An Erasmus week in Wonderland

View from bridge on river with boats, high buildings on both sides, one sea-gull in blue sky.Looming gothic spires and elegant baroque buildings… oddly-shaped squares and cobblestoned lanes… rivers and canals cutting across the network of roads and boulevards… flat land full of bikes and then some steep slopes. Which cities of Europe come to your mind?

Need more clues? Heaps of hearty food and heaps of healthy food… copious amounts of milky coffee and golden beer? A multicultural population with nonchalant fluency in three or four languages? Which country might that be?

Mediaeval castle with trams going by underneath battlements.No, it’s Belgium. Not to be underestimated, with its rather rare sunshine or otherwise (I got sunburnt in May).

Garden with roses along old walls and iron garden furniture.Or have you lately ridden on a tram through the middle of a busy town and caught your breath when it carried you right along the battlements and moat of a mediaeval castle?

That’s what happened to me when I looked for my hotel in the great old city of Ghent. It turned out to have an absurdly romantic garden with rambling red roses, wrought-iron garden furniture, a single lily rising above a pond, and a rabbit grazing in the long dusk. This was surely the entrance to a Wonderland, for my dreams in that villa were as labyrinthine and eerie as the story of Alice.

I was on an Erasmus study week for professional staff at universities; these are the people who neither study nor teach nor research but keep the place going. In our case, we were two dozen human resources, information technology, and library staff.

People bent over tables with postcards; plastic skeleton with hats and clothes.Librarians from all over Europe (note the Belgian host in the corner).

Ghent was a mind-blowing location, but the journey was far from a holiday; as you all know, studying or training can be harder than doing a job. Lectures and talks, guided tours and work-shops followed each other, demanding our attention and our contribution.

The ten librarians from all over Europe (including Russia) were welcomed by about as many colleagues from Artevelde University College (AHS), who had worked on the programme for a year and showed continued interest throughout the four action-packed days. Their theme was ‘Superheroes’ — and now I know why!

Another theme emerging in the course of our professional exchange was ‘information literacy’: how do people find their information when there’s too much of it? How do they evaluate its quality, how do they sort it, quote it, use it? Is there a complementation or a conflict of print and digital resources? How do we motivate you, the readers, to find stuff to read… and then to read it, like, actually read it?

Large table full of games in a modern library.Artevelde University College libraries have 200 games to borrow.

A journey abroad also makes you question the society you live in. At a time when hundreds of public libraries are being closed or quite literally shrunk in England, it is uplifting but also embarrassing to wander through a brand-new, state-of-the-art city library. Some of De Krook’s five floors are as big as a football pitch, and all are full of shiny books, new computers, designer furniture, free events, and eager readers, including university students.

If in turn you want to visit an academic library as a member of the public, a lifetime of borrowing in Ghent sets you back as much as one or two days of reference access in London. AHS Alumni can continue to take books out and use the workstations free of charge. The librarians also integrate refugees as voluntary workers, which seemed to me an arrangement valuable for the students and invaluable for the refugees.

Much of the learning happens between the lines. The learning formats used by AHS, for example, offered some interesting learning in themselves:

  • Three little playdough figures in bright yellow and red on a desk.Have you dressed up a skeleton yet to personify the ideal librarian?
  • Have you done speed-dating with librarians, darting from one library cubicle to another — although maybe mainly to learn about their work?
  • Have you met librarians who recommend Lego bricks and playdough for team-building and use these themselves (must have worked, too)?

The main success, I believe, lies in a different field for every participant in an Erasmus training week. Most participants, for instance, must concentrate to communicate in English on a professional level all the time; for me personally, it was the opportunity to immerse myself in French and Dutch in Belgium. For someone quiet or shy, it would be an immense chance to speak in front of a small and sympathetic international audience; for me, the challenge was tackling various computer programmes I do not normally use.

Above all, anyone who has made the journey to an Erasmus experience will be motivated to continue in their career, dedicate themselves, develop their skills. They will also be convinced that, as the deputy mayor of Ghent assured us, neither people nor ideas should stop at borders. Imposing townhall with clock-tower and flags, including EU flag.

Photographs of Ghent (including Gravensteen Castle and Town Hall): Christina Egan. — Photographs of Erasmus week: Artevelde University College Library Services © 2018.

Posted in Library and Archives | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Teaching resources about refugees – II

Amongst the hundreds of academic books that reach the Newsam Library every month, a colourful cover caught my eye, with two people crossing an orange desert under a deep-blue sky lit by a dazzling moon.

This painting is in fact taken from the children’s book The colour of home, the story of a child from war-torn Somalia who finds refuge in Britain but is haunted by horrendous images. For her PhD thesis, Julia Hope interviewed the author, Mary Hoffman, and the artist, Karin Littlewood, and has now published Children’s literature about refugees at Trentham Books, an imprint of the IOE Press.

Academic book with colourful cover taken from picture book next to it.At the UCL Institute of Education, we have this picture book in several copies. The same is true for another work that Dr Hope discusses with its author: The other side of truth by Beverley Naidoo tells the story of two Nigerian children in England. Our Curriculum Resources Librarian, Sally Perry, strongly recommends this novel for teenagers as well as adults. We have some more rather grim young adult fiction about refugees: about child soldiers. You can look up this term or others together with ‘Juvenile fiction’; at the IOE, we index our novels so that you can identify the subject and use them for teaching.

When I looked for children’s books on refugees in our Explore catalogue, I found some more which are mentioned in Julia Hope’s study. In The silence seeker, Carl Pearce makes the noisy building-sites, flyovers and launderettes of London look bleak and poetic at the same time, while the boy from far away does not speak a word…

The whispering cloth is set in a camp for displaced people in Thailand; illustrator Anita Riggio and embroiderer You Yang visualise dreams of a new home (see photo above). My name is Sangoel takes a Sudanese boy by ‘sky boat’ to the United States, where he is determined to keep his ‘strange’ ancestral name.

One of the books reaching out to the youngest children is My name is not refugee. Kate Milner offers very simple texts and direct questions: “What would you take?” or “How far could you walk?”.

A haunting Mongolian folktale has been skillfully integrated into an equally moving tale of boat people. A story like the wind by Gill Lewis has been beautifully illustrated by Jo Weaver, all in the same melancholy shade of teal.

Picture books, amongst them 'My name is not Refugee' and 'My name is Sangoel'.As regards non-fiction, Wayland recently brought out the series Children in our world, with titles like Refugees and migrants or Poverty and hunger. World issues are explained in simple terms and images, the dire problems always balanced with proposals for relief and change – starting with the children themselves. Independence publishers in Cambridge update their compilations of topical texts for secondary school pupils all the time; we hold three different Issues editions on the topic of Refugees.

Children’s literature about refugees also describes ways in which those books are used in primary schools. The lovely stories themselves, though, suggest very imaginative activities; it seems that parents and teachers can learn a lot from poets and artists!

The little boy in The colour of home renders a cheerful memory of his home in Africa – only to paint it over with garish flames and murky smoke. Perhaps pupils could follow this example and paint over one half of peaceful pictures… or one half of violent pictures?

Sangoel, in turn, puts his own name onto his T-shirt, converted into images so that his peers can pronounce it as ‘sun’ + ‘goal’ – all the more useful since he plays football! His classmates are thrilled by the idea and try to find rebuses for their own names.

The little girl in The whispering cloth transforms her wishes into a narrative embroidery; could this not be done, too? Could not both girls and boys fashion textiles which express their experiences of their own home, of a lost home, of a hoped-for home?

Whatever you want to teach, you are likely to find related activities and lesson plans at the Newsam Library, some in the Main Education Collection and some in the Curriculum Resources collection, and many more of course online. You could always try the search terms ‘activit*’ and ‘lesson plan*’ together with your topic or your curriculum subject.

Another special form of books are those without any words at all. Sally Perry’s essay about the exhibition Silent Books : Final Destination Lampedusa at the IOE in 2017 gives you an insight how IBBY provides books for refugee children. As a teacher, you are likely to have pupils from many backgrounds, some with little English; ‘silent books’ could be a way of bringing everyone together.

Page from graphic novel, showing drowning boy and baby rescued by helicopter.The touring exhibition had to move on, but we have wordless books on our shelves – for everyone from very young children to adults! – and you can find them at ‘stories without words’ on our catalogue.

One of them is Shaun Tan’s haunting Arrival, a surrealist story without words which readers (observers?) of all ages and all languages can pour over for hours…

Not a happy subject, but I wish you happy reading… and looking at pictures… and drawing and painting!

Please also note my previous blogpost on graphic novels and illustrated teaching materials about migration and refugee issues.

Posted in Curriculum Resources, Main Education Collection | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When books are banished or school is trademarked: dystopian novels in our libraries

Did you know that Senate House, the striking high-rise building next to the main UCL campus, features in two different very dark futuristic novels: The day of the triffids by John Wyndham (1951) and 1984 by George Orwell (1949)?

Orwell’s Ministry of Truth is at the heart of a totalitarian superstate, the ultimate place of disinformation and oppression. A recent staged reading in the same building brought the classic text to life; eerie bluish light in a large dark room illuminated scenes of torture and brainwashing, with the latter no less unsettling than the former. You can still watch the show online at the Orwell Foundation’s website; just dip into those eleven and a half hours of terror…

Many of you will recently have watched dystopian visions of the future, perhaps various movies of The handmaid’s tale and Bladerunner; but have you read the stories which inspired them? The first cinema film of Bladerunner was based on the quaintly-named novella Do androids dream of electric sheep? by Philip K. Dick.

The handmaid’s tale by Margaret Atwood, of 1986, is thoroughly disquieting for women in particular and, as we can see from the news stream about systemic sexual exploitation, as relevant as ever.

Drawing of imagined spacecraft and space station, 1953.To envisage creatures which may or may not be humans or robots, or else animals or robots, in 1968, as Dick did, was quite a feat. To conjure up monstrous hybrid plants as a result of genetic engineering and biological warfare in 1951, as Wyndham did, is no less astonishing.

Similarly, radios plugged into your ears, television screens filling your walls, and soap operas with audience involvement seem almost ordinary to us, but to describe them in 1953 was truly prescient. This is what Ray Bradbury did in Fahrenheit 451, a book mainly known for the scenes of book-burnings, but less so for the audio-visual technology replacing print.

In his American cities there are also, apparently, secret databases of the citizens’ every step, every word, even of the chemical composition of their bodies: total surveillance for total control. If you commit a crime, if you behave in a suspicious manner, you can be tracked down, hunted down – and it may be broadcast live on TV, as a deterrent and as entertainment for all.

Bradbury lived to over ninety years, well into the 21st century, and must have been bemused to see his bold visions materialising. Even the nuclear weapons which threaten the ragged remains of our civilisation in Fahrenheit have not, as we are constantly reminded once again, vanished with the Cold War.

If Nineteen eighty-four is widely studied and Fahrenheit 451 also well-known, why does the more recent Feed by M. T. Anderson remain obscure? Will we elevate it to cult status only when it is almost too late? When the internet has taken over our lives and our minds and any resistance, whether from inside or outside the loop of ceaseless entertainment and advertising, is bound to fail?

Hungarian stamp with spaceship, mid-20th c.When people let the forests and seas die, protected in their glass bubbles: their domed suburbs and personal aircraft, their shopping-malls and night-clubs on the earth and on the moon? When your health insurance is exclusively based on your customer profile and School™ is openly marked as a commodity?

Anderson, too, must be bewildered by the degree of realisation already emerging as time passes since he published his science-fiction in 2002. The idea of an incoherent and uncouth, patently inept or corrupt US President named Trumbull is positively prophetic. Pupil-teacher interaction replaced by holograms and curricula rewritten by corporations do not seem far off, either!

This gripping story, told from the view-points of fifteen-year olds in their slang is likely to appeal to any teenager, surely even those who do not normally read fiction. If you are a teacher or tutor, include it in your programme: it is the text that we need now, before it catches up with us.

The links in this article lead you to copies at the Newsam Library, UCL Institute of Education, but there are more at other UCL libraries and probably in your local library. Of course, on our library catalogue, UCL Explore, you will also find DVD’s of the films and plenty of background material. You can link to Senate House Library from your search results or search their catalogue directly and borrow from them… and while you do that, have a look at the stupendous building!

Illustrations: Drawing of imagined spacecraft by Helmuth Ellgaard on magazine cover of 1953 (CC BY-SA 3.0). – Hungarian stamp with spaceship. (Scanned by Darjac) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Posted in Curriculum Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

LILAC in Liverpool

LILAC 2018 (Librarians’ Information Literacy Annual Conference) is aimed at librarians who teach information and digital skills. Each year, the three day conference includes keynote speeches and parallel sessions covering a range of different libraries including school, public, academic and national. This year LILAC is hosted by librarians at the University of Liverpool and Liverpool John Moores University.

Over 370 librarians from around the world have come to LILAC to share and compare. Today, I met librarians from at least 15 different countries, attended 5 sessions and a keynote speech and there are still two days to go. Tonight, we have a networking event at the World Museum Liverpool featuring the terracotta warriors.

After one day at LILAC, I’m feeling hopeful and dizzy about what is possible.  I’m thankful that we are putting some of this good practice in action already in our essential IOE LibGuides. Even so, there is always more to learn. In fact, I can’t wait to try out Database Speed Dating. Don’t laugh, I’ve tried it and it’s a novel way to make databases interesting.

So whether we’re in Liverpool, London or Lisbon, we librarians all know that information literacy skills are essential to coping with research. Sharing good practice in conferences like LILAC makes our way ahead a little more bright.


Image | Posted on by | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

DERA (Digital Education Resource Archive)

DERA is our Digital Education Resource Archive, a repository of official publications in the areas of education, training, children and families, managed by library staff here at the UCL Institute of Education.


With a rapidly increasing number of government reports and guidance only published in digital format and the added challenge of capturing different versions of documents made available in HTML format before they are updated and no longer retrievable, DERA provides effective access to resources in the field of education, which are saved in pdf format and stored in the repository. All the links are therefore stable and the publications available in perpetuity.

Our repository is completely open access, allowing anyone to perform a search and download documents, thus embodying UCL’s commitment to open scholarship. Our staff and students often reach DERA via Explore, but for external users the way in is mostly via a search engine. For example, we’ve noticed an increased number of DERA links in Google Scholar, a sign that this resource is cited more and more in academic publications.

A quick look at the list of over one hundred organisations included in the repository reveals that these, far from being only government departments, are in fact a mix of official bodies, think tanks and quangos. And the list is bound to grow, as we’re regularly in touch with potential new organisations. For example, we have recently added The Sutton Trust and the Office for Students.

From a chronological point of view, DERA resources span from the mid-1990s, when the first signs of a shift from print to electronic publishing began to appear, to today, with a steady increase in the number of documents added each year. At the moment, the repository includes almost 31,300 resources, of which about 300 published since the start of this year.

Ensuring that DERA remains current and relevant to users is obviously a priority, that’s why new items are added on a daily basis, often on the same day they are published, and always in respect of existing copyright restrictions.

DERA is a fantastic resource, heavily used by UCL students and staff, as well as teachers, policy makers and many others who work in education. We are grateful for all the interest and determined to offer a great experience to all our users, by ensuring DERA continues to be a reliable and authoritative source of information.

Posted in Library and Archives | Leave a comment

Teaching resources about refugees – I

Page from graphic novel, showing drowning boy and baby rescued by helicopter.Refugees have at last arrived in our library… at least on paper. On this blog, we have already described a collection of books without words originally created for refugees, and we shall tell you more about resources for and about refugee children and other migrants. Here just a brief note on some marvellous Curriculum Resources which have recently reached the shelves of the Newsam Library at the UCL Institute of Education.

On the side of fiction, we have some accounts of long, arduous, painful journeys – literal journeys of children across land and sea. The novel Looking at the stars by Jo Cotterill is set in an unnamed war zone in a fictitious country, but it is based on research which is summarised in an afterword. Two sisters survive hardship and bereavement through their mutual support and through storytelling – a nice touch in a story.

Books with blue covers: 'Far from home', 'Looking at the stars', 'Illegal'.

A different kind of storytelling is presented in the graphic novel Illegal. Giovanni Rigano’s beautiful illustrations of the story by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin give you the viewpoint of the refugees quite literally: from the helicopter, you watch people as tiny dots floating in the heaving sea; then you are battered by the waves; you look up to the life-jackets thrown down to you; then you are up in the air, only to witness others go under… The title of the book is inspired by Elie Wiesel’s maxim that no human being is ever ‘illegal’.

Page from graphic novel, showing drowning refugees rescued by helicopter.

To match the fiction (novels, graphic novels, and picture books), the IOE library also provides you with non-fiction and textbooks. The dedicated resource Far from home gives you plenty of facts about refugees and a number of brief ‘case studies’ which often run against prevailing narratives.

On the one hand, the book states that the vast majority of refugees want to return to their home country when circumstances allow it; on the other hand, it shows people who have settled down ‘far from home’ and are contributing to society. I like the photo of the Syrian pianist who enjoys fame in Germany and of the two women doctors in headscarves!

A current citizenship textbook for the new GCSE (9-1) by Steve Johnson and Graeme Roffe contains long sections about human rights, migration and asylum, and international relations.

You can find more teaching resources for citizenship at 323.6. Material about human rights is shelved at 323; migrants are filed at 304.8 and refugees at 362.87.

Academic book with colourful cover taken from picture book next to it.To get children or adults with limited language skills to read or to talk, or perhaps to act or to draw, a graphic novel or a story without words might just be the right start. Look for ‘Stories without words’ and ‘comic books’ on the UCL catalogue. Ask a librarian, and they will advise you on materials for English as a foreign language, including some that you can photocopy or download. And do enjoy our books yourself, those without any words, those of only words, and those with text and pictures.

Posted in Curriculum Resources | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Spotlight on the NUT donation: ‘Metrication: No Turning Back. An NUT Policy Statement ‘ and ‘Going Metric. A Guide for Schools’


Last winter we received a wonderful donation from the National Union of Teachers (NUT), which included 380 pamphlet boxes containing material published by the NUT itself and many other organisations operating in the areas of education, children and families.

Over the last year, we have checked and sorted these resources, discovering many interesting publications during the process. Among these, we have picked a few ‘gems’ and decided to share what we have learnt about each one. Today is the turn of ‘Metrication: No Turning Back. An NUT Policy Statement ‘ and ‘Going Metric. A Guide for Schools’ both from 1971.

In the late 1960s the N.U.T. set up a special committee to study the replacement of imperial units with metric units and examine the way in which the proposed changes would affect the work of schools. It was keen to ensure that those working in the education sector would be given adequate resources to carry out its work speedily and efficiently. At the time it seemed that both Parliament and the nation shared its belief that the reforms would be beneficial. “The N.U.T. did not therefore think it necessary to make any formal statement of principle.”

But subsequent debates in Parliament indicated that opposition to the changes did exist and even a desire to reverse decisions made about going metric.

“The Executive of the National Union of Teachers, on the recommendation of the Committee on Metrication, therefore issued, on 23rd February 1971, the following statement:

The National Union of Teachers has noted that suggestions have been made in Parliament and elsewhere that the present proposals to introduce metrication by 1975 should be abandoned. It therefore wishes to make clear:

  • Its general support for the proposals which it believes will ultimately produce important educational benefits in our schools and
  • That it strongly opposes the abandonment at this stage of existing plans. Very important steps have already been taken in the preparation of both teachers and materials for the change, and to abandon all this would not only result in an indefensible waste of valuable time and resources but would create chaos in future educational planning.


The Union repeats its regret that the previous Government, followed by the present Government, has not been willing to make special financial provision to enable local education authorities to provide the necessary resources for the educational preparation, both for the decimalisation of money and the future change to the metric system generally.”

The document puts forward the case for metrication and considers the potential impact cofupon schools, including the work that needed to be done by Examination Boards in the preparation for Metrication. At the time there were 14 C.S.E. Examination Boards and 8 G.C.E. Examination Boards. There was a discrepancy among the Boards as to when the changeover metric to S.I. units should take place. But there was a general consensus that all papers should be set in S.I. units from 1974 or 1975.

The provisions of one C.S. E. Board illustrate the range of subjects affected:

“West Yorkshire and Lindsey Regional Examining Board. Chemistry, general science, geography, geometrical and technical drawing, housecraft and woodwork units in papers will include either/both S.I. units and imperial measurements until 1975. Thereafter only S.I. units will be used. Maths and physics: imperial units will be replaced by metric measurements in 1972 and 1971 respectively.”

The document includes a “Selected Reading List on Decimalisation and Metrication” and this may be useful for researchers looking for additional sources in this area.

The background to the issues raised in this NUT Policy Statement contains no small amount of surprises. The idea of the UK adopting the metric system as the primary system of weights and measures was not new in the 20th century. Indeed in 1668 Bishop John Wilkins published a proposal for a universal decimal system of measurement. James Watt complained in 1783 that he could not communicate with German inventors and called for a global decimal measurement system. In the 1790s the French National Assembly created the foundations of what is now called the Système International d’Unites (SI) which is the measurement system used by most of the world. The British Parliament had been invited to participate in this pioneering work but withdrew their initial support after the French overthrew their monarchy.

The Great Exhibition of 1851 highlighted the advantages of a common international system of measurement. In 1854 The Decimal Association was set up to lobby for the decimalisation of both measurement and currency. Another pressure group was established with the formation in 1857 of a British Branch of the International Association for Obtaining a Uniform Decimal System of Measures, Weights and Coins.

Progress seemed to be made when the 1864 Weights and Measures (Metric System) Act permitted the use of metric measures for “contacts and dealings”. It had little practical effect, but in 1884 the UK becomes a signatory of The Metre Convention and joined the General Conference on Weights and Measures (CGPM). Then, in 1895 a Select Committee of the House of Commons recommended that the metric system should be authorised for all purposes, taught in elementary schools and become compulsory within two years. In 1897 a Second Weights and Measures (Metric System) Act permits the use of the metric system for all purposes in the UK but again it had little practical effect.

Once again in 1951 The Committee on Weights and Measures Legislation (the Hodgson Committee) concluded that metric conversion was inevitable and that the long-term advantages of the change would outweigh the inconveniences of the change itself. It adds that, prior to the metric change, the currency should be decimalised and in 1966 the government announced it would be introduced in 1971. The Decimal Currency Act of 1965 allowed the Decimal Currency Board to plan and manage the change. Money was spent on preparation and publicity and Decimalisation Day (nicknamed D-day) was Monday 15th February 1971. IMG_20171122_092219_resized_20171204_022104421

The difference in the government’s attitude towards metrication can be seen in the N.U.T. leaflet entitled ‘Going Metric. A Guide for Schools’ in which. The N.U.T. talking about changes in industry comments that “THERE WILL BE NO M DAY. Each firm decides its own changeover dates.”

Perhaps that is why in 2014 the U K Metric association published a report entitled ‘Still A Mess. The continuing failure of UK measurement policy.’

This item, like all the others included in this donation, is currently uncatalogued, although this will be the next step in our project. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about the contents of the donation, please check our LibGuide.



Posted in Library and Archives | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment