A Place for Children: Public Libraries as a Major Force in Children’s Reading

Sue North (Consultant: Young Peoples Services, Library and Information Service of Western Australia)

Library Management

ISSN: 0143-5124

Article publication date: 1 July 2000




North, S. (2000), "A Place for Children: Public Libraries as a Major Force in Children’s Reading", Library Management, Vol. 21 No. 5, pp. 271-278. https://doi.org/10.1108/lm.2000.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

A Place for Children presents the results of a UK research project of the same name that focuses on the link between children’s reading development and public libraries. The study, funded by the British Library Research and Innovation Centre, was undertaken between November 1996 and June 1998. While there have been other studies and findings providing quantitative assessments of the value of public library services to children, this study sets out to measure the qualitative impact of public libraries on children’s reading and it is both timely and welcome.

As children’s librarians grapple with changes in society and also within their own organisations, greater emphasis is being placed on the evaluation of existing services and areas of service development which can best achieve their library’s objectives.

The book’s five contributors, including the two editors, have considerable experience in research in the areas of children’s librarianship and literature as well as organisational management. The team’s experience in and commitment to the field of young people’s librarianship is evident in their thoughtful evaluation of the data collected in the questionnaire, case studies and the literature search undertaken for this project.

In the introduction, Judith Elkin and Margaret Kinnell provide an extensive background to the project and outline the premises on which the research is based. Dr Peggy Heeks’ extensive background in children’s librarianship is apparent in Chapter 1. Here she identifies some of the fundamental forces influencing public library services to young people and considers how these impact on public librarians, particularly those working with children.

Chapter 2, by Ray Lonsdale, provides an excellent examination of the vital role played by public libraries in supporting children’s literacy. The contemporary library’s role in embracing information literacy is emphasised.

In Chapter 3, Debbie Denham focuses on the key clients served by children’s libraries and it is pleasing to see adults – parents, carers and teachers – included as a core part of this group. It is perhaps unsurprising that the study found that the concentration of most public libraries tends to be on the younger rather than older age groups with the majority of libraries focusing on services for children under five‐years‐old.

Chapter 4 outlines the study’s findings in the area of collection development. The traditional role of the children’s collection is covered, offering an insight into the link between the children’s collection and its role in the promotion of literacy. The development of a children’s collection to meet changing needs of clients is also assessed.

Promotion is a key element of any children’s library service and Chapter 5 comprehensively examines this activity across a range of areas including activities, the library building and staff.

In Chapter 6, Heeks explores the vital role that formal assessment plays in providing effective children’s library services that will best benefit young people. This is identified as an area where more work needs to be done and useful guidance is given in designing qualitative indicators.

In the final chapter, Judith Elkin provides an overview and summary of the study’s findings as well as recommendations for service development.

While the project was based in the UK the editors express the belief that “the research findings, the good practice identified and the vision of libraries for the future, are relevant world‐wide”. I believe there is little doubt that the broader issues linking the use of public libraries by children to improved standards of literacy is one that has relevance for public libraries everywhere. Many of the findings documented in the book will have parallels in other countries.

The outcomes of the project, as outlined and commented on in this book, will reaffirm what many already feel – that public libraries play an essential role in reading and literacy development in children of all ages. Hopefully, it will encourage children’s librarians to employ formal performance measures and futuristic thinking to further develop services and to convince library managers, politicians and educators of the essential role played by the public library in shaping children’s literacy.

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