Tag Archives: CILIP

Can you become…un-disillusioned?!

2 Nov Shows librarian getting increasingly frazzled as job takes over more and more of life until it is larger than life

Noisy Librarians“You have to do your librarianing within your overall resource, which is yourself!”

So, I was a school librarian for the last 4 years or so, and now I am a PhD student. I’m still working to improve libraries for teenagers – in a roundabout way, that’s what my research is about. I’m still a librarian – that’s my profession, and my background. I’ve realised very lately that after a period of disengagement and cynicism, I need to get re-engaged and updated.

About 18 months ago something really horrible happened that I can’t really blog about, just trust me, it was awful. The words “We’ve got to keep it together for the kids” were uttered and I tried, I really tried. Unsurprisingly, after a while I couldn’t keep doing that and had to take some time off to put “me” back together.

Prior to this, I guess I had been burning the candle at both ends, without realising it. I had various book groups going, library inductions, information literacy classes, visits, visitors, some clubs, a handful of ‘working groups’ or committees, in and out of school, trained/mentored people…..and probably another dozen things I’ve forgotten, as well as all the ‘usual’ stuff like, y’know, budget management, collection management, class visits, enquiries….it was all good stuff. I was described as “enthusiastic”. But it was too much and when something really bad happened I was way overstretched and couldn’t really cope emotionally.

After some much needed rest, I had to rethink my priorities and working practices, and changed things so I could work again and try to avoid another meltdown in future. A lot of this is stuff about me personally and I won’t go into that here (Reader: phew!). Some of it was maybe useful to pass on, things I would suggest to other solo librarians in whatever sector, such as have regular meetings with your manager, whether they’re a librarian or not, set aside proper time and space (i.e. somewhere you can shut a door!) minute them, talk about what you have been doing, what you are planning on doing, short and long-term, and you can periodically review how your various projects are going. If they don’t have a clue at the start, they’ll learn a lot about what you do just by having time to talk. The meetings don’t have to be formal – how can two people sitting in a cupboard office chatting over a packet of biscuits be that formal anyway? But you can formalise its existence; managers are busy, get that diary time, send an agenda, write minutes. Also, take your breaks, get a proper lunch and if you’re ill, don’t go to work!

Gradually, things were getting back to normal, it was slow and I felt wary of taking on new things. It wasn’t an ideal time, although of course there is no such thing. It wasn’t great to have work ‘restructuring’ all around while I was getting to grips with this stuff. I’m pretty sure there are still things to figure out. But I had at least learned about the Librarian / Person model:

Shows librarian getting increasingly frazzled as job takes over more and more of life until it is larger than life

I always wanted to invent a model for something...

As you can see…the principal is that you can have enough IDEAS to keep 10 people busy, but YOU CANNOT DO THE WORK OF 10 PEOPLE! In addition, The Librarian can only exist if YOU do too! If you are not well, library service closes – that’s the deal with solo librarians. If your employer really wanted a service that never closed for lunch, holidays, sickness, training, heck even toilet breaks, they would employ more librarians and they have chosen not to. This is hard to say to individual patrons who might be lovely and/or needy (please see This Blog for an excellent discussion of this in more detail!). But (shock!) you are a person too, and this does not make you a Bad Librarian. You have to do your librarianing within your overall resource, which is yourself!

“you can have enough IDEAS to keep 10 people busy, but YOU CANNOT DO THE WORK OF 10 PEOPLE!”

If you’re a solo librarian, and you’re not 100% because you’re stressed or depressed or grieving or whatever, you kinda need to reduce how much librarianing you do. Well, I was far from 100%, probably more like…11%, and that doesn’t come back right away, its really gradual. And I know I’m not alone – its been scientifically shown that librarians are stressed!

This post is partly to say there is life after stress! I’ve been given a great opportunity to do research which builds on the experience I already have, and I think that appealed to me because I didn’t stop having those ideas (the ones that’d be enough to keep 10 people busy) I just had to limit what I did. So this way, perhaps I can contribute to the profession best by sharing those ideas, doing research.

But partly it is to ask for input on how to re-engage professionally. I’ve found Twitter great recently for linking up with professionals in far-flung places such as Doncaster and even Hull! 😉 Seriously though, if for some reason you’re into blogs but not into twitter, give it a go! Interacting with other professionals has highlighted to me how much stuff is going on and I feel out of date! Even worse, I was telling some students only a few days ago that it is up to them to keep up to date with their professional association after they graduate and if they aren’t happy with their professional association, to get involved in it to make your voice heard – time I took my own medicine! These are some of the things I have done, or have looked into doing in future, to try to get back properly engaged with our profession, and I am looking for any other ideas too please 🙂

  • Reading newsletters again…properly…there was a point where I really felt like CILIP was positively useless for school libraries, maybe even damaging to us (I’m still a school librarian at heart, I think, so, ‘us’) and it just made me so angry I couldn’t face reading Update…sorry CILIP…however, I am back…
  • I’m not really sure how but I want to see if I can get involved with one of the regional or special interest groups.
  • Someone showed me Lanyrd which is a neat tool for finding about all these extremely cool sounding unconferences….sign me up!
  • CILIP website Communities section – initially got quite excited about this but it is still very quiet. It was too long since I’d had a proper look at the CILIP website though, and there is certainly potential there.
  • I don’t know if I still count as a ‘new professional’ but the ‘new professional network’ thing is something I mean to look in to.
  • I know I’m late to the party, but I think I will do the CPD23 thing
  • I even checked out what Revalidation is about, I’m not really sure but I’m interested and will bear it in mind.
  • There’s probably millions more ideas than this, do you have any suggestions??? Please comment!

Shh, don’t attract attention!

15 Sep

I am discovering that writing about censorship is really hard. How to talk about…what we don’t talk about? The whole point of this blog is to make more noise about what librarians do, to make the argument for an undervalued profession. Not just making the case to others, but for fellow professionals. Where is our collective voice? Teachers or nurses don’t seem to have a problem kicking up a fuss when some new policy or curriculum etc is detrimental to their work. And I still think overall, we need to be doing this.

However, I have been thinking about censorship in school libraries, after reading about authors of YA novels being asked to ‘straighten’ gay characters by literary agents, and joining in the subsequent #YesGayYA debate on twitter. A year ago, I blogged about searching for and providing LGBT themed teen fiction. No wonder it is hard to find this material, if it never even makes it to a publisher!

In my experience, school libraries can cater for the 11-16 age group better than any public library service. The impression I have is that a good school library has more YA fiction in stock than a branch public library. The teen fiction section in a public library is a bit of a niche, whereas it is the bread and butter of school libraries. Plus, public libraries and also bookshops seem to underestimate the age range materials will appeal to which is why I dislike age-banding on books so much. Maybe they work fine for kids who frequent book shops and read a lot, for the school population as a whole, absolutely way off. Way, way off!

Anyway, I digress! The point is, a lot of people have something to say about what is or isn’t suitable for an 11 year-old. People are a lot more reluctant to tell a 16, 17 or 18 year old what they can or can’t read. School libraries straddle that age gap. I’ve been fortunate to not face many challenges to materials but absolutely it happens all the time, and not just in Bible Belt America. We just don’t talk about it very much and tend to deal with issues one book or one incident at a time. I think the (unspoken) rationale might be that to draw attention to library services too much might invite more intrusion.

There have been times when I have dithered over whether or not to withdraw or stock a book and part of that is being aware of being against censorship. Sometimes it is even an self-censorship to avoid controversy. Whoever sanctioned the title and cover (someone sticking up two fingers) for Bali Rai’s ‘Politics – Cutting Through the Crap’ should have spared a thought for school librarians! Yes they want that book to appeal to teenagers, and I’m pretty sure it would, and what with libraries being a cornerstone of democracy nothing would make me happier than getting teenagers getting informed. But could it be just a little bit less sweary on the cover? I want to get the information to the kids…I don’t want to be stopped by teachers or parents.

I suppose this is how not really talking about censorship is itself a part of our professional stance against it. I know some school librarians were quietly ignoring ‘section 28’ while it was in place, for example (Section 28 was a UK law which forbid local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality. It was repealed in 2000). To have ignored it loudly could have lead to censorship so being ‘noisy’ would have actually lead to library materials being withdrawn. The whole issue is very tricky. Maybe we should never speak of it again, forget I said anything…

…or perhaps we need to act collectively, so that we know that when an individual librarian in a school somewhere is being pressured to take a totally age-appropriate book about sex or relationships or whatever it may be, we back each other up as a profession as a whole. Which would mean CILIP or other equivalents putting some work into our professional ethics and standards. Which is a topic for another time…

Teenage fickleness, PVC and Doctor Who

22 Nov

Noisy Librarians

As we all know, trying to be cool is deeply un-cool. Anyone trying to get through to teenagers is basically navigating a minefield of deadly ‘lame’ to reach a tiny patch of solid gold ‘cool’.

You think you are doing so well and then, boom! You get some crucial vocabulary wrong (“Hey kids, I know you’re all on your ‘Spacebook’ and ‘Myface’, but check out this website about studying for exams!”) or something that was cool last week is now incredibly lame. Your credibility is in tatters!

Teenage trends come and go at a rapid pace. Library budget planning tends to work on an annual basis. For libraries in secondary schools this age group is our bread and butter, yet budgets are tight. Is it possible to keep up with the ‘latest thing’?

Last week a pupil came in after school, and headed to the same fiction section as always. When he emerged without a book I asked

“Did you not find a Doctor Who book?”

He shrugged.

“I guess I’m just not interested in reading stories about David Tennant’s Doctor any more.”

Now, I’m known around school as a bit of Doctor Who geek. I tend to find out who the fans are. It’s a show that appeals across generations. But this fickleness took me by surprise. Of course it shouldn’t have done. David Tennant isn’t on our TV screens as the Doctor any more. He’s last year, he’s ancient history! David who?!

And yet my heart sank. I don’t have money for more Doctor Who books right now. I already have quite a few, is it really fair anyway to spend more on something only a few people really enjoy? How quickly are going to go out of fashion?

The same dilemma faces us everyday. High School Musical books are still popular right now, but for how long? Is Hannah Montana still cool? I bought so many copies of the Twilight Saga books the shelves are bursting, yet when another film comes out, interest surges and I can’t keep up with demand.

Popular culture resources might burn out fast but they burn bright – for a short time they are very popular. I try to balance cost against durability. Bargains are out there – discount bookshops, sales: I spotted WHSmiths were selling Twilight for £1 so stocked up; I buy Guinness World Record books in the sales instead of when they first come out. If they are cheaper, I can buy 2 or 3. The kids have to wait slightly longer but there are more to go around.

CILIP’s ‘Start with the Child’ report is one of those resources I go back to repeatedly. It puts into words things librarians instinctively knew, but backs it up with solid research. The report talks about “youth culture” as distinct from “culture” in general. Youth culture emphasizes music, fashion, consumer goods, technology and informality; it is fun, participative, well presented and accessible (cheap!). To meet the needs of this age group, libraries need to emulate these qualities. It recognises that this is challenging, and anticipating trends is difficult

“Libraries find it more difficult to respond with credibility to popular culture but ignoring it runs the risk of alienating young people”. (Page 64, CILIP, ‘Start with the Child’, London, 2002)

So we keep on trying in all areas: library appearance, planning, accessibility (avoiding use of charges, for example).

I don’t mean to say that we should only stock biographies of Justin Bieber – I think I could lend about 200 of those right now! Libraries need be places where people can access a wide range of cultural and literary resources. I also feel that the young people are pretty relentlessly advertised to, and that their choices can sometimes be based on which brands are cool, and wanting to be associated with that brand. Of course librarians don’t judge! But I think it is good to avoid getting too caught up in hype over a ‘brand’. Otherwise are we actually doing the work of the advertising agencies? Is that really offering children and young people a real choice?

Last week I tried a variation on Carel Press’s reading game. I always run this game as part of S1 Inductions where it is great because it works for all ability groups – just swap around the books you use. Last week, I did a version with an S2 class, in which every single book was a “classic”. My condition for including books in this exercise was that they had to have an attractive cover. New editions of Pride and Prejudice, Little Women, the Jungle Book, The Lost World etc, went down pretty well.

Obviously “classic” is a debatable term, and I did include some “modern classics”. But that meant we could have a class discussion about what makes a “classic”. We talked about films or TV adaptations; we looked at the few titles which were in older editions, chatted about what difference the cover makes. Funnily enough, no one borrowed an old edition at the end. So being ‘well-presented’ really works.

Maybe sometimes I try too hard. I was helping a pupil choose a book recently, and as I took one off the shelf to show him, it made that sticky peeling sound from when books in PVC covers have been sat squished together.

“Woah, that’s a really bad sign, no one’s borrowed that book for ages!” he said.

I was indignant! This was a Young Bond book, not some dusty old thing! But I did wonder…so later I spent a spare few minutes separating books to get rid of that ‘sticky’ sound. Of course when I tested them again a few days later the sticky sound was back….so now I know I can honestly say that doesn’t mean a book hasn’t been borrowed in ages. Or does a few days or weeks mean ‘ages’ if you are 11? Perhaps it does! Maybe eventually I should swap to another kind of cover…and so the struggle continues!

Back to the Doctor Who books: I know I shouldn’t, but I donated some of my own (like I said, I’m a fan!). They haven’t been borrowed by anyone yet. Epic fail??

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