ASCEL Conference Report 2019. Diversity, Empathy & Wellbeing: Libraries as places of nurture

A report by Georgeta Maierean, Sponsored conference attendee 

The theme for this year was Diversity, Empathy and Well-Being: Libraries as places of nurture.  I work in Brent Libraries as a Customer Libraries Assistant. Brent is one of the most diverse boroughs in the UK and to work in such a diverse area you need a better understanding of all communities. Attending ASCEL conference was a great opportunity to expand my knowledge, improve book selection and to have a better understanding about diversity, empathy and well-being.

The key topics discussed and explored during the conference were:

  • Young People and mental health
  • Issues, challenges and solution for local authorities
  • Newsguard
  • Child carers and dealing with addiction
  • Educating children at home
  • Supporting the education of children in hospital
  • Storytellers in hospitals, Readathon and the work of Read for Good
  • Representation in children’s books
  • Diversity role models

Highlights from the two day conference included:

First speaker was Alison David, Consumer Insight Director Egmont Publishing. She talked about Stories and Choices and she stressed during her presentation the importance of reading for pleasure. Getting the children engaged with reading will increase their confidence, encourage language development and improve their life chances. Her advice was to encourage children to read for pleasure any book they like and later on they will get into the habit of reading. Her book ‘Help Your Child Love Reading ‘is a relevant resource for parents in terms of understanding the importance of reading and empathy.

Also speaking was Pat Sowa, Managing Director of Starfish Mental Wellbeing Education. She was a keynote speaker who has dedicated herself to raising awareness, building understanding and inspiring action to improve mental health education since she lost her son, Dom, age 17. She is also an Ambassador for Papyrus, the young suicide prevention charity. The information delivered were very useful in terms of handling possible situations with young adults in the library and the importance of library staff training on this issue.

The day continued with Anna -Sophie Harling, Managing Director for Europe, NewsGuard. The platform provides credible, independent ratings of all the news and information websites that comprise 90+ percent of online engagement in each country. Libraries can use NewsGuard as a new literacy tool and research reference. It can be a useful tool to fight fake news.

The next speaker was Jane Elson Author & Piers Henriques, National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA). She talked about Child carers and dealing with addiction. Her book ‘Will you catch me?’ tells Nell’s story, a child affected by her mothers drinking. The book is a good recommendation to children who feel different, excluded and vulnerable. I used it as a resource for Class visits (KS2 Year4, 5 and 6.) and its is a good recommendation for children.

The day ended with dynamic Nigerian rap artist Breis. His performance was full of energy and his lyrics were witty and full of uplifting, funny and authentic. I will use his book of rhymes Brilliant Rappers Educate Intelligent Students for class visit sessions discussing topics like ‘Identity’, ‘Inspiration’, ‘Believing in yourself ‘.

Day two started with Elizabeth Wright’s presentation, a Paralympic medallist and co-founder Resilience Wellbeing Success.

Stephen Deadman from National Association for Hospital Education had a speech for how important it is supporting the education of children in hospitals. Teaching takes place in hospitals, inpatient CAMHS units, at home and on 80- place alternative provision secondary school.

The next speaker was Justine Daniels CEO Read for Good. Read for Good encourages children to read through their sponsored Readathon in schools, which help them provide books for school libraries, and books and storytellers for children in hospital throughout the UK.

The Diversity, Empathy and Well –Being – Representation in Children’s Books PAnel discussion. Part of the panel were authors Sufiya Ahmed, (Chair), Savita Kalhan and Mel Darbon, Aimee Felone from Knights Of publishers, Jon Biddle, teacher and Empathy Lab Expert Advisor.

Workshops attended.

1. Apps for Diversity, Empathy and Well-Being
The workshop was delivered by Bev Humphrey, Literacy & Technology Consultant. She firmly believes that the world of apps and digital media can be used to enhance children’s reading experiences but will never take the place of books.

2. Reaching parents and helping them understand empathy
The workshop was delivered by Jon Biddle, Teacher and Empathy Lab Member. Empathy it is a skill we can learn. The research shows that books are a powerful tool to develop it, because in identifying with book characters, children can see things from other points of view. When the parents read with their children, they can build their empathy skills at the same time.


The Book Exhibition

During the ASCEL conference I visited The Book Exhibition – an opportunity for me to improve my stock knowledge and take more recommendations for class visits: from picture books like ‘Look Up!’ by Nathan Bryon and Dapo Adeola to Teens books like ‘The Burning’ by Laura Bates. The books presented reflected diversity and empathy and also supports inclusion.

Attending the ASCEL Conference helped me to learn more about diversity which in turn will help me improve stock selection in order to ensure better representation of CYP. It gave me also a better understanding about diversity, empathy and well -being.
As a result of my learnings I presented my knowledge from the conference to my colleagues at CYP Team Library meetings, I provided a report for staff circulation and developed a book list of recommended CYP books for diversity, inclusion and representation as resource for frontline staff. I also developed a range of learning activities that support diversity, inclusion, empathy for class visits, holiday activities and also Under 5’s.

The full report can be found on the ASCEL website for members

See past year’s conference themes.


This year the ASCEL conference theme was Diversity, Empathy and Well-being and I decided to do a lightning talk which covered Well-being and Empathy for school librarians. This is how it went…

So what is #LibraryStaffLoveLearning? The simple truth is it was a way to get myself reading more non-fiction books, articles, blogs and listening to webinars, podcasts, TED talks for my own CPD. It allowed me to keep track of what I was reading or listened to and it made me critically evaluate and extend my own learning. 

Ok so why bother to tell you all about this? You see I decided to not only do this for myself but realised it might be useful to others too. I felt that I could not be the only librarian out there that wanted to do this and saw that there was a gap in online, cheap CPD for school library staff. School librarians have a big job to do in empowering students and teachers to navigate their way through the world of information and it is essential that we keep up to date too. Not every school librarian is able to get away from work or has the budget to attend conferences and I wanted to create a space that allowed discussion and learning which supported well-being for librarians by helping them feel less isolated in their role through an online platform for discussion, whilst also helping them to understand and empathise with teachers through what we read. 

I started in January 2018 as my new year’s resolution after tweeting about it and having a good response. I had no idea how I was going to do this but having put it out there I felt I had to at least give it a go. 

My first idea was to run a chat at a specific time on Padlet and on twitter by providing suggested reading and then creating the questions. What I had not appreciated was that there were librarians in different time zones that also wanted to join in. This made the idea even more exciting as it was now possible to learn from other librarians from across the world but a specific time and place just would not work. 

I gave up on twitter and stayed focused on Padlet. For those of you who don’t know what this is it is a platform where you can share content and comment on it. It originally seemed to fit my needs but I soon realised that I would have to pay for extra space and it was not easy to see all the discussions at the same time. So I evolved again…

After almost 2 years of trial and error, I not only realised that I had the perfect platform on my own website but I now have a clear vision of what is on offer. 

Every month there will be a discussion on something small so, for instance, November’s discussion is a TED talk that I found about communication and our own behaviour which I agree does not obviously link to school libraries but we always find a way and learn something. I let people know the selected item, early the month before to give them time to listen, watch or read it. I then try and post the questions up in the first week of the month. I find that others are more likely to join in if I have a go at answering the questions myself so when you look you will generally see my questions and my own answers. I like to do this for my own learning and like to lead by example which is why I started it anyway. I worry less these days about others joining in because this is for me after all. However, I must be honest and say that I do get excited when I see comments coming in and I have been involved in some really interesting discussion over the last 2 years. 

Next year I am being more strategic about the book choices and have decided that once every three months I will make a book suggestion, which we will discuss in March, June, September and December. I have found books the hardest thing to get school librarians involved with as they are a bigger time commitment and there is a cost involved. A lot of the professional books can cost £60+ and I completely understand that this is a lot of money to most of us. I did start trying to find cheaper books and this has worked but sometimes it is just good to read the more expensive ones. I often say that it is worth asking the budget holder to allow you to buy these books for your own CPD and point out it is much cheaper than the conference you recently asked about. 

I am excited to tell you that the SLA has decided to support my online forum by offering book loans from their CPD library to line up with my book suggestions. If anyone is an SLA member they should check it out. 

The old discussions always stay open where you can read anything that has been posted. However to join in and comment you do need to sign up to my website which allows me to make sure that everyone is genuine. I have enjoyed creating this forum and look forward to many more school library discussion in the future. 

To find out more please visit my website and join when you can.

Elizabeth Hutchinson, Independent Trainer and Adviser, School Libraries


SLS-UK at IFLA 2019

Gillian Harris and Stella Thebridge at IFLA WLIC

For decades, IFLA WLIC has been the world’s most international library conference and this year was no exception. More than 3300 delegates from over 130 countries came to Athens — the cradle of democracy and the world’s first public library — as the floor was given to more than 500 speakers at over 250 open sessions, nearly 200 poster sessions and 30 lighting talks. Over 20 satellite meetings were held in the surrounding region and gave in-depth attention to a broad range of subjects. Eleven key sessions were live streamed, reaching thousands all across the globe.” (from the organisers of IFLA 2019)

I was lucky to attend for one day (Tues 27th August) with Gillian Harris, SLS Manager in Tower Hamlets, where we presented a paper on the work SLS-UK has been developing on a framework for evaluation called “Theory of Change”.

Ours was the fifth of six presentations in a 2-hour session entitled “Statistics in school libraries”, organised by the Schools Data section of IFLA, and, contrary to my assumption that we were there to make up the numbers, it turned out that our 6 papers had been chosen from a total of 22 submitted, so that was a nice surprise!

The paper will be published on IFLA’s website. Our presentation slides will go on to ASCEL’s site and we can link to the full article.

In due course we hope to publicise the full framework for SLS managers across the UK to access and use – it is just being revised at the moment. We are also considering how the framework might be made available to other countries if this is thought to be a good thing! The interest at IFLA was certainly there.


Gillian Harris (left) and Stella Thebridge, photographed by Annie Everall


SLS-UK are grateful for the financial support of ASCEL both in helping our group develop the framework, and also in paying our delegate fee for the day in Athens. We also had a good holiday around it too, although the heat was a challenge at time.


Stella Thebridge
Principal Librarian: schools and reading, Warwickshire Library Service

Staring into Space

ASCEL Guest Blog by Emily Drabble, head of Children’s Book Promotion and Prizes at BookTrust.

As the Summer Reading Challenge is on the horizon I am sure that everyone is planning events and activities to support this.

At the start of her tenure the Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Lauren Child teamed up with teacher and artist Josey Scullard to create Staring into Space, a collection of resources to inspire children to think creatively. You can find all 6 resources plus a letter from Lauren on the official Laureate website

There are even more ideas on Lauren’s own website

Whist these 6 resources are about a different type of space to this year’s Summer Reading Challenge theme they are adaptable and can be linked to an outer space theme, for example why not make a miniature 3D solar system or rocket launch pad or introduce charcoal and create a rocket journey into space.

You can share the creations online using the hashtag #staringintospace

Have fun getting creative!

BookTrust run and manage the Waterstones Children’s Laureate.

Play & Learn: Essential Life Skills in West Somerset

Blog post by Christina Evans, Library Supervisor, Somerset Libraries

West Somerset is a beautiful place to live, with areas of natural beauty and picturesque beaches but it is also the lowest ranking district in England in terms of social mobility. As part of the government’s national plan to help address social mobility, West Somerset was identified as a key area for investment to try and help children and young people unlock their talent and develop their potential.

Play and Learn: Minehead Library

Play and Learn, held at Minehead Library, is a fortnightly digital skills event where young people can drop in and discover different digital skills. The sessions are staffed by engaged and enthusiastic library staff volunteers with a wide range of experience of technology from enthusiastic novices to tech wizards.

The sessions are for two hours and use a mixture of digital toys and tech such as 3D printing, Augmented Reality, Stop Animation, etc to help build digital skills. As well as using Osmo, an Educational games system for the iPad, which helps children and young people develop and learn new skills from coding, numeracy, drawing skills and creative confidence, spelling and critical thinking, and more.

The project has been fairly successful for the rural area with an average of around 8-10 children taking part at each session and has been particularly successful attracting children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds (with around 44% of participants receiving either Free School Meals or Pupil Premium).

WSomerset child digital coding

And the feedback from participants has been the most encouraging more engaged parents and children attending other activities such as Code Club or using loanable tech such as Microbits for projects. One parent commented that the sessions had helped “to really bring him [his son] out of his shell, he’s constantly working on projects and ideas at home.” And one of the children attending commented that “I loved bringing my ideas to life with the app and seeing how it worked.”

Some of the unexpected successes has been the development of other events and activities because of the project. Similar sessions have been arranged at other libraries in the local area with staff providing outreach activities. As well as digital skill days happening during the holiday period were young people have worked on digital projects alongside some of our volunteers and partners.

What we’ve learned:

  • Purchase a wide variety of tech, experiment and allow for play.
  • Engaged and enthusiastic staff are key to a project’s success.
  • Let young people decide their own programme of activity and what they want to do.
  • Let young people learn at their own pace but support it with staff/volunteers.
  • Use new or innovative bits of gaming technology such as Osmo to help develop and teach invaluable skills while making it fun.
  • Ensure staff are trained not only on the tech but how to engage with young people.
  • Make sure it’s fun both for staff and young people!

Contact Christina Evans, Relief Development Officer at Somerset Libraries ( for more information.

Read Manchester

Post by Margaret Duff & Cheryl Pridgeon. Read Manchester Project Managers

The Read Manchester campaign was set up in 2016 by Manchester City Council, in partnership with the National Literacy Trust, with the aim of encouraging reading for pleasure across the city, for all ages and communities. It originated from colleagues in Education who felt that reading should be an activity that involved parents, carers and everyone in the city, and should also have the aim of improving the quality of life and mental wellbeing of people in the city.
The Read Manchester brand is an umbrella for existing reading activity in the city, and also generates new activity and partnerships. The brand also enables partners to badge their own activity. Libraries, Work and Skills, Education and Early Years all work closely together on the campaigns, and we are bringing Health into the partnership, working with health visitors to deliver the Bookstart message and develop a book ‘prescribing’ scheme.

Workshop at Central Library 3 - photo by David Oates (1)


Initiatives have included gifting books on the tram, creating a ‘Take 10’ campaign and supporting mental health by working with high schools to roll out the Shelf Help collection and train high school librarians.

Close partnerships have been forged with the Manchester Adult Education Service, Sure Start Children’s Centres, heads of literacy, colleges, universities and festivals, including the Manchester Children’s Book Festival and the Manchester Literature Festival. Read Manchester was the Learning Programme Partner on last year’s hugely successful Bee in the City public art trail. We hope to continue the growth of the campaign and develop further partnerships in 2019.

Stay, Play and Learn

Families playing parachute games in a library

Blog post by Jane Mason, Operations Manager (Stock & Reader Services) Oxfordshire BookStart Coordinator, Oxfordshire Libraries.

Blackbird Leys is buzzing with activity on a Thursday morning, Didcot on a Friday morning, soon to be followed by Littlemore and Woodstock with other libraries approaching the planning stage.

What is going on?

Stay, Play and Learn sessions are a new initiative for libraries and are encouraging families into the library to play, talk, read and sing with their children.

There are mums, grandmothers, dads, aunts and childminders, all with the same goal, which is to get children socialising, talking, and communicating. This means getting children school ready.

Because we are in a library most of the activities are based around communication, language and literacy. The families are encouraged to interact with their children.

Oxford family
Families at Stay, Play & Learn session

The volunteers who will be leading the sessions will model how to talk and play with children using the resources available. There is plenty of scope to develop concepts using books and toys.

It is lovely seeing children tipping all the toys over the floor and then choosing what to play with. (The parents always help clear up at the end of the session).

At Blackbird Leys the children particularly enjoy the large waffle blocks, the dolls house and small animals and the big wooden bus.

At Didcot they enjoy the foam building bricks, role play kitchen and the train track and cars.

Oxford baby

The sessions end with a rhymetime. Rhymes and songs are a fun way of helping children acquire language skills.

Recycled Racing Machines’ – Family Digital Making Sessions

Blog post by Kate Robinson, Juliet Kendall and Mark Sutcliffe. Oxfordshire.

Despite the rain and cold persisting throughout the spring school holidays, our libraries continued to offer warmth, light and fun for children and families. We took our “Recycled Racing Machines” workshop out to Berinsfield, Littlemore and Oxfordshire County Library and it was a ‘Sell Out’!

Each of the sessions became a hive of activity; from crafts, modelling, knitting and drawing, to designing, engineering, electric circuits and playing with ozobots.

OxfordRacingMachines families

As well as a good deal of problem-solving, creativity, team-work and ingenuity, families also had the opportunity to learn about batteries, wheels, knitting and crochet.

The emphasis was on having fun with their family in the library, but if people learnt something along the way – then even better!

OxfordRacingMachines group

Many thanks to all our partners, who we couldn’t have run the event without:

  • Val Knight and Viv Kadobinskj, from ‘Children, Education and Families’
  • Jane Barton and friends, from the Oxford Knitting and Crochet Guild
  • Orinoco, The Oxford Scrapstore – for their wonderful hoard of recycled textiles, scraps and plastics.

We hope to run more of these sessions in the future, in other locations, so do watch this space…..

OxfordRacingMachines Knitting

Sharing Our Journey to becoming Autism Friendly

The global network of libraries was highlighted recently when a Librarian from Korea contacted ASCEL to find out more about their innovative work developing Autism Friendly Libraries. 

Ham from the South Korean Library Service was working with a charitable organisation to establish Autism Friendly Libraries in South Korea when he picked up on the ground-breaking work led by ASCEL and Dimensions. 

Keen to understand the network in the UK and discover examples of good practice Ham visited Coventry Library Service to find out more about the approach that we had taken when we made the journey to becoming autism friendly 2 years ago. 

Here in Coventry we were thrilled to have the opportunity to welcome Ham and his colleagues to our city, and to share our story. It was great to have the chance to talk about our successes but also to touch on the issues we had encountered along the way. 

Talking via an interpreter did take a little while to get used to, but we were soon able to share our experiences and ideas. We really connected about the need to involve people with lived experience, and Ham and colleagues were particularly interested to learn about the network of support from ASCEL. 

From our point of view, it was fascinating to hear about the project that our visitors were embarking on. In South Korea the team were looking at establishing Libraries which would only provide services for Autism. For this reason, the integrated approach taken in the UK was an interesting concept to Ham’s team, and the visit provided different options for them to consider. 

Soon it was time to say goodbye to our visitors but everyone is excited to keep in touch as services continue to develop.

We can’t wait to hear more from Ham and his team very soon. 

Sorrelle Clements. Service Development Manager, Libraries and Information Services
Coventry City Council

Surrey Libraries maker events & STEM

Blog entry by Gary Green (Digital Services Lead, Surrey Libraries)

Over the past few years Surrey Libraries have been working towards a permanent makerspace at Guildford Library. This includes focusing on a number of groups in the community, one of which is aimed at developing the skills of children in relation to creative technology, digital and STEM activities.

As part of this we have either run the events ourselves, making use of the interests and skills of library staff, hosted events provided by external organisations and individuals within the local community, and also run events as part of national initiatives.
We’ve seen that there has been a shift in the way that people learn over the past few years, with hands-on and making approaches being particularly effective for subjects around the STEM agenda and technology.Events we’ve either run or hosted for children, include:

  • Robotics sessions using Mbot, Ozobots, and Meccano Meccanoids.
  • Electronics sessions using Little Bits, Raspberry Pi, and Makey Makey controllers
  • Coding activities including Code Clubs, IAmTheCODE clubs, Micro:bits sessions.
  • Minecraft, which have also included elements of coding.
  • Interactive fiction writing session for looked after children.
  • Game Making

We originally decided to focus on these areas after running a maker day in January 2016 with much of the technology mentioned above. The day was a success, with over 120 adults and children attending. Following on from this we were given funding to buy a mobile Makercart, which included most of the kit we have mentioned already, as well as a 3D printer and digital paper cutter. We recently also ran a crowd-funding campaign with support from MBA students at the University of Surrey to raise money for a film studio. Children will be able to use this studio to film and share their own maker projects.
Maker and STEM activities were a new concept for Surrey Libraries, but by signing up to the Maker Corps program (a U.S. based initiative) we were able to provide a focus for our activities. We also had guidance and support from educator and maker Carlos Izsak.
As well as coding courses and stand alone maker sessions we’ve also used some of our maker kit for events with a broader focus, including a local arts festival, Always the Sun; The Big Draw; Fun Palaces; and a thank you event for our Summer Reading Challenge volunteers.

Benefits of running these activities include:

  • Supporting the development of children’s skills in relation to the STEM agenda in a creative way, with a focus on coding and technology.
  • Developing our learning and educational offer in relation to technology within libraries, and demonstrate our value in this area.
  • Engaging with the local community to highlight our desire to support learning in this way, and encourage the local community to support us in this endeavour in either a formal or informal partnership role. We have had such a positive response to this from the local community.

The project in Guildford continues to develop with the support of a steering group made up of library service representatives, local interest groups, the University of Surrey and both county and borough councils. Again this highlights both the support and partnerships we are building up around this concept and this has been key to developing the offer.
Though much of the maker focus has been on activities in Guildford Library, we have started to expand the activities to many of our other libraries. Guildford Library acts as a space to pilot ideas, which we can then share with other library staff around the county and give them the skills to run their own activities in other locations. This ensures that our support of the STEM agenda happens in other locations and more children have the chance to participate.