What happens when you let children tell you what’s in your library?
It was this question that helped me imagine a structure for our first group of children to visit The Poetry Library at Manchester Metropolitan University. We had been working on a Poet in Residence project with the Comino Foundation and, as part of this project, were asked to host a session in the Poetry Library with ten Year 9 pupils. Manchester Met student and Poet in Residence for St Gabriel’s High School in Bury, Hannah Robinson-Wright, had taken the group to the National Football Museum and wanted to inspire them to write poetry that will be displayed on a football, in the Football Museum and then in the Poetry Library, over the summer.
This was the first group that I had led around the library space, in my new role as Learning Manager for the Manchester Poetry Library. It was an appropriate one to help me frame this role for myself.
My job title is Learning Manager not Teaching Manager and I’m interested in facilitating learning. Often empowering other people gives opportunities for me to learn, too. To host the first school visit in the library was an opportunity to be open to them leading their own exploration. I devised a ‘Scavenger Hunt’ that would allow them to discover the library for themselves… and they did. The group was fantastic, giving thoughtful responses to our questions. It was an incredible test of what the library says without us having to explain and, as hoped, the library spoke for itself.
We then invited the students to pick a book from the shelf that they were drawn to, based only on the cover. They described what they thought the book would be about without opening it. One of my interests is in supporting the library to develop an offer for teen readers that doesn’t limit them to Young Adult targeted writing, so this activity gave me lots of insight into what younger readers expect from a poetry book, and what excites and disappoints them once they open the book. I’m excited to see what we can build by listening to the groups that come into the library and what their expectations can tell us about how to provide for them.
The following week we hosted a second visit for the Comino Project, this time a primary school, Sacred Heart from Bolton. Again led by a Manchester Met student Poet in Residence, Sarah Walker, who brought 60 excited Year 5s onto campus. Kaye Tew, our Education Manager, ran this session, while I supported and observed.
There was a magical moment at the beginning of the session when Kaye began to rub her hands together, the room quietened and with no instruction 60 Year 5s made a rainstorm soundscape together.
The children were then given a masterclass from Kaye Tew on poet Dom Conlon’s book Blow, Wind, Blow, part of the ‘Wild Wanderers’ series by Graffeg, illustrated by Anastasia Izlesou. The children responded enthusiastically to the opportunity to make up their own title for a new book in the series, using the format of the Blow, Wind, Blow title, coming up with many variations, the most memorable suggestion being ‘Dance, Shrek, Dance’.
These two visits have been an incredible introduction to my role in the team and, for me, have opened a world of possibility for what we, as a library, can offer to young people.
The Manchester Poetry Library at Manchester Metropolitan University opened to the public in September 2021. There are 10,000 books in our collection including a growing children’s collection co-curated by poet Mandy Coe, who reached out to children’s festivals and other organisations across the world to develop a diverse starter collection for us to build on. Anyone can become a member for free on our website https://www.mmu.ac.uk/poetrylibrary/. I hope to meet you there sometime soon.
Roma Havers is Learning Manager at The Manchester Poetry Library at Manchester Metropolitan University and is a poet and theatre-maker.