Taking reading for pleasure beyond the library

In this blog, Lucy Chambers shares with us some of the successful reading promotions that she has held in her schools. Lucy presented them as part of her workshop on school librarians sharing good practice, held at the CILIP School Libraries Group Conference in April.

For more than 10 years I have worked part-time as a primary school librarian for the Schools Library Service (SLS) in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and have established and managed several primary school libraries. I am a one-person band and part of a team of PLIPS (professional librarians in primary schools). Between us, we run about 30 primary school libraries in Tower Hamlets and neighbouring London boroughs. Tower Hamlets is a central London borough with a mixed demographic, ranging from some of the wealthiest people in London to some of the poorest.

As a part-time librarian, I need to establish libraries that can be used independently by teachers, teaching assistants and children during the week. A major part of my remit is to promote the library and reading for pleasure. I think it is important to show children that reading for pleasure has a purpose and is relevant to life beyond the library. Encouraging children to take part in events with other schools promotes the school, the library and the importance of reading in the wider community. Some examples follow.

Local community

Tower Hamlets SLS events are held at least once a term, and I ensure that my schools take part in these cross-borough empowerment opportunities.

Tower Hamlets Book Award

The Tower Hamlets Book Award is a transition activity for children aged between 9 and 13. It runs from July, when the shortlist is announced, to November, culminating in a grand finale. The shortlisted books are chosen by SLS librarians and the winning author is voted for by children. I run a book club in all my schools for years 5 and 6, where we read and discuss the books, enjoy related art and writing activities, and often stage a five-minute play based on one of the books. Children perform this play at a school assembly — and sometimes at the grand finale — to entertain the 300 children and authors present.

KS2 Poetry Slam with the Poetry Society

For the KS2 Poetry Slam, poets visit each participating school and work with students from a Year 5 class (of 9 to 10 year-olds). The poets work on whole-class and individual poems and with a selected group of five or six children, who perform a poem together at the finale held in a local secondary school. All the Year 5 classes attend, and each school has both a group and individual performances. Children attend the finale and perform in front of the other participants.

Creative writing competition

The creative writing competition is another transition activity for children from years 5 to 8. This year it included two author-led creative writing workshops in each participating school. Children were very inspired by them, and my participating schools produced some lovely poetry and stories. Generous prizes are awarded at a winners’ ceremony hosted by a commercial firm in the nearby financial hub of Canary Wharf. One of my schools, Halley Primary, has had borough winners for KS2 Poetry in both 2016 and 2017.

For the past two years, we have linked with schools in Syria that also contributed stories on a shared theme. Courtesy of a grant from the Arts Council, we have produced a bilingual Arabic/English book of the winning stories. The Tower Hamlets School Library Service’s evaluation of the competition in 2017 showed that ‘pupils participating in the competition and the author workshops benefited by gaining confidence in their writing ability and gaining greater insight into the issues raised by the competition themes’.

Fathers’ (or male role models’) Reading Week

Research shows that some boys don’t engage well with literacy but may be encouraged by the involvement of male role models. One way of contributing to this aim is to encourage fathers and/or other male role models to take part in their children’s education. Fathers’ Day events are an opportunity to invite fathers to read with their children and to promote the importance of men in children’s education in general.

With the home/school liaison officer, I ran a fathers’/male role models’ reading week project in a school where I worked a few years ago. I hired storyteller Pat Ryan, who told stories around the school for a day, including to parents.

For this project, and with much staff cooperation, I also planned daily events for all ages, including a film night with popcorn, fathers/male role models in classes sharing stories, a family assembly, a competition for children to draw a portrait of their dad, a homework quiz to be shared by students and their dads, and displays of artwork in the school entrance and in the playground. In that school, families rarely came into the building, so we took the display to them. The result was very positive for families and school staff, who then started inviting families regularly to assemblies.

Pupil library assistants

Within my schools, I train teams of pupil library assistants in basic library skills, and give them tasks where they can use their initiative and promote reading at the same time. At Globe Primary School, the pupil library assistants open the library for two lunchtimes when I am not in school, and have run the activities below.

World Book Day quiz for class teams

This involved issuing instructions to classes, reading out the questions, marking the answer sheets and deciding on the winning teams. (My only function was to obtain and award the prizes!)

Elmer Day drawing competition for Nursery to Year 2

This involved running an Elmer Day promotion, sharing stories and selecting winners.

Greenaway Award shortlists

Our pupil library assistants are about to run a project sharing the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal shortlists with classes. This will involve reading stories to children, garnering their votes and encouraging book review contributions to the Greenaway shadowing site.

The pupil library assistants love the variety of jobs in the library, from shelving to advising, from opening the library themselves to running projects around the school.

I take the opportunity to use their skills and enthusiasm to help promote reading. In return, they gain experience and confidence in their abilities. Other children respond very positively to peer recommendations, too.

Breakfast book clubs

Most of my schools offer a free or paid-for breakfast club. In the UK, an organisation called Give a Book donates books to selected charities and organisations (including schools).

The Give a Book charitable trust has a link with the Magic Breakfast Club, a charity which provides free breakfasts in schools, so that children can read while eating their breakfast. I have organised this donation in four schools. One of my schools offers breakfast to families so that they can share books first thing in the morning. At another school, some of the most disadvantaged children are able to eat breakfast and share books at school, even if they do not read at home. I organised launch events for these two particular schools, inviting the donors for photo opportunities and speeches, and wrote a blog for Give A Book’s website.


By promoting activities beyond the library walls, we can encourage the belief that reading is essential to the whole community, both inside and beyond the school gates.

Lucy Chambers
BA (Hons), MCLIP
CILIP School Libraries Group National Committee

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