Take a look at our Q&A with Nicola Morgan, internationally-acclaimed author and authority on teenage wellbeing, how stress impacts performance, effects of screens, social media and the science of reading for pleasure and readaxation.
You visit schools regularly – what difference do you see between the schools that don’t have a dedicated library or librarian, and those that do?
I only visit secondary schools, and I don’t think I’ve ever been to one without a library. The differences I see are in how valued the library is. When the library is seen as central, it becomes a place people want to go, to discover, expand minds, get help, grow ideas. The library is the heart of the school and the librarian is the power that makes it beat. That’s a massive responsibility and I don’t think anyone can do it without being valued and properly funded.
School libraries are not distant planets but the sun around which everything revolves, and which brings light and life to the school. When you go into a school where the library is like that, you can tell. Its rays reach every corner.
How did your school or public library influence you when growing up?
I was born in and lived in a school, so I had my own library! However, the books there were very old and limited in range, so without weekly trips to the public library I’d have starved. Emerging readers need a lot of books. I vividly remember the freedom to take books which I might or might not like. That’s what’s so good about libraries: you can make a mistake and it doesn’t matter.
You’ve written a number of bestselling books on wellbeing for teenagers. How do you think a school library can benefit children and teenagers’ wellbeing and mental health?
Massively! We know that reading for pleasure has a great role in wellbeing; school librarians empower love of reading, so they have a huge role in wellbeing. My website has lots of the science about reading for pleasure and my own concept: readaxation.
But there’s an extra point: a library is sanctuary for over-occupied introvert minds. A school day is inherently stressful for those of us with an introvert make-up: it’s so full of information, demands, social activity, exposure. Introverts can be brilliant at all this stuff but at a price: exhaustion and a feeling of overwhelm. The school library is often the only place where there’s “time, space and permission” to be alone. Without that, some of us mentally crash.
What are some of the best ways school librarians can promote reading for pleasure in secondary schools? What do the best libraries do?
The best libraries encourage free choice of reading material and no judgement. They are welcoming to everyone. They have masses of books and a librarian who knows every book and every child. That’s a big ask but librarians are a bit magic!
Increased digital time is sometimes seen as an obstacle to students reading for pleasure. We know that screens can bring their own benefits, but how do we balance those with the benefits of a physical book?
Some people can engage very well with the words on a digital device, while others engage more easily on paper. We need to be open-minded, self-aware and honest. BUT the one rule is that, however we read, we must have our notifications turned off, because reading is too important (and difficult) to be messed up by fractured attention, stress and multi-tasking.
Our personal reading time should be sacrosanct. Ours and ours alone. No digital intrusions.
Nicola Morgan is an internationally-acclaimed author and authority on teenage wellbeing, how stress impacts performance, effects of screens, social media and the science of reading for pleasure and readaxation. Her best-selling examination of the teenage brain, Blame My Brain, the prize-winning Teenage Guide to Stress, The Teenage Guide to Friends, Positively Teenage, Life Online and her popular teaching materials underline Nicola’s range of expertise and she does events and training all over the world. In 2018, she was awarded the SLA’s prestigious award for Outstanding Contribution to Information Books. (THANK YOU, SLA!) Her next book, Body Brilliant, tackles negative body image.