Bedales Library’s most read books of 2021

By Matilda McMorrow, Librarian

The ‘beating heart of the school’ – its library, if you ask those in the know, including the 2014 all-part parliamentary report of the same name. So when I read our final borrowing figures for 2021, I felt like the stats threw some light on what kept the school’s heart beating last year.

Our second most loaned book of 2021 was Ms Marvel: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson. From the thriving graphic novel section we created in the library in 2019, it’s the first in the Ms Marvel series. We have a growing community of graphic novel lovers at Bedales, which is no surprise – the medium is immediate, dynamic, and full of artistic experimentation, like most of our students on a good day. American-Pakistani heroine Kamala Khan (AKA Ms Marvel) has been lauded as an engaging and loveable protagonist, the series as a groundbreaking new take on the superhero genre. This book kicks you off with her origin story, and is witty, charming and thoughtful. As Kamala’s dad quotes from the Quran, “Whoever kills one person, it is as if he has killed all of mankind… And whoever saves one person, it is as if he has saved all of mankind.” We all needed some superpowers and a grounded friend in 2021, and Ms Marvel provided. Fingers crossed she’ll keep it up in 2022, as a TV version is being made for Disney+.

Now, number 1, the most loaned book. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is a modern classic. If you didn’t know, it’s a novel about a 15-year-old boy who sees the world in an extraordinary way, and who falls under suspicion for killing his neighbour’s dog. It’s by turns funny, painful and revealing, and is also one of the most banned and challenged books on the American Library Association’s list. I’m sure some of these loans were following the smash-hit stage adaptation at the National Theatre, and some might after teacher recommendation, especially for Block 3’s ‘coming of age’ English topic. For lots of reasons, it’s a book we reached for in 2021. As the author Mark Haddon said, “It’s about flawed people dealing with conflict, like nearly all novels.” 

Of course, a library is more than the sum of its borrowed books. Some people spend months reading a library book without ever borrowing it, which will go unlogged. And then there’s our huge online library of resources I haven’t had space to talk about here. A library is also the curiosity quests, the conversations, the recommendations, burning questions, being steered in the right direction, all kinds of things we don’t have stats on. But we do have stats for what words and phrases were searched for most on the library catalogue, which give some clues. One of the most popular searches was ‘shelf help’, library code for books on mental health. No prizes for guessing that would be a big hitter. Yes, it can be concerning to think about all the students and staff who have been struggling with poor mental health. But I find it reassuring to know there’s somewhere they can be empowered to look for help on their own terms, and to find good quality resources, chosen, managed and navigable. This is what libraries are about. Power to the patrons!