Where next? Playing by the Book is at a crossroads

posted in: Uncategorized | 55

I try to keep my personal life out of my blog, but given that things might be quiet here for a while today’s post is something by way of an explanation.

On Monday the school I work for informed their librarian that her services were no longer required, that as of the new academic year, the jobs the librarian was believed to be doing in the school would instead be distributed among teaching staff in order to save the school money.

On Tuesday I read this post on the importance of school librarians and library services. If you’re a regular to my blog Emma Barnes’ piece may not tell you anything new, but maybe it’s something you can share with your friends and colleagues to raise awareness of librarians who work in and for schools.

And now it is Wednesday and I’m able to bring myself to share in black and white that I’m that librarian who (with no warning) has been told there is no budget for her position. I can type it today without bursting into tears, which is certainly progress from earlier in the week.

The council which funds the school is virtually bankrupt and has been cutting jobs by the thousands [sic], (the School Library Service was one of its first services to be cut) so it is no surprise to hear that the school’s budget has been cut and therefore they need to save money. It is (not just personally) heartbreaking; this is a school which invested a great deal just two years ago in a fabulous new library opened by a brilliant author, a new library management system, and a (albeit part-time) member of staff who was passionate about her job. Ultimately it’s the children who lose out.

I understand the school no doubt had to make “difficult decisions”, and I don’t want to badmouth the school or its staff (and please, I’d rather you didn’t either) but this decision will have a far bigger impact than “just” making teaching staff more stressed as they have to pick up the different aspects of the librarian role as best they can when they are already stretched. I’ve only been a librarian there a year, but in that time I’ve had so many conversations with staff, kids and parents about finding just the right book for what they needed at that moment in time. I know that nearly every day I’ve been in work at the school I’ve made informed, creative, thoughtful suggestions to one person or another about just the right book, and I’m pretty sure that this will not be happening once I’ve gone, however happily staff (or will it be volunteers?) take to re-shelving and cataloguing.

All this turmoil comes as I was starting to plan how to celebrate the fact that next month I’ll have been blogging about children’s books for five years. I love blogging about books and I wanted to use my 5th birthday as an opportunity to celebrate, and to brainstorm about what-more, what-different, what-how for the next five years. But now that series of questions has become much larger in scope.

I need to earn some money to replace the salary I’m losing. But I want to earn it with integrity, utilising the passion I have for children’s literature. So far I’ve always chosen not to monetize the blog because I don’t want this space I love so dearly to become driven by contracts and payments and pushing you the reader to buy stuff. But maybe this is going to have to change? Would you care? Maybe not, but I would.

But what can a dispirited, saddened, demotivated Playing by the Book do? I know I need to pick myself up and dust myself down and move on to bigger and better things. And I will. For a start, on Saturday I’ve the next meeting of the new 8-12 bookgroup I’ve started at the local public library, and as we’ll be discussing comics and graphic novels I know we’ll have a brilliant time.

But I’d love to hear your ideas about ways forward beyond the weekend. Off the wall ideas? Yes please! Creative partnerships? Absolutely! Innovative, joy-filled ideas for spreading the word about the best of books for kids and young people? Well, that’s always been and always will be at the heart of what I try to do.

Maybe you’re an author who needs admin support? Or a publisher looking for someone to help with a specific campaign? Maybe you’re an investor who would like to hire me to run this amazing children’s bookshop which is up for sale? (Goodness only knows this would be my dream job.)

Ah well. I guess now I’ll turn to a book or two for some comfort.

55 Responses

  1. Extremely sad to hear about the situation. Closing school libraries seems crazy – but I know the balance of finances in schools is on such a hair trigger that when something has to give, it’s usually the very thing that you’d think schools, education boards and the government would be throwing money at hand over fist.

    I wrote something this morning (linked below) that talked about the initiative to fine parents who don’t read with their children – and yet school libraries are often a vital source of books that aren’t dry school readers, for low income parents.

    Zoe you’ll bounce back from this, you are MASSIVELY important in children’s literacy circles and if anyone can make a go of monetizing your blog or perhaps finding something literacy-based as a career, you can. The local book group sounds ace, and with the contacts you have, I truly hope something comes along. Keep doing what you do, you set the bar so high for the rest of us book bloggers to follow.

    Phil @ ReadItDaddy
    Readitdaddy recently posted..Reading for pleasure – Why is it a concept that’s seemingly so difficult to grasp?

  2. Very Sorry to hear this, Zoe. As you say, only children will lose. I was trying to share this post on twitter and FB, but it did not seem to work.
    Wishing you all the very best!

  3. So sorry to hear such sad news.
    Don’t give up & please carry on with this amazing blog.
    Hope you’re happier soon 🙂


    Zoe, this is indeed a tremendous disappointment. Thank-you for being open about your feelings; it would be very hard. I live on the other side of the world and don’t have much in terms of contacts here in Sydney! I’m not alone in being behind whatever you try next but it often happens that we have a hard loss before a time of growth. I hope that doesn’t appear trite! I hope and pray something good and new is in the not-too-distant future.

  5. Was just about to suggest that you should all move to North London and take over the Children’s Bookshop- but I see you’re ahead of me!

    Ah…very sorry to hear this news Zoe. I’m sure the seeds you have planted amongst staff, children and parents at your school will continue to grow and flourish for many years to come but I know it’s not enough.
    I have NO DOUBT however that this door is closing in order for a new and even more stimulating one to open and beckon you through. May adventure await.
    (and in the meantime wine,chocolate biscuits, your flourishing children and Even More books certainly do)

  6. Zoe – I’m an ex teacher and had the experience of being nominally in charge of the school library. I felt constantly guilty because I couldn’t do anything in there, the demands of my job were too great, and yet, and yet – as another commenter has said here, it should have been at the heart of my job, it was what my gut was telling me to do but I couldn’t. Eventually, I gave up teaching. The conflicts between what I felt was best for the children, and what I had to do were just too great. My heart breaks for education and for you. This blog is amazing, and I love the way you build experiences around every book. I know that money is tight in schools, but I absolutely think that this is something you could monetise. Put together a leaflet linking to this website. Explain that you could take this experience into classes, and I think you will tap into the feelings so many teachers have that they would like to give this wider experience, but they just haven’t got the time to provide it. It is something that could be provided by Parent Teacher Association money – as a way of enriching the curriculum. Please let me know how you get on, and email me if you need any help.

  7. Sarah Ormes

    This makes me so cross! I wonder how much the school has invested in your library in terms of stock and equipment, tens of thousands I imagine, the return on that investment will be very poor indeed without a librarian. A very short sighted decision by the school. I think your blog is great and as a primary school librarian I read avidly and use it continously. I’m sure another school will be thrilled to have you as their librarian.

  8. Sarah Ormes

    Eek – in my fury I made some errors – should read “I think your blog is great and as a primary school librarian I read it avidly and use it continuously’.

  9. So sorry to read this – but utterly convinced your energy and talents will find a way.

  10. Zoe I’m really sad for you. I was once an art teacher in a primary school and then suddenly there were no more art posts and art was taken over by well meaning teachers who did ‘colouring-in’ lessons. All these reductions chip away at the development of the ‘whole’ child.

    Please don’t stop your blog. Firstly the header makes me smile every time I see it (especially the giraffe). I hope something comes up for you. What about the Pop-up Festival? They must need people who know about books and how to run book events. If there is anybody who knows how to ‘play by the book’ its you and that’s what the Pop-Up is all about… playing with books.

  11. I’m so sorry to hear this Zoe. I know for sure what a huge benefit you will have been to the school. If you ever want to chat about ideas for monetising a blog, let me know – I think we could come up with some ideas!
    Cathy recently posted..Paper lanterns Ramadan craft

  12. I’m just so sad reading this post. The terrible irony is that there is a flood of research showing that “reading for pleasure” is hugely important to children, and actually raises their educational attainment on a range of measures, and this is now so established it is being cited by OFSTED, the government…and yet what actually happens? Public libraries close, school library services close, wonderful librarians like yourself, full of talent and dedication lose their jobs.

    As you say the vital thing a knowledgeable librarian can do is finding the right book for the right child – and that can make all the difference in a child’s life.

    I do hope that you find another opportunity to use all your expertise (and of course, make some money!) I hope, too, people wake up and see what is happening.

  13. Oh Zoe! I am so sorry. I know that I have been quiet here of late. I have taken on an all consuming volunteer role (in our school!) and it has taken away from some of my happier time spent reading book blogs but I always make time to come to this space at least every so often. You are such an amazing talent and I am so sorry that your school was not able to move money around in a way to keep you on board. I am constantly trying to figure out a way to make money sharing the right book with the right child. And then I get frustrated because of what I sense as lack of demand from the readers (my blog posts about children’s lit consistently get my lowest numbers) or my parent education talks (low enrollment). There must be a way… Let me know if you want to talk this out via e-mail. I do have an idea or two that might be worth trying. And in the meantime- all your readers are right- chocolate and books are the way out of this!
    Stacey recently posted..Visit Me at Literary Mama

  14. Sorry to hear your news, it must be so distressing. I saw this job advertised yesterday and it sprung straight to mind when I read your post. http://www.ipg.uk.com/?id=4908

    Best of luck in finding a home for your talents and passion.

  15. Ah Zoe, I’m so sorry to hear your sad news! I have no useful thoughts, but just wanted to say my thoughts are with you and I hope that a Wonderful New Adventure is waiting for you.
    charlotte recently posted..Seven Stories Up, by Laurel Snyder, for Timeslip Tuesday

  16. Zoe, this is awful news. So sorry.

    You are such a talent. Is there not a book worth publishing from all your blog posts? Or become some kind of independent literacy advisor within schools.

    Like Polly said, one door shuts and another opens. I’m a mega fan of your blog and I know it will work out for you.

    Good luck.

    sharon recently posted..Father’s Day 2014

  17. So sorry to hear this news Zoe – your blog is amazing and I wish I had found it five years ago! I too have been a teacher and school librarian and I completely empathize with you. (We lost our school library service more than a dozen years ago by the way). Please don’t stop blogging – wishing you lots of success in a new venture and hope you will keep us all posted and entertained as you have done in the past.

  18. I’m only a recent reader of your blog and a recent twitter follower, Zoe, but I have so enjoyed (and admired)your words of wisdom over the past weeks.
    I think you could pitch a guide book to children’s fiction with a book for every occasion – from celebrations, special days and new babies to bereavement, bullying and depression.
    Good luck to you. x
    Jenny recently posted..Tabitha Posy at the Warwick Words Festival

  19. Zoe, I am so sorry to hear this. I have every faith in the world that you’ll land on your feet but that’s cold comfort in the immediate present. In terms of this blog, you really are the top UK children’s literature blogger out there. I confess a bit of ignorance when it comes to the children’s literary world of Britain. Do you have literary journals like SLJ, Booklist, Horn Book, etc. where you are? Might they be interested in hosting your blog on their site if so? Just thinking aloud. In the meantime, keep your spirits up. You know I’d hire you in a heartbeat at NYPL if you ever crossed the ocean.
    Fuse #8 recently posted..Press Release Fun: Teachers Are Givers Contest

  20. So sorry to hear that Zoe – it must be painful for you on many levels. I’m sure that you will find a way to use your creative love of kid’s books to earn some money again. Our school has opted out of the Schools Library Service this year – they can do it better (and more importantly – cheaper) themselves. I disagree, but I’m a lone voice and they need to find money to pay for SEN. With the best will in the world, over-stretched teachers cannot all be book experts as well, so the kids will lose out… All very sad.
    Once you get thinking about your next step I’m sure something will start to fall into place. Everything is crossed for you.

  21. can”t write much as I have a broken wrist…but so sad, and not very surprised to read your news. If half the money that goes on vainglorious IT projects in schools went into reading we would have better educated and much more creative kids.

    I assume it isn’t financially possible for you to work at something that doesn’t pay? In any case, speaking from experience, I am very unhappy about people doing stuff for free that is worthy of payment. However it may be worth exploring PTA sponsorship? At my school the PTA pays for almost the entire library stock. It may also be worth looking ay ways you could go freelance as a “consultant enabler” offering support to volunteers in schools – although that is no substitute for a professional librarian, it is all that many schools have got.

    I suggest you approach the SLA if you have not already done so, they must be hearing many similar stories. I wish you well.
    Ruth Waterton recently posted..A Tale of Two Monsters – Dracula and Frankenstein compared

  22. Oh Zoe, that it truly heartbreaking. Everything you say resonates, and every day I’m grateful to librarians for finding ‘just the right book’. Nothing and noone can replace someone who knows, and the budget to fill the shelves with books that speak to students.
    But the very best of luck in your next venture. I hope it will be wonderful, life-affirming … and financially rewarding!
    You deserve it.
    Sophi recently posted..The Castle – first chapter

  23. Very sorry to hear about this, Zoe. I love your blog. I would have thought that your brilliant art & craft ideas would make a good book but you won’t make much money out of that but it could lead to workshops perhaps? You are very talented. Remember that!

  24. Hi Zoe,
    Such sad news. It’s a terrible pity that the council cannot find the finding for school librarians and libraries in general. It’s such a waste. I’m really sorry about your situation. I’m a huge fan of your blog and find it inspirational. To think the school will be losing your passion and creativity is a huge loss.
    best wishes, Tara

  25. I’m so so sorry to hear this news, Zoe. You’re right, it’s a loss for the students, and somehow I can’t picture teachers and staff happily shelving–let alone having the time and dedication to children’s books that’s required for readers’ advisory. I don’t have any helpful suggestions at the moment, but I’m facing similar challenges over here–maybe we could put our heads together! Til then, if there’s anything you need please let me know. I can suggest my favorite comfort reading at least: Mandy by Julie Edwards.
    Anamaria recently posted..48 Hour Book Challenge: Diverse mg and ya books

  26. Hi Zoe
    I was so sorry to hear this. You have such an amazing talent and passion for what you do, and this will be a terrible loss to the school. I can only imagine how gutted you must be feeling. But you will come back from this in one way or another, I am sure. I am also in a situation where my job is coming to a close (hence why I have been quiet on the blogging front) and am looking at ways of expanding on what I do. Happy to chat things over with you. In the meantime, take heart – you have lots of support out here!
    Sam recently posted..Enid Blyton fun quiz!!

  27. Peter Prasadam

    Hello Zoe
    I am sorry for your sudden change of situation and clearly you are an excellent exponent of children’s literature.
    We are part of a federated school in Walsall and always keen to promote great reading. We would be interested in exploring a role in which you could support and extend our positive approach. If you think it is worthwhile please get in touch.
    Peter Prasadam

  28. Dear Zoe,

    Was thinking of you just this morning. Very sorry to hear about the librarian role being made redundant.
    You are an amazingly creative and enthusiastic person. Do hang in there. Who knows? Something bigger might come up!

  29. Oh I am so sorry, you must be just so gutted… your heart and soul were so entwined in that wonderful work. I wouldn’t make any decisions immediately, let the news settle and give your heart a chance to take a breathe. Wish you could just pop over for a cup of tea and a chat… and we could talk it out. Sending all my love…
    se7en recently posted..Happy Brilliant Birthday to Hood #4…

  30. So sorry to hear this – I just recommended your blog to a bunch of my storytime parents and they were very excited! That being said, I would not feel you had “sold out” if you monetized – life happens and it would be worth it to keep your awesome blog alive!

  31. Hi Zoe,
    Very sorry to hear this from Sydney- I am sure your Blog is read and appreciated world wide.Cost cutting is a real issue with education everywhere and also the lack of understanding of the knowledge and passions librarians impart to teachers, children and parents at schools.Try to keep in mind the old adage – When one door closes , another opens, especially for someone as committed and passionate as yourself.

  32. Hi Zoe, what a great job you do with Playing by the Book, and how brave you are telling this very personal story,
    I was in a similar situation 2 years ago and promise the tears stop (eventually) and you will never look back. Take the opportunity to monetize your bog, you are already doing 80% of the work of running your own online business anyway. As long as you monetize with integrity your audience will understand and there is truth in the saying that if you do something you love the money will come. Best of luck! Debbie

  33. Just read your post Zoe and I’m so sorry to hear the bad news. Please don’t give up the blog – it is sooo good, so informative, fun, interesting. I’m sure you can make a go of monetising it and carve a new literacy role for yourself in the near future. Wishing you the very best of luck!

  34. Hi – I just left a message with my Wife to contact you. Please drop me a mail with your details? This isn’t spam but it directly addresses your stated “Passion for children’s books”.
    stonelaughter recently posted..A couple of events to look forward to!

  35. Alex Gutteridge

    Zoe, I’m so sorry to hear your news, both for you and the children. You are a casualty of a far larger crisis but that is small consolation. You have many gifts and your blog is one of them. My only advice in this time of turmoil is to look after yourself well and do nothing in a hurry. Good things will come your way – I am sure of it.

  36. Oh, no! And just when they’re telling us that the economy is picking-up!
    Zoe, you are a rare person with your huge knowledge and passion for children’s books. Surely, surely, another school, a publisher or a festival will give you a new set of books to nurture and bring to children? You speak to big groups so well too (I was at the FCBG conference). Might there be a roll in the move to try and train primary school teachers about children’s books at the teacher training stage?

  37. Sorry to learn of your redundancy, but perhaps, even, a push that you’ll be grateful for in time. The opportunity for another dream.

    And for what it’s worth, I’ll always be dropping in on your blog regardless of what you chose to do with it.

    Good luck with any worthy projects you discover.

  38. So sorry to hear this Zoe. I hope that you find another way to share your experience, enthusiasm and knowledge with other book lovers.
    Could you find a way of doing workshops that incorporate the ideas, books and activities that you have already done with your own children? Your ideas are always so original and fun 🙂
    Catherine recently posted..Alice Hemming recommends I Love You, Blue Kangaroo! by Emma Chichester Clark

  39. So sorry to hear this Zoe. On Heart I try to ‘big up’ everything that we school librarians do, so that shortsighted policies like this don’t happen. But the truth is you are the second person I have heard of this week, with one other having her library reduced to the size of a small classroom, and she is in bits about it too (no consultation). In Kent where I work there are fewer and fewer schools with libraries. So shortsighted. I know what you mean about monetising your blog – I refuse to monetise Heart. If you are near enough to London there are a few good jobs going here. All the best – hope we don’t lose you as a school librarian.
    Caroline recently posted..School mobile library

  40. Margaret Pemberton


    I am so sorry to hear your news. Having just had my SLS closed I can understand the shock at the news. I despair at the mentality of people who think this will aid learning in schools. Keep up your fantastic work on your blog and I hope to see you soon. Lots of hugs.

  41. So sorry to hear this, Zoe! I do hope that you’ll be able to keep up your blogging.
    Jen Robinson recently posted..Zephyr Takes Flight: Steve Light

  42. Zoe – your blog is amazing. You mustn’t stop it. I’ve said before that your link- in ideas with music & activities are wonderful, and I’m sure many teachers would love them for a resource – so I wonder if an educational publisher would make them into a book? Alternatively teachers/educators could subscribe to your blog, but I don’t know how that is done. All I know is that it is far too good to stop. I’m so sorry about you losing your job. It is so shortsighted but schools are in so much financial pressure they make bad decisions.

    You are a great organiser and public speaker too. You have so many talents and a huge knowledge of children’s literature. I think that people in the publishing/book world need to pass on the news that you are available – and people of sense will form a queue to get you on their team!! Good Luck Zoe. I know its a cliché that ‘when one door closes another opens’ – but in this instance I think it may be very true! xx

  43. Zoe, why don’t you write a book for children? Xxx

  44. So very, very sorry to read this, can’t imagine how upset you must be. I’ve been out of public libraries for nearly 10 years now but was always under the impression a primary school librarian was a rare thing, I was always very impressed your school had one. I would not think badly of you trying to monetise your blog at all, it’s a wonderful resource ( only the other day Jon said we should dig in your archives for ideas of things you did when your girls were much younger), and one of the few blogs where I am genuinely excited to see it come up in my feed reader.

    Are there any literature festivals near you? I know Edinburgh Book Festival have a children’s director, that always seems like the sort of the thing you would be fabulous at. Take care from all the Nagls x
    Katherine recently posted..#10in2014 – Chocolate custard muffins

  45. Laura Taylor

    Lots of opportunities in secondary school libraries in London. Contact me if you want some suggestions of schools keen to recruit people with your knowledge and enthusiasm.

  46. Zoe, I’m so sorry to hear the news. I hope you a looking up a little since you wrote this post. It must have been such a shock to you. Have you talked to anyone at the library where you are holding the book group? Maybe they will have some ideas for you? Please keep us updated. I will be sending good thoughts your way!
    Kerry Aradhya recently posted..Celebrate Maryland with Movement and Art

  47. Lesley Martin

    Oh Zoe, how awful for you, I am so sorry. I hope something else comes along for you.

  48. Zoe,
    How heartbreaking for you and for the children at your school. It’s becoming a sadly familiar story though, as you say. It’s madness at a time when people are also so concerned about encouraging reading for pleasure- as Margaret said above they’ve cut our SLS this year and I’ve heard of another local school librarian in the past month who has lost their job because of funding too. You will find something else I’m sure as you’re so knowledgeable and passionate. It’s the children who will lose out though, if Gove wants children to be readers he needs to make school librarians statutory and increase funding to schools to cover this. Xxx

  49. Hope this all turns into a blessing into disguise…
    Much love from Portugal 🙂

  50. (Blessing in disguise even!)

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