The Highs and Lows of School Librarianship

31 Oct
Read me and a heart shape

Read me! *

I love seeing positive coverage of school librarians in any press, be it in the news or in specialised publications. So I was delighted to read Kathryn Brack‘s article in the back of the latest CILIP Library & Information Gazette (or CILIP Bang as it gets called in my house! ‘Oi, Cathy, your CILIP Bang’s arrived!’). It has inspired me to come up with two lists – the ten highs and three lows of School Librarianship. Please feel free to reply with your own lists!

The Highs:

1) Making big projects come together

Being able to find collaborators around the school and often outside of it. For example, getting the whole school ‘DEAR’ing during the week of World Book Day (DEAR = Drop Everything and Read). Or getting a special book group up and running with outside funding.

2) Being part of a school community

Its great getting to see young people flourish and mature. Its a real slow burner, but over time you notice someone’s reading habits change or their confidence grow. Its great to play a role in that development by encouraging them to pursue their own interests and to fulfill their potential. It’s cheesy but it’s true.

3) Turning something boring into something fun instead

Its a small thing and it might seem trivial but I love finding something that really works and turns something from a drag into a talking point. Finding a satisfying way of displaying that difficult section of stock or turning ‘the Dewey Decimal Lesson’ into ‘the pirate treasure hunt’. And it isn’t just for the youngsters – boring activities and boring environments are boring for librarians too!

4) Exercising creativity

Someone asked me recently (and perhaps jealously?!) if doing displays was part of my job. I answered “I don’t see it as just doing displays, it is all part of library marketing,” which is true. It is also fun to do, if you have a creative side. Even if you personally don’t, help is at hand. I often scour the internet for inspiration for displays and also draw on other people’s creativity – have pupils help design the lettering or ask if you can display some of their artwork. A lot of kids are really good at drawing Manga style artwork – mount a display of this and tie it in to promote your Manga collection and sit back and watch issues shoot through the roof.

5) Creating memories

OK, forgive me getting really schmatlzy here but it is true! When Darren Shan came to town I found out writers are the new rock stars. The same when as some Cathy MacPhail fans got to meet the author herself at the latest Aye Write festival. It was a special moment, you could just tell.

6) Surprising people

Perhaps using technology to create online resources for and with classes. Perhaps by explaining to some kids that it is OK to judge a book by its cover (well, how else are you going to decide if you want to read it or not?). Perhaps by making the case for graphic novels, or social networking websites, or freedom of information.

7) The autonomy

It is a blessing and a curse. The ability to set short and long term goals. Being able to decide something needs doing, and then being able to actually do it. Establishing your own position within the school, and setting the tone for how the library is used. Oh the power!

8 ) The variety

Some days are jam-packed with plans for class visits, helping with internet research, teacher supports for help with library materials, stock selection, meetings, training people. Others are a lot more free-flowing. Its good to have a couple of longer term projects going on in the background and if you suddenly find yourself with the luxury of a quiet day, you can get on with one of them.

9) The wealth of resources

There really is something out there for everyone. I’ve particularly learned about resources for struggling and reluctant readers. There is so much variety for these audiences now, it really is great. You never quite know until the items get used, but when a child brings a book back saying it was great or recommending it to their friends or asking for more of the same, there is nothing better.

10) The learning curve

School librarianship has offered me great opportunities to learn and be challenged. I’ve got chartered. For that I had to sit down and teach myself some things, like about copyright. But mainly in the last 3 years I got out and did collection development, budget management, supervised a student librarian, bid for funding, ran book groups, created an information literacy programme, trained as an ICT mentor, organised author events. For sheer variety of experience, it is well worth it.

The Lows

A) Isolation

Not getting isolated is something you need to work at. You need to seek out your own support network. It was quite hard in the beginning. My own support network is a mix of school staff, other school librarians around my local authority and in other areas, and a mix of friends and contacts in this field and others. So when something comes up I usually have someone to talk to or bounce ideas off. Without that, the job would be very tough indeed.

B) The prejudice factor

A senior librarian told me early on that 1/3 school staff will love you, 1/3 can be convinced if you do a good job, and 1/3 won’t ‘get it’, whatever you do. You still have to deal with those people!

C) The yucky and the mucky

Cataloguing is not my idea of fun, neither is shelving or labelling particularly. Routine, run-of-the-mill stuff that is fine unless you get a long stint of it for some reason. Some people (maybe that 1/3 from point B!) think that is all we do but thankfully it isn’t. And the mucky – I found nearly a whole chocolate biscuit inside a book last week!


* From a recent exhibition at the Design Museum London.

L-E-D-LED-L-ED by Dilight, Japan

L-E-D-LED-L-ED by Dilight, Japan


2 Responses to “The Highs and Lows of School Librarianship”

  1. Lee-Anne Barrie November 1, 2010 at 09:42 #

    Hi Cathy – great blog.

    Totally agree you on the yucky and mucky point. I love buying new resources for the library, getting pupils to help me choose, looking on Amazon and on those rare occasions getting out of school to go book buying. However with new resources comes; cataloging, shelving and labeling – the most boring parts of my job.

    My favourite part of the job is working with pupils. Not something I ever thought I would be saying but I genuinely love it. Whether its helping a first year discover a new author or helping a sixth year research for an essay I feel that my job is worth while and that I am contributing something to that persons life by helping them. Cheesy I know.

    I am now going to have a think and make up my own list of the highs and lows of this job. I’m sure there will be many more highs than lows, otherwise whats the point?

  2. callmecathy November 2, 2010 at 07:53 #

    Thanks Lee-Anne, glad you are enjoying the blog! Overall I think the highs outweigh the lows, it’s a tough time for school libraries though, and I found making this list really boosted my positivity levels. I agree about the pupils being the best bit. So many stories about finally making a breakthrough with a pupil who ‘hates’ reading or funny comments or when someone is really eager to talk to you about what they just read! I love it too when you suggest an author or series to someone and a while later it is definitely ‘their’ thing and they end up knowing more about it that you!!

    Sent from my iPhone

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