The National Shelf Service

by | Oct 3, 2023 | IBBYLink Autumn 2022

Jake Hope

Reading often offers a sanctuary, if not a salvation. This was certainly the case for many during the pandemic when through books we were able to connect with other more liberated ways of living, moving outside the restrictions and limitations that existed through lockdown and on into various aspects of life in its aftermath. Libraries in the United Kingdom reported a massive increase in demand for e-books and audiobooks during this time.

A social start

Towards the end of March 2020, it was clear that libraries were beginning to experience what would be an unprecedented use of their digital collections. This was partly from existing, traditional users of physical libraries, but was also from new members who had joined up specifically to access these resources.

Alongside all this, Joe Wicks was running his daily streaming exercise classes. This led Nick Poole, Chief Executive Officer of CILIP, the Library and Information Association in the UK, to send out a tweet on 20 March, asking:

Is there a librarian out there willing to be a Joe Wicks for reading? Much like the daily PE lesson, can we get a #librarian to do a daily recommendation of amazing reading experiences while stuck @ home? #Nationofreaders.

The idea immediately captured the imagination and replies started to come in from library authorities and individuals who had ideas for people who might be interested and different formats the videos could take, everything from haikus to one-minute shorts.

The Youth Libraries Group (YLG), a special interest group within CILIP whose membership includes librarians with expertise and knowledge in working with children and young people, began discussing ways that it might be able to help organise such a programme. Alison Brumwell, Chair of the group, and I, Chair of the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals Working Party, met with CILIP to discuss options and explore how the idea might be brought to fruition. Everyone was signed up to finding ways to connect readers with librarians and to providing a platform for the superb range of titles that librarians were in a position to recommend.

Mapping out our plans

Four key objectives were agreed for the promotion, these were:

(i) to celebrate the expertise and passion librarians have for connecting readers with books and e-books

(ii) to promote libraries and librarianship at a time when libraries were not physically open

(iii) to raise awareness and encourage greater access to the digital lending services libraries provide

(iv) to encourage more people to read more books and to discover a wider range of diverse and inclusive titles.

Forming an offer

After further meetings with Natalie Jones, CILIP’s Head of Programmes, we agreed that the YLG would invite its members to select a book and record a short introduction discussing some of the key points about the title and helping to promote it to a wide readership. Titles would be shared on a specially created YouTube channel. The then current Libraries Champion, Bobby Seagull, would be invited to record a special introduction to the programme and there would be a call out for suggested names for the programmes and channel.

The National Shelf Service

Among the many suggestions which came in for names was the National Shelf Service. This felt a fun, playful and thematically appropriate homage to the National Health Service which plays such a vital role in the nation’s health and wellbeing and whose staff had been exceptional with the extraordinary levels of commitment and dedication shown.

A call out

A call out was sent to judges of the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals with the intention being to focus in the first week on books that were nominated for or were past short listees or winners of the awards. There was a lot of interest, but also some uncertainty about what would be required. A briefing was put together which gave advice on selecting books and particularly on ensuring that these were available electronically, how to set about recording and optimum length. We also arranged that support could be offered through virtual meetings where the video could be recorded, if needed, with the aim that this would take some pressure away from librarian presenters, enabling them to focus on their talks.

Establishing a design feel

We were keen to have book-related visuals for the channel and videos, and liaised with Andersen Press to enquire about permission to use some of Fiona Lumbers’ artwork from Luna Loves Library Day. Andersen Press spoke with Fiona and with author Joseph Coelho and permission was kindly given.


CILIP and YLG agreed that a weekly release schedule would be produced and circulated amongst all partners. These comprised of Nielsen, who helped to promote the selected titles, H F Howes, BorrowBox, Rakuten OverDrive and Libraries Connected. It was agreed that the weekly release schedule would be sent to public library authorities in advance so that they could help to promote books and enable access to these, and that partners and library authorities would help to promote through social media.

A date is set

The first video was released on 6 April 2020 and featured Angela Foster from Stockton-on-Tees libraries talking about A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, illustrated by Jim Kay. The book was selected for the first release on the channel as it marked the first and, to date, only time the same book has been awarded both the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals.

Press coverage

The initiative received press coverage from the BBC, The Bookseller and numerous other publications. Radio interviews were held and it was exciting to see the buzz of excitement caused around librarians doing what librarians do best, creating powerful connections between books and readers. Alison Brumwell, Chair of the YLG, commented:

Librarians have a unique ability to connect readers with unusual and diverse reading experiences that fire the imagination, build empathy and help develop their skills and confidence. This is a great opportunity for our profession to support the nation through this current crisis.’

Amplifying awards and initiatives

As part of the weekly release schedule, special recordings were released to help amplify award shortlists and winners. Although sterling efforts were made to maintain reading initiatives and awards through the pandemic, the opportunity to celebrate these and connect them with audiences was limited. Through offering special themed promotions to tie in with prizes and initiatives we were able to help recognise these initiatives and to amplify them. We featured shortlists for the Klaus Flugge Prize for illustration, for the BookTrust Storytime Prize, for the Little Rebels Prize for Radical Children’s Books, the STEAM Children’s Book Prize and for the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals. Alongside these awards, we also partnered with Empathy Lab and paired with The Reading Agency to organise a special day of promotions in the lead up to World Book Night, culminating with a reading of Luna Loves Library Day by Joseph Coelho as a bedtime story.

International reach

The global pandemic saw a number of countries running internationally recognised children’s book prizes connect with one another and explore ways of closer working. In the run up to the announcement of the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals, we invited librarians from Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the US to talk about favourite winners of their country’s prize.

Lockdown loosens

As lockdown loosened, it became clear that work pressures were making it increasingly difficult for librarians to commit to the daily releases. To try to reflect and ease some of these pressures, we moved to a weekly release structure and as part of that shift asked whether librarians could select an early years title, a middle grade recommendation and a young adult book thereby ensuring there was a good spread of suggestions for all ages across the week.

Libraries week

As life began to slowly normalise and the priorities for the public and for librarians began to change, the decision was made to draw the programme of recommendations to a close. The final broadcasts were set for Libraries Week in October 2020 and we tied up with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) British Isles branch, inviting a number of their illustrators and authors to share their choice of book which had helped to shape their world – this could be a book which had moved them, changed the way they thought, or even one which made them smile or laugh during a challenging time. Alongside these videos which were shared on the channel, authors, illustrators and librarians were invited to share the books which helped to shape them as part of a social media campaign. During Libraries Week, the 2020 winners of the Carnegie Medal, Anthony McGowan for Lark, and of the Kate Greenaway Medal, Shaun Tan for Tales from the Inner City, were invited to record an announcement of the shadowers’ choices. These were won respectively by Dean Atta for The Black Flamingo and by Kadir Nelson for his illustrations in The Undefeated written by Kwame Alexander.

A legacy

119 episodes were released on the National Shelf Service channel and they have amassed approaching 35,000 views. The videos all remain on the channel and have been collated into playlists with lists for early years, middle grade and young adult recommendations, alongside some for the special promotions which were held. The videos can be found at

Works cited

Alexander, Kwame (illus. Kadir Nelson) (2019) The Undefeated. Boston, MA: Versify: (2020) London. Andersen Press.

Atta, Dean (2019) The Black Flamingo. London. Hodder Children’s Books.

Coelho, Joseph (illus. Fiona Lumbers) (2017) Luna Loves Library Day. London. Andersen Press.

Ness, Patrick. From an original idea by Siobhan Dowd. (illus. Jim Kay) (2011) A Monster Calls. London. Walker Books.

McGowan, Anthony (2019) Lark. ‎Edinburgh. Barrington Stoke.

Tan, Shaun (2008) Tales from the Inner City. London. Walker Studio.

Jake Hope is a reading development and children’s book consultant. He is a passionate champion of illustration and visual literacy and is the author of Seeing Sense. He is the Chair of the Working Party for the Yoto Carnegies and Kate Greenaway Medals.