Olivia Edmonds portrait

Written by Olivia Edmonds

Learning Resources Manager (with responsibility for the Library) at FE Level in Birmingham. Former Secondary English teacher of 10 years.

On my first day as a Learning Resources Manager at a Sixth Form College in the Midlands, the then Principal said to me, “Olivia, our students don’t read – and they need to. You need to get our students to read.” This was a challenge I was more than happy to accept, but looking at the wider context of the College, this turned out to be a bigger battle than I first expected. The College is situated in one of the most deprived areas in the country and serves a predominantly ethnic minority community, where many students use English as a Second Language. With limited opportunities to develop their cultural capital and without access to community Libraries (due to Government cuts), it made me realise the importance of the Library I was now in charge of, as well as the impact that it could have on the lives of its students. 

My first focus was to make our stock as relevant and engaging for our students as possible. This also presented its own unique challenges. The stock I inherited from the previous Librarian was completely out of date and based on my experience at my first school (which had a similar cultural and religious demographic), not fit for purpose. To me, the importance of representation in books is key to engaging young people in reading, so when the Library shelves contained the works of authors such as Geoffrey Archer and Barbara Cartland, it was easy to see why the Library usage was so low. Couple that with the severe lack of books representing any of the protected characteristics of the Equality Act 2010, and it was clear to see the areas that needed addressing. I wanted the Library space to be a supportive, inclusive and engaging learning environment. A place in which our students could, in a safe space, learn about and ask questions about things they may have never discussed before and for this to happen, major changes were needed.

Working alongside the College’s Equality and Diversity co-ordinator, as well as a focus group of students and other staff, we worked together to assess what of the current stock was fit for purpose, what stock was unfit for purpose, and what stock could be fit for purpose if appropriately updated. It was the findings of this exercise that I was then able to take to my Line Manager and then onto SLT, who approved the decision for me to fully replace all of our fiction/Reading for Pleasure books with more appropriate, relevant, and engaging stock. This up-front investment in stock has meant that any additional or recently published stock has only needed to be purchased in small amounts to reflect the changing times in which we live. 

When choosing new stock, I wanted to ensure that the variety of Own Voices stories was as wide as possible. I felt it was not only important for students to have access to stories relating to issues they have not come across before – such as different religions, sexualities, and cultures – as it was to have access to stories where they have some familiarity. Overall, my main aim in choosing new stock was for our students to be able to see themselves in the texts we have. With continued support from our students, as well as guidance from staff at Peters Books, Browns Books for Schools and our local Waterstones, we were able to create a collection that provided a solid base for us to build on as years passed. This collection has now allowed us to build our students’ engagement with a range of topics, including national and international events and cultural movements (thus improving their cultural capital), and has resulted in increased student loans, in depth liaison with teachers to provide further links between fiction and the Curriculum, and hosting a series of speaker events, ranging from authors to representatives from different religious backgrounds.

I feel that there will never be an end point when it comes to diversifying a Library collection, especially when it comes to Fiction. We live in an ever-changing society, where every day there are new issues raised and new opinions formed. Furthermore, the access to on the spot news being almost instantaneous means we, as Librarians, need to be aware of what our students are consuming and facing. If we can truly allow them to learn and be educated about a wide range of diverse matters in a safe environment, such as our libraries, then we have more chance of our young people being the true change that our world really needs.