable walls and nooks and crannies to hide in with your favourite books; I hope I’m not disappointed (I want to go and hide in there with my favourite book, too!). Free rein of the designated spaces should be given without sneering and disapproving glances from the stereotypical stuffy librarian, to the contrary children are encouraged by experts in the field of children’s literature to express their excitement. The creative wall mentioned should be exactly that – a massive scribble pad for any and every child who wishes to express their reactions to stories in that manner.

It mentions study areas that will allow young adults to enjoy the library in their own space without children. I’m glad that this has also been considered. This age-group needs to be nurtured in a continuing love for books and reading at a time when it can often get lost in increasing focus on attainment and results. They need to feel valued in their space, why not allow them to help imagine what this space will be? I know so many creative young minds of this age, and I’ll bet you anything they could give some fantastic ideas on how to create an area that is both fitting and inspiring. God knows they know themselves better than we do!

And we should not only focus on the building itself, but the activities it can provide. Nottingham is bursting at the seams with creative talent that must be tapped into. Children could be imagining their own stories, encouraged by skilled leaders delivering workshops. Focused parent and child initiatives could equip parents with the confidence and tools to be able to read to, and with their children into their teens. Laughter, engagement, and energy. Give us creative, colourful, fantastical spaces made to inspire, full of enquiring voices sharing their own thoughts. Let this library not stay silent, let us hear the sound of stories spilling from the rafters, making big waves in small minds, to start a tsunami of creativity!


Helen is a a children's' writer and creative practitioner. Having spent a decade working as a drama provider, she now writes children's literature and is currently formulating creative writing workshops for primary schools. She has published her own children's book, The Glowing Snowman, with her independent publishing company Sojo and Mouse.

Image credit: Grace Eden Photography

Support a better world of words. Make a donation

If you want to support bringing the power of words to more people, why not make a donation to Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature? We’re a registered charity, so you can be sure your money will put to good use.

How to donate

Search