More than a display (part 2)

No big long introduction – see part 1 for my ideological rant.

Purpose: supporting student wellbeing

The #WhaamTheExams campaign is focused on supporting students through this stressful season. It has a weekly theme, delivering freebies and help for getting organised, revision methods, health, mindfulness and fun.

We’ve also placed herbs on each table from our wonderful horticulture team. They can be touched, smelt or even eaten. Each is purported to have different benefits such as relaxation, clarity, energy and calmness.

(Related to Ranganathan’s fifth law and the College’s mantra of students first.)

Purpose: promotion of reading

Each year, The Reading Agency promotes World Book Night in colleges, prisons, public libraries, hospitals, care homes, shelters… its core aim is to improve adult literacy. I like to view it as World Book Day for grown ups, usually minus the fancy dress.

This year, we ran a staff shelfie competition to demonstrate to the students that staff read and own books. We also had an origami station, making and decorating one-minute-bookmarks. Once the student had a bookmark, they were nudged to borrow a book so that they could use it.

In 2018, we encouraged the wider college community to donate good-quality, unwanted books and magazines. From these, we created a lucky dip. Any student could take and unwrap an item as long as they promised to either read it or find it a good home if it wasn’t their cup of tea. Over the week, we gifted over 70 items.

Reading Ahead is an annual reading challenge, also organised by The Reading Agency, to encourage patrons (in our case, students) to read 6 items: books, articles, poems, quick reads. To help break down barriers to reading, and in keeping with the campus’ ethos, we branded the challenge as #BooksAndBeasts. Students, staff and our online community were challenged to send us photos of their animals reading.

These were then turned into posters and put up everywhere on campus.

The physical display included some of these images, plus an array of animal-related reading material (quick reads, picture books, novels, magazines, visual books, reference books) and many, many toy animals.

Essentially, because it’s an annual campaign and some of our students are with us for 2 to 4 years, it’s important to adapt the marketing materials produced by The Reading Agency by adding our own, unique hook – otherwise, it can become too familiar and not enticing. It worked as we’ve had well over 70 participants.

(Ranganathan’s laws: all of them).

Purpose: connecting the library and its students to the real world

Many of our students have never met anyone who makes a living from or has a career in writing; I’m not sure they connect the book they’re holding or article they’re being told they have to read to an actual person. This may be particularly true for those students who are on the cycle of resitting GCSE English and have, therefore, fallen out of love with words.

We celebrated World Poetry Day back in March. Whilst most students grumble that they hate poetry, as a teacher, I know it has the power to unleash creativity and, when introduced in the right way, can be accessible for everyone. After all, it has no rules. We linked the national day of celebration to our existing stock and, in fact, boosted our slim poetry collection by donating some of our own books from home, including a heavily annotated copy of Sylvia Plath’s poems (in my brother’s hand and then mine for our respective A Levels in ’96 and ’99!); a copy of “Moon Whales” signed by Ted Hughes and Chris Riddell, which I won in ’95 as the result of a national poetry competition; and “Mostly Hating Tories” written by my wife’s friend, Janine Booth – an honest, sweary and political collection of poems.

The unusual location of the display, the use of black and the hanging sign meant it display stood out and received a lot of attention. I’d also labelled the books with faux warnings about their sensitive content… which of course meant students picked them up to read. * wink *

In addition , we ran a Blackout Poetry competition inspired by Matt, a Year 6 teacher on Twitter (@5GsPlz). More on how to write Blackout Poetry here. I warn you: it’s addictive. We worked hard with the GCSE English teachers to engage the resit students – in the end, they had multiple trips to the library during their lesson time. We also had entries from many other students, staff and visitors to the campus!

The climax of the whole poetry celebration was an event called “Poetry in the Library.” We sent bespoke invitation postcards to teaching staff and senior management to encourage them to visit. Simon Zec, a local poet, was with us all day. He performed poems, took questions about writing and his process and judged the 70 competition entries! He also wrote a poem dedicated to Brinsbury. It was brilliant to watch students’ body language transform from “do we have to be here?” to “actually, this guy is talking sense.” It was literally possible to track the engagement shift in each session from leaning away / to leaning in \ . Magic.

Over the coming month, we will also display the students’ Blackout Poems in the library, meaning each student will be given a public audience.

This display related to physical stock, a competition enabling students to be creative and play with language, connections across the college and the community and an event.

(Ranganathan’s laws: all of them but especially the third law as we helped the poetry books to find readers!).

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