I had the pleasure, and honour, of attending and presenting at School Library and Youth Services Interest Group’s (an interest group of the Library and Information Association of South Africa) biennial conference in Bloemfontein on 28-29th June.

The theme of the conference was “Connect, Create, Transform” and I delivered a keynote and a plenary talk, along with two workshops.  On the opening day, I presented my keynote titled “Are we restricting reading?” and unpicked the challenges we can face when it comes to embedding a reading culture in schools, the ways in which some initiatives that seek to promote reading for pleasure can actually be detrimental, and how we can seek to liberate reading.  I then ran a workshop looking at using online photo editors to create reading promotion posters.  On the second day, my workshop was about using online start pages (such as Bag the Web, Pearltrees, Pinterest and Netvibes) to create resource pages for research topics and I delivered a plenary session about delivering EPQ and supporting information literacy in the curriculum.  You can take a look at the resources, slides and transcripts from these sessions below.

I found the experience of speaking at a conference abroad to be a really rewarding experience.  The chance to reflect on how my experience in my own context and how this might be pertinent for others, encouraged me to think about the challenges we might face in this sector that are relevant to all, and the ways in which we might go about addressing them locally.

I attended some of the other keynotes and workshops while I was at the conference too.  The opening talk by Jonathan Jansen was an inspirational, motivational talk about the politics of reading for education and pleasure.  He reflected on the idea that reading dampens our views and anger by forcing us to engage with the ideas of others, and understand the relevance of history and context on both our own and others.  The way in which he discussed the sort of reading that facilitates a more deep understanding of divisive issues should serve to question, challenge, destabilise and then dampen the reactionary antagonism towards views that might be different or opposing to our own was a fantastic way of highlighting the value of books and reading, and the importance that they hold in modern societies.

I also found the session about web-tools such as RefMe really useful.  While I know of these tools, I have not found the need to have a play with them before and so getting hands-on with RefMe was helpful and I am sure I will be able to use this in the future with my students.

The panel discussion, as well as informal discussions with delegates, about the challenges faced by school Librarians certainly had a parallel with those currently experienced in the UK.  The variation of value placed in the role of Librarian and Library, depending on the individual school, really seems to be the key factor that will determine the presence and importance placed on them both, and this can usually be traced back to leadership and Headteachers within the schools themselves.  Without any national guidelines, stipulations or requirements on schools to provide either, the national picture in South Africa, as well as England, will potentially always be one of disparity for pupils and professional insecurity for Librarians.

During my stay I was looked after by Irene Reid from the SLYSIG national committee, with the help of Theresa de Young, who made feel welcome, supported and at ease.  Irene’s care and hospitality, along with her drive and enthusiasm, made my stay in Bloemfontein, and then in Clarens and Durban, a memorable one and I am hugely grateful.

Overall, I found the experience hugely rewarding, on both a professional and personal  level, and I am hugely grateful for being given the opportunity.