Paddington Children’s Library sits almost across from the Royal Oak tube station in central London, hidden away down a ramp from the street. Inside, on a Friday morning, a few women and children are sitting on the floor reading or choosing books. They reflect the diversity of this very heterogeneous neighbourhood. Behind the desk is Sue, a cheerful volunteer doing some paperwork. Just before 10:30, more mothers, nannies and grannies and small children file in and sit on low chairs; it’s almost Toddler Time (“songs and stories followed by simple crafts”).
In this library, most of the children are not voracious readers; the most popular books, as you might expect, are those usual suspects, DorkDiaries, Wimpy Kid, and Tom Gates, appreciated by boys and girls alike, and Harry Potter for slightly older children. The librarians and volunteers often put books out for the children to notice, but they tend to go for the same ones. “If we had a hundred copies of Wimpy Kid, they’d all be borrowed.”
The lack of adventurousness in reading is partly because many local parents are not native English-speakers; some of them are even illiterate. Although they want their children to read, they may not know how to help them pick a book or push them to explore new options. The Homework Club for 7- to 13-year-olds is popular and gets children used to coming to the library; librarians and volunteers like to suggest new books to them.
If we had a hundred copies of Wimpy Kid, they’d all be borrowed.
Westminster Council has a good book budget–a small part of the expense of libraries– and the librarians have some autonomy in what they pick for each library. The book supply itself, though, comes from the central distributor Askews and Holts Library Services. (The library essentially does not buy self-published books, because those books are not in Askews and Holts. Libraries must use Askews and Holts; they have no choice. Askews and Holts, in turn, does not have the staff to evaluate self-published books. Currently the number of library suppliers in the U.K. is down to about five, and two, Askews & Holts and Bertrams, have a near-monopoly. So this is a serious hurdle for self-publishers trying to get their books into British libraries.)
|Not really wanted|
Sue explained that the library does not welcome donated books. That is because it is hard for people who work in the libraries, which are understaffed now, to find the information or time to catalogue them properly, so the donated books languish in back rooms for months before getting onto shelves and are sometimes given to charity.
It was pleasant to see the continual stream of happy children in and out of the Paddington Children’s Library. Children will always love libraries!
Some of the popular read-aloud books in Paddington Library are:
The photo at the top of this post is by Tehmina Goskar on Flickr, who writes, "Paddington Children's Library. One of my favourite haunts (really). Another entrance that I am so familiar with, it was virtually an extension of my home."
Julie Sullivan still remembers her childhood library card number.