Tag Archives: school libraries

A really easy Christmas reading promotion idea

15 Dec

Noisy Librarians

Just a really quick and simple blog post today – here’s an idea for an easy Christmas themed library event, for your school library: Surprise Reads.

All you need is some wrapping paper, cellotape, and string. Oh, and library books.

Do you library books have barcodes? If so, you can hopefully alternatively type a number in to your system instead of scanning the barcode, because you need this too.

All you need is a stack of tags (made from bits of the wrapping paper or card, hole punch them and use string to attach), a stack of books, a stack of wrapping paper.

For each book, write its barcode on the tag, and a short description or hint at what kind of person might enjoy this book. For example

“This book would be perfect for…

…Girls in S1-2, who like horses

…Boys who enjoy football stories

…fans of Goosebumps stories

…anyone who enjoys fantasy genre books”


“Borrow this book because…

…it’s fun and festive

…it’s quirky and a bit different

…it will make you giggle”


Then wrap up the book and make a pile of them (under the tree, if you have one) so pupils can have a hunt through for something that sounds just right for them. They have to take the book away/back to class before opening it though!

You’re still loaning as normal, so this all counts towards your loan stats. I’ve run it year after year and not had problems with anyone not understanding they are still a library loan, but you might want to make a simple sign to explain.

Also, a really fun thing to do is to get pupils to label and wrap up books for others – cut out a stack of squares of wrapping paper, get a cellotape dispenser or you will have World War Cellotape, and I usually print the “This book would be perfect for…” bit on the tags in advance. And the great thing is everyone enjoys doing this even they are personally reluctant to borrow books, everyone has an opinion about what someone else would like!

That’s all 🙂 Happy Christmas from the Noisy Librarians!


School library pupil helpers & volunteers

2 Dec

Volunteering in libraries has become a contentious issue in the profession, especially since many areas in England try to replace professionally staffed public libraries with co-called “community libraries” staffed by volunteers.

As per usual I approach this from a school library perspective, and a Scottish one at that. Bear in mind at least until recently (I don’t know what the current picture is) the vast majority of school libraries in Scotland were professionally staffed. I was just reading Lauren Smith’s blog about volunteering  which makes some excellent points. My perspective on volunteers is very similar. As a person who took on volunteers I have a few things to add.

As a school librarian, pupil volunteers were an absolute godsend. I would highly recommend taking on pupil volunteers. Running lunchtime opening is just a million times calmer and fun with help. I had volunteers from S2 (2nd year of Secondary school) to S6, and they helped with item issues and returns, shelving, making book displays. They were my “go-to” instant focus group for ideas I had for the library. I found the School Library Association ‘Pupil Librarian Toolkit’ handy (it is on their website but accessible to members only – http://www.sla.org.uk/advice-and-support.php). But I do significantly diverge from the approach it recommends. Essentially, the SLA toolkit recommends advertising the role, looking for pupils with various skills and qualities, interviews etc.

My perspective is that having pupil volunteers is not principally for MY benefit, as a school librarian, it is for the PUPILS benefit. So, I actually look for who would benefit from the experience. Yes, they have to show an interest, but beyond that, what is the function of a school if not to furnish pupils with skills and experience? Being a pupil volunteer is a great way to gain confidence speaking to people, working in a team, patience, and of getting some practical experience in a real, working library at the same time.

Bearing this in mind, when I was a school librarian, I ran a training scheme for my library volunteers. This was outside of library opening time & meant everyone could get together as a team. Using the SLA pupil toolkit, I would draft a job description, and we would look at it together and modify it until me and the volunteers were happy with it. We would then do a little skills audit, so I had a good picture of which parts volunteers had confidence in and where training was needed. We might do some teambuilding games or some enquiry roleplaying. Sometimes I had things I needed to make them aware of, such as privacy issues with people’s book loans, so we even did a smidge of library ethics. It depended completely on what the volunteers needed to learn. Other weeks, we would do activities like identifying the transferable skills they were gaining from volunteering. I felt it was important for the volunteers to be aware of these skills and qualities, so that they could make the most of them when applying for jobs or college later. We also participated in the Millennium Volunteer Award scheme, so their hours could count towards a certificate. The SLA also sent me some beautifully smart thank you letters for the pupils to keep. In return, I also felt very protective of my volunteers, for example, I expected pupils to be polite and respectful to my volunteers, and anything less was not acceptable! On the rare occasion where a volunteer gets hassled, be there to back them up, make sure they know you are absolutely there for them. After all, they are giving up their lunchtime to help. They deserve to feel safe and valued, just as they deserve training for the skills they need for the job.

I think pupil volunteers in school libraries are important. I think school libraries are in a great position to give some youngsters work experience and training. Being a library volunteer can give a young person a chance to shine, a chance to experience something different, a different way to be learning, to be experiencing success, to contribute to the school community. I mention this because I wonder if my experience could inform the debate on volunteers in other library sectors. I have done volunteering in the past, as a student I did various things, and that experience was very valuable to me. Right now, I would not do volunteer library work, I think it would be counter-productive and only encourage a ‘race to the bottom’ for salaries and enough library posts have been lost already. Rather than seeing volunteers as an opportunity to get a quasi-professional on the (very!) cheap, we should ask ourselves, how can we make volunteering of value to volunteers? Who would benefit from volunteering experience?

My Library Induction Recipe

17 Nov

This is my own tried and tested recipe for school library inductions, which should leave time for borrowing & work for all ability levels. I should point out I am a very kinaesthetic learner and I think you can tell I have a bias towards that kind of task! These sessions are fun and adaptable too, with lots of room for interaction with pupils, which helps it not become too repetitive for the librarian delivering it too. So I am not saying these induction ideas are perfect, but I hope they might inspire a few readers.

Part One – You will need:

1 enthusiastic librarian

20-or-so 11 year-olds

1 Carel Press Reading Game (& folded photocopies of map)

1 (potentially sceptical) teacher


15 minutes prep to layout zone signs and books

1 full lesson time


Introduce yourself first, then I always ask the teacher to shut her/his eyes while I ask the class to put up their hands if they love reading / reading is ok / hate reading. I always say it is OK to not like reading, everyone has different hobbies and interests, I might like swimming but hate rock climbing, for example, however they are all at school to learn and they will need reading skills for that. And then tell them that the good news is that my job is to get them all enjoying reading & to find the right thing for each person, so even if they hate reading just now, it is my job to change that and when you really enjoy reading something it won’t be a chore any more. Then I’ll say something about how many different kinds of books there are in the library & there should be something to suit everyone and we are playing this game so they can get a good look at what the library has. (There might be time here for more discussion e.g. of authors they enjoyed at primary school, play it by ear!)

Then we play the Carel Press Reading Game. I find this works really well when pupils are set by ability already, because all of the books can be selected for reader level & appeal. About 4/5 books per zone is plenty. (P.S. I do the photocopying and folding of worksheets during school vacation, for the whole year in advance). I like to mix up the categories (the game comes with extras and bits you can swap), so that ‘Fact’ becomes a zone and I would definitely include Sport and Graffix too.

I prefer not to give a spiel about genres, just give instructions for the game clearly, but then let discussions evolve over the course of the game. For example, I deliberately wait for someone to ask if they can borrow these books (I’m devious like that!), and then make that announcement to the whole class, “someone asked a good question here, absolutely, you can borrow one of these books, just remember which one and there will be time at the end to go back for it” – somehow generates more excitement that way. Also, it is good to have multiples and/or alternatives to hand in case 2 people want the same thing. Other points for discussion – what do they think of ‘fact’ being a zone? Is ‘fact’ a genre or is it something else? Could a book be put in 2 different zones? Which zone do they like best? Which one are they looking forward to? Teachers can be a bit surprised at first at the slightly chaotic or rowdy nature of the game, but as they start to see their pupils get enthused they start to get it.

Always try to leave 10-15 minutes at the end for borrowing time. It doesn’t matter too much if your class doesn’t get around the whole room; time for converting interest into loans is more valuable. Also, being in groups helps stagger borrowing time at the end of the reading game. Get the teacher to help, once you’re desk-bound, they can tell one group at a time to get the books they want and bring them to the library desk.

(I have ran an adapted version of the game, still using the exact same kit, but where all the books were “classics”, for a specific class project a teacher wanted support with & that was really good fun too)


Part Two – You will need:

1 enthusiastic librarian

20-or-so 11 year-olds

1 Pirate map & question sheets

1 (hopefully less sceptical) teacher


15 minutes prep to shelve the relevant books & print/cut out question sheets

1 full lesson time

Part Two

This is the ‘Pirate treasure hunt’, inspired by Eva Baillie (now Librarian at Glasgow’s Goethe Institut) who ran something very similar in her school library! Preferably wait a couple of weeks after part one before running this session, so the class can return last time’s books at the same time. I would start with asking someone to explain the difference between fiction and non-fiction. Then maybe a bit of practice for how fiction is organised (alphabetically by surname, so Roald Dahl would be under…D…ask a few others). Then I do a really simple explanation of how to find non-fiction books. My preferred description is that it is a bit like a supermarket, so similar things are next to each other, e.g. the vegetables are right by the fruit…etc, (and suggest keep an eye out for any parts of the library they might want to come back to, e.g. the car books, football books, etc) but then sometimes you can’t find something so then you can either ask me or search the catalogue and get a number (Dewey number) and then follow the number order to find the book.

This time you will probably need 2 teams, and within each team a number of pairs or threes. Each pair gets a small question sheet. These will need to be adapted to your library! Here are my most recent ones:


Each pair has to find one book, and answer one question on it. Not all the tasks mean using the catalogue computer (if they do you will have a long queue…). It is very important that you say that running or shouting will disqualify your whole team! Stagger when everyone starts – Task 1s to go first, once they have got underway, Task 2 can start etc., eventually everyone will be looking at once but staggering the start makes everything calmer! Also, choose a spread of books so not everyone is looking on the same exact shelf etc. While they are looking, relax a bit 😉 don’t give in to temptation to help straight away! Have a sit down, let them come to you, and even when you know they have the wrong book, look at it with them, explain where they went wrong, e.g. ‘I see you found a book with the right number, but what is its title? And what is the title you’re looking for?) Once a pair has found its book AND answered the question, you can give them a piece of treasure map to take back for their team. My treasure maps are laminated coloured card, cut into jigsaw type pieces, with an “X marks the spot” map on one side and on the other side, either a silly maritime poem or pirate joke. When all the pieces are put together the group can then read the poem or joke. A few stragglers may need some help at the end! Maybe send one of their teammates back to help them. At the end you can go over any lessons that came up from the game e.g. the pair who brought a book with the right number but wrong title, remember there might be more than one book with the same number & that will mean they are about the same topic.

The map & what goes on the back can be adapted or made more elaborate…maybe you can find some maritime riddle for them to solve, or hide a code. You could also give prizes or perhaps instructions for making pirate hats out of newspaper and the winning team get to wear pirate hats for the day! It depends how much time/energy you have! Mostly, I just give the ‘prize’ that the first group goes to borrow more books first!! Again, this allows you to stagger the kids going to look for books.

Yes it means you have to have a tidy up, and you have to shelve the same books over and over, but I like that it is very ‘sneaky learning’, you are covering the catalogue and the Dewey decimal system in a pretty crafty way. Also, again for the reluctant readers, the game is fun, and you really want to build some positive library experiences like this for these youngsters. And it gets them out and browsing the shelves, which I think is very important. Pupils can get a bit fixated on the library catalogue, I want them to feel happy and confident just looking around too. I do tend to keep this pile of books aside and reuse them, rather than lending them as with the reading game, it just means I can do a quicker turnaround for the next class. But if someone is very keen, it is no huge job to slightly adapt the question sheet for the next class.

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!

My Big Gay Blog Post

10 Oct

A rainbow made of booksThere has been a lot of ‘chatter’ on Facebook recently about The Trevor Project. It has been around for a while but the recent publicity around the death by suicide of a number of young gay people in the US has certainly drawn my attention to it.

The website looks fabulous and as a school librarian I straight away went to check out their educational materials. There is a great list of books available (and I’ll definitely be perusing it to see what I can add to my stock). In the UK, Stonewall has produced two lists, one for primary school and one for secondary.

I have been trying to invest more in LGBTQ-related library stock, and to get together a good list of books to be looking out for (I’m adopted the terminology used by the Trevor Project here, where LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning). I want all our young people to see positive role models and to develop positive self-images. I don’t want them to feel alone and isolated. I am looking for age-appropriate, well-written fiction with gay characters; positive gay role models; interesting gay characters; nice and not-so-nice gay characters; not just ‘issues’ books; stuff where a character being gay is not the main issue of the book; Stuff where a character being gay is the main issue of the book; a smattering of angst-free stuff would even be nice. Hey, I’m ambitious, did I mention?

I have found it really difficult to source the materials. I wonder if it is a chicken and egg situation – are the suppliers afraid to stock this stuff or are the librarians not asking for it? Is stocking LGBTQ-related fiction in a school library still controversial? Legally we are on safe ground, as it is illegal to discriminate based on sexuality in the UK, and we have professional guidance from CILIP that it is our duty as professionals to provide services and materials to meet the needs of LGBT people. It is also is basic, good librarianship. I find myself returning to the basics so often. Here it is Ranganathan’s 2nd and 3rd Laws of Library science – 2) Every reader his/her book; 3) Every book, its reader. Libraries have to cater for everyone who uses them – and provide the things they want to borrow.

Here’s my big confession – the first book I ordered as part of this LGBTQ-related stock development drive has just arrived. It isn’t the first bit of LGBTQ-related stock in the library, just the first thing to be added specifically with this purpose in mind. So I’m going from Mrs Theoretical to the Mrs Practical right now. And I’m a little bit nervous.

This anecdote might give you an idea of why. A boy came in and borrowed a fiction book. The main character is a boy and the cover is dark blue. Never mind that, for whatever reason a few minutes later, the boy came back looking extremely embarrassed and returned the book: “I didn’t realise it’s a lassie’s book” he muttered and proceeded to select something about military helicopters instead!

I can imagine his embarrassment would have increased 10-fold if he had borrowed “a gay book” by mistake instead! In some ways attitudes have moved on. In others this is still very much the west coast of Scotland and a man is a man etc. I don’t want books coming back in tatters. I want to make these books available, I don’t want to force these books on anyone or cause embarrassment, that would be counter-productive. But does that mean avoiding the subject altogether? That isn’t healthy either.

Stonewall quite rightly says homophobic bullying in school is everyone’s problem – because “homophobic bullying is generally directed at anyone who stands out” (Before we Begin leaflet), and to put it plainly, that just isn’t OK and we shouldn’t stand for it. It isn’t OK that gay = bad, and it isn’t ok to stand by and let that go unchallenged. So challenging that kind of language is one thing all school staff can do. Adopting an attitude borrowed from one of Stonewall’s campaigns also helps: “some people are gay, get over it!” I love this quote from an article in the Public Library Journal (Fiction for all, Elizabeth L. Chapman & Briony Birdi, Spring 08 ):

“LGBT displays and promotions are not, and should not, be treated as any more controversial than a gardening display.”

The article has some great advice (says Mrs Theoretical!) like that this stock should be shelved in an integrated way, and tagged on the catalogue in such a way that users can find it if they search for relevant keywords. Young people should be dealt with sensitively and not challenged for borrowing this material. That’s basically my plan, just get some good stock in, shelve it, tag it, and hopefully, lend it. If it does spark a few comments deal with it as normal. Using ‘gay’ as a derogatory term isn’t acceptable, just as racist language isn’t acceptable. Some of the books in the library featuring gay characters should be totally normal, and staff treating it as such will help it become normal and reinforces the anti-bullying, anti-discrimination message.

So, wish me luck!

School Librarians – a profession with chronic low self-esteem?

16 Sep

I remember back when I was studying for an MSc in Information and Library studies, I read about some research into where librarians ranked themselves compared to other occupations, e.g. teacher, doctor, solicitor etc. Librarians ranked themselves about equal to bank clerks. I was surprised but shook it off as outdated research that couldn’t possibly apply to the generation of librarians I was qualifying along with. We were new Information Professionals who embraced what technology and new media could do for libraries. We would do fun and exciting things and explode the stereotypes!

Some years later, I am a chartered librarian working in a school, in Scotland. This job requires the librarian to be qualified (or to have significant experience) but there is no requirement to charter and no pay increase related to it. It pays OK, for a school library job in Scotland. I can’t deny that my early optimism isn’t a little bruised and dented by experience.

Occasionally I feel a bit squashed down by fellow professionals with (what are in my opinion) outdated ideas. I’m still bothered by being booed for admitting to using Wikipedia at a library conference. It saddened me that one colleague’s parting advice on retirement was “whatever you do, don’t get stuck with the label ‘school librarian’”. It worries me that back at university someone in authority implied ‘take a school librarian job to get your foot in the door, do 18 months-2 years and then get the hell out of there’. I’ve been doing this job for nearly 3 years now so that one particularly comes back to me now!

Sometimes it is hard being surrounded by teachers. They have a strong identity as a group, they have educational philosophies, curricula, government inspections and consultations, powerful trade unions, unique laws about teaching time and preparation time. In short, a whole vocabulary of teacher-speak and the school librarian spends their time translating between librarian-speak and teacher-speak. It’s a brutal numbers game where teacher-speak is inevitably the dominant language and it can be hard sometimes to hang on to that librarian identity and not feel like not-quite-a-teacher and not-quite-a-librarian.

I get irritated by the way stereotypes are hard to shake whatever I do. News flash: I am wearing glasses and even a cardigan. What can I say? Do I have librarian genes giving me poor eyesight and sensitivity to the cold? I am not wearing my hair in a bun, I seriously hope I do not dress ‘like a librarian’ whatever that means. I can’t remember the last time I ‘shushed’ someone although as it is part of my job to make the library a space that is conducive to study, and yes that does involve sometimes reminding students they should catch up on the gossip at lunchtime and not during a ‘study’ period. I do smile, heck, I even crack jokes (I can’t promise they are any good). But why should I feel any more pressure about how I look or speak compared to anyone else heading out to work today?

There are derogatory uses of the word ‘librarian’ peppered through popular culture. You might not have noticed but listen out and you will. The last one I heard was an audiobook where a character was described as looking ‘more like a librarian than a dangerous criminal’ or something along those lines. I cringe whenever a librarian features in a murder mystery –“here you go officer, these are the detailed records of exactly what Mr Suspicious has been borrowing, no need for a warrant, and I always thought he was a wrong’un”, so much for a non-judgemental private borrowing service! And what about ‘librarian chic’ fashion features (I know this might be difficult for some of you to accept but this particular librarian is an avid reader of Vogue). If I were to go in for this style it wouldn’t be, well, ‘chic’, any more, would it? It would just be ‘librarian’…and that’s bad.

Bearing this all in mind (and the fact that there hasn’t been much good news about libraries around lately) when someone flags up a library news article for me I can’t help but go straight from 1-10 on my grump-o-meter. No one understands, I mutter, no one takes the time to actually find out what we do and what its worth. This is before I’ve even read it; here we go I think, more bad news, more criticism, more stereotypes, more cuts. I’ve been wondering if I should label myself ‘angry librarian’ instead of ‘noisy librarian’!

It was in this sort of frame of mind that I cautiously opened a link to “School Library ‘missed opportunity’” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11304759. I was a bit confused at first – surprised that “a third of staff responsible for school libraries have “no specialist knowledge of children’s literature”” and its call that “library staff should have access to training” – but then I remembered, the School Library Commission only looked at England and then it all made sense.

It is a shame that the BBC article did not make it clear that the Commission was only looking at England. It seems to me to be even more of a shame that the Commission itself didn’t come to look at the Scottish school library system, being neighbours, it seems obvious we must have a lot to learn from each other. Until recently the majority of Scottish secondary schools had a full-time qualified librarian. I say until recently because of various cutbacks, we can’t be sure how things stand right now. It angers me that while a report in England is saying children directly benefit from better library provision and more training for librarians, local authorities in Scotland are cutting back on school libraries. It seems we are following England’s lead when according to everything this report is saying; it should be the opposite way around.

Although it stops short of saying so, everything in the School Library Commission points towards a dual-qualification system such as that in the USA or Australia. In these countries, school librarians are qualified teachers and qualified librarians. The School Library Commission is only asking for greater integration, with modules on teaching in the librarianship training, and modules on school libraries for trainee teachers. This would be a good step. I have conflicting feelings about dual qualification. It isn’t the system I came through, and funnily enough although I work in a school I was never interested in teaching and never considered it as a career. I still don’t want to be a teacher. I see school libraries as contributing to all those parts of education that aren’t about ticking boxes or assigning people grades and marks.

Do teaching and librarianship share enough values to merge easily? In research into library ethics ‘Learning and Teaching’ came out as one of the principles least reflected in the ethical statements of library organisations globally*.

On the other hand, sector-specific training would be a great help. There are courses now and then but nothing nationwide and nothing compulsory. There are parts of this job that bear no relation to what librarians do in other sectors. Dealing with behaviour for example – it isn’t something I feel particularly at ease with as a librarian, but every member of staff in a school has a role in supporting the ethos of that school. This isn’t covered in library training; personally I have learned some skills in this area by reading up and by observation of how teachers behave. But it is a heck of a shock straight out of library school. Those skills aren’t librarian skills – they are teaching skills – so perhaps it is time we call it what it is.

The part of the School Library Commission which most intrigued me was actually the transcript of the focus group with school staff (http://www.literacy trust.org.uk/policy/nlt_policy/school_library_commission/transcript_of_focus_group_one). There is evidence of school librarians being badly treated – a librarian not being allowed to use the staff room, for example. Other issues which will strike a chord with many a school librarian will be the need to be ‘pushy’, the importance of finding a ‘champion’ for the library within the school management and the potential for isolation.

Here again we face another stereotype – that librarians are shy, retiring types when the reverse is true. Being a school librarian is unusual. I am the only one in my workplace who does the job I do. It is not easy and yes you need to get a bit pushy. You need to be very self-motivating. That many school libraries around the country do thrive is a testament to pushy librarians everywhere; pushy librarians who work very hard and aren’t always paid appropriately; pushy librarians who find those library ‘champions’, promote what they do and make a success of their library.

I am a firm believer in being ‘equal but different’ to teachers. However it is very hard to strike a balance. There is a disparity between teachers’ and librarians’ pay. It’s a case of not wanting to be taken advantage of yet wanting to play a full role in school life. Making the most of all the opportunities there are as a school librarian, making the case for the value of school libraries, without becoming downtrodden by being underpaid and undervalued. We should be saying here is a job that is worth doing, worth valuing, worth paying a fair wage for.

*Forthcoming: McMenemy & Armstrong, ‘Do librarians have shared values? A comparative study of 36 codes of ethics‘, Journal of Library and Information Studies

(CILIP members can access JOLIS free online as part of their membership)