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Authors lead fight to save children’s librarians in Haringey

PUBLISHED: 09:21 11 September 2017 | UPDATED: 09:21 11 September 2017

Campaigners were joined by children and parents in Saturday's protest against Haringey Council's changes to the role of children's librarians. Picture: Jon King

Campaigners were joined by children and parents in Saturday's protest against Haringey Council's changes to the role of children's librarians. Picture: Jon King

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Top authors protested with angry parents on Saturday in a bid to save children’s librarians.

Save Hari campaigners outside Wood Green Library. Picture: Jon King Save Hari campaigners outside Wood Green Library. Picture: Jon King

Writers including SF Said, Kaye Umansky and Sita Brahmachari waved placards with mums, dads and youngsters outside Wood Green Library voicing fears children’s librarians’ expertise could be lost following changes to their job descriptions.

The protesters allege by forcing children’s librarians across the borough to take on customer service duties besides inspiring youngsters to read, organising author talks and choosing books Haringey Council has undermined their focus on nurturing reading.

Varjak Paw author SF Said: “There are 15,000 new titles published every year. If you’re a parent navigating through that you want help from an expert. Children’s librarians are those experts.

“You can’t get a customer services assistant to understand 15,000 books as well as process parking tickets,” he added.

Haringey argue all dedicated librarians have stayed in the borough and “continue to look after children’s provision” along with doing “general library admin tasks”.

But campaigners from Save Hari claim librarians’ roles have been “deleted”.

“What the council has done is more damaging than sacking an individual,” Mr Said explained.

“When you take away the role, you take away the future of the role. Unless you give people the time and space to develop their expertise, that expertise will be lost forever.”

“Without it where do you go to find your way through the jungle of children’s books – an Amazon algorithm?” he asked.

“Children’s librarians are vital and there’s no replacement for them.”

Illustrator Ros Asquith commented: “It’s about training and expertise. You don’t go to a heart surgeon who isn’t trained to use a scalpel. Librarians see each child and which book they might be attracted to.”

Mother of two Leila MacTavish added: “They know how to make reading exciting. Without them libraries would be boring for kids.”

Mr Said acknowledged Haringey had “a good record” on keeping libraries open but added the change in role would have long term consequences for the borough’s children.

According to the Beirut born writer author visits and school events have “fallen over a cliff edge” because of cuts with primaries – some lacking librarians – struggling to cope without specialist help.

For the Sunday Times’s children’s books reviewer Nicolette Jones – whose daughter was inspired to become an actress after reading as a girl The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown – the importance of promoting reading is clear.

“We want everybody to have access to reading because it changes lives. It’s no good having people who have a vague interest in children. A specialist librarian is a fantastic resource for parents. They have all sorts of tips on how to enthuse children,” Ms Jones said.

In a statement on Haringey’s website, Cllr Bernice Vanier said: “At each of Haringey’s three main libraries – Hornsey, Wood Green and Marcus Garvey – there are still staff dedicated to children’s library services, and we also have a dedicated officer responsible for children’s stock.

“Local libraries have arrangements in place for children’s provision and, in addition to retaining all of our children’s specialists, other staff have enjoyed training for activities such as story-telling, so there are more people on hand to support popular children’s activities.”

Speaking after the two hour long protest, writer Kaye Umansky said: “We’ve had a good turnout. I’m really hopeful now. I’m fed up of the council chopping away at libraries.”

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