School Librarians At Their Best!

The last post in the current series on school libraries is by Caroline Roche, Chair of Cilip’s School Library Group. Caroline explains about the work of the group, the work they do with 2000 school librarians, and the importance of collecting reliable data for the sector to help encourage informed decision making.

A peek into the world of SLG – school librarians at their best!

The SLG Committee is composed of around 17 members, and we serve a large group of school librarians – currently about 2000. Our main focus is to support school librarians with resources and professional advice. Our committee is a busy one – we are currently organising our biannual Conference being held in April 2018; collecting book reviews ready to go into our fifth Book Pack to be launched in April; we have just published our School Libraries in View annual magazine which showcases scholarship and research in the profession; and we have numerous other projects.

This year, however, we have been working closely with Nick Poole, CEO of CILIP, on a School Library Data Project. This project has arisen from the work the committee did previously to inform the APPG on School Libraries. The APPG published a report entitled ‘The Beating Heart of the School’ but were unable to proceed any further, both because parliament was dissolved and re-elected, but also because we were unable to provide any meaningful data.

This last point is the crux of the matter for school librarians. Although SLG knows that many school libraries are either closing, or downgrading from having a skilled professional in place to have someone just minding the books (or nobody), we are unable to provide any figures for this. This is because unlike public – and indeed prison – libraries, school libraries are not statutory. Which means, in effect, that every single Head makes their own decision on whether to have a library or not. Neither do Ofsted include the presence (or lack of) a library in their reports, meaning that schools can be rated excellent for literacy and learning without having a library, which is a nonsense in our opinion. Heads therefore feel that cutting the library as a cost saving is consequence free, and in these hard financial times, many close them. As every school is individually run, and school librarians in those schools are often muzzled if they wish to have a good reference from the school, finding out the true scale of the devastation is very difficult.

Nick Poole therefore set up the School Library Data Group to see if we can devise a way of ascertaining what library provision is available in schools, ensuring this information is detailed enough to exclude books in classrooms, or a room with books in that is occasionally open some lunchtimes. We are negotiating with both the Government and Ofsted to see if the questionnaire we are working on can be endorsed officially. We are due to have the questionnaire ready for some time in 2018 – we only get one shot at getting this right! SLG are working in partnership with the School Librarians Association, The National Literacy Trust, Booktrust and other partners on this project.

As part of this campaign to find out better information and statistics so that we could feed back to the APPG, Dawn Finch, past president of CILIP and previous school librarian, composed a letter to the Education Secretary Justine Greening asking her to halt the closure of school libraries. This was signed by over 200 authors and notable educators, and was reported on by the BBC, the TES, the Guardian, the Independent and the Bookseller. That campaign is ongoing and we are looking to build on that success. In addition, we are also working with Ofsted to see how they can include school libraries in their inspections. This in itself is controversial amongst school librarians.

Most don’t want to be inspected by Ofsted directly because what a school librarian does in a school is determined by the Head. Some act as teacher librarians teaching many periods of library lessons, some administer reading programmes, some (like my assistant) run the Extended Project Qualification and some, like me, have their main focus on books, eBooks and wider resources, as well as library strategies and projects. Coming up with a common standard to judge us all by would be a nightmare – but that doesn’t mean we should be ignored during an inspection either which is usually the case.

Raising the status of school librarians and ensuring that we are all treated as professionals is one of our key objectives in SLG. Schools will often appoint people with no qualifications so that they can pay them less. However, even qualified school librarians find that they are often lumped in with the secretaries and maintenance crew, and are paid and treated accordingly. One of the keys to a school librarian being able to work successfully in a school is being considered a member of the academic staff and working on a par with other heads of department. We continue to fight against the deprofessionalisation of school librarians, which seems to be wholly driven by economic reasons, and for us to be recognised as academic Heads of Department and paid accordingly.

SLG is also striving within CILIP to ensure that school librarians are visible. Some appear to believe that because we work in an academic setting, that we are more or less the same as university or college librarians, but that is not the case. The role of a school librarian is much wider and all encompassing. We do everything from buying the books, cataloguing, covering, mending, issuing, stocktaking and weeding resources. We answer queries from staff, students and parents, set up online databases, buy furniture, advise teachers on resources and create reading lists, arrange author visits – and those are only the ‘library’ jobs we do, let alone the teaching side. University and academic librarians tend to specialise in one or two of those areas. No other librarian job I believe covers everything from stock purchase to disposal, and everything in between! So we have been advocating to get our voice heard at Conference, at Careers events, and other special CILIP events where we generally have to ask to be included. But we’re a determined bunch – we have to be to work in schools! – and we are slowly getting there.

Please continue to support us by tweeting and retweeting @CILIPSLG, by following #schoollibrariesmatter and if you are a parent going round a school, checking to see if the school has a library, and asking why not! And if you would like to add SLG as one of your groups, we would be very happy to have you.

Building the Reader of Tomorrow Today

The penultimate post in the current series on the importance of school libraries is by Matt Imrie, from Farringtons School in Kent. Matt quite rightly points out that school librarians help make tomorrows reader today by encouraging and developing a love of reading in pupils.

Literacy is the single most essential life skill and the importance of a good education in enabling social mobility cannot be over-emphasised. One of the ways the government can encourage this is to fund school libraries.

The Importance of School Libraries

Often overlooked by campaigners and just about everybody not actively involved in schools and education, it is easy to underestimate the importance of School Libraries and their contribution to learning, literacy and reading for pleasure.

In recent years (since the advent of austerity) many former Public Librarians unwilling to leave the work they love have found alternate employment as School Librarians. The irony that a non-statutory service is marginally safer for employment than a statutory service is not lost on many. It is akin to jumping out of a collapsing building and landing on a field composed largely of quicksand, but even with uncertain futures School Librarians do press forward with their duties.

Building the Reader of Tomorrow Today

School Libraries often work in intangibles, ‘reading for pleasure’ is one such example – impossible to measure but easy to identify. I do not think there is a school librarian alive that has not seen the look in a reader’s face when they find the book/magazine/comic/fan-fic that makes their love for reading come alive. Nurturing this tender and fragile love can be done at home and in public libraries but for children with parents that do not read or take them to the local library and in areas where the local library has closed, it is usually their School Library that first opens their eyes to reading as a pleasurable activity.

Once children get too old for the Summer Reading Challenge and they enter their teens, their library use often tapers off and for many it stops entirely. For these students it is often the School Library that remains their only regular access to books, information and professional assistance in using them.
School Libraries have a captive audience, and unlike public and university libraries, many of the students that come in for reading and library lessons do not want to be there. Integrating a class consisting of students that want to be there, others that may be ambivalent and some that indulge in active disruption is a skill that School Librarians learn fairly quickly. Turning the latter two groups into the former is an activity that takes time and individual attention; this is something that School Librarians are well-equipped to do as they see the same students regularly and can work on breaking down the barriers that troubled students have towards reading and learning.

Once the School Librarian gets to know their students they are able to recommend books that cater to their individual tastes and for those that struggle with reading many school libraries use programmes such as Accelerated Reader to help them improve their reading levels.

Returning to the Summer Reading Scheme briefly, in the run up to the end of the summer term, Children’s Librarians often visit schools to promote the SRC. These visits are usually organised with the School Librarian as the initial point of contact. If the library service is unable to provide a librarian to visit a school then usually posters and joining forms are sent to the School Librarian to distribute to the classes old (or young) enough to participate.

Transferable Skills

Most School Librarians offer regular Library Lessons to equip students with information literacy skills that work on a cross-curricular level. From introducing research skills (finding and using information as well as citing sources) to identifying fake news, making use of reliable online resources, becoming aware of and avoiding plagiarism and enabling students to use the library catalogue and Dewey Decimal System to find the books they are looking for and locating the information required within the book in as short a space of time as possible. Included with these skills are critical thinking, improved social skills from teamwork to taking responsibility for completing ones work and more.

It is best to embed these skills early and this is where School Librarians that work with primary school students can get involved with making sure that their students do not fall into the trap of seeing the internet in general and Wikipedia in particular as the be-all and end-all of research.

These skills not only enable them to do homework for school but also prepares them for college or university where they will often not have a librarian on hand to help them locate everything they need. These skills are also usable in public libraries, as school librarians and teachers often recommend that their students broaden their access to resources by making use of their local library where possible.

Connecting Students with Technology in the School Library

The third in a series of posts on school libraries is from Lucas Maxwell, school librarian at Glenthorne High School, Surrey. Lucas highlights the effective use of technology to enhance the student experience and challenge the apathy many students feel towards reading both for pleasure and educational purposes.

Connecting Students with Technology in the School Library

In the school library I manage, I use educational technology on a daily basis. My hope is that it will connect students to their favourite books, authors and other students around the world with similar tastes and interests. Over the past few years I have identified some effective ways to use technology in the school library. These tools have been very effective in the war against boredom, apathy and line every school librarian hears: “I hate reading.”

Skype
Skype has been an amazing tool and we use it in several different ways. One way is to bring authors from around the world into the library. Most authors will Skype with your library for free, so it’s worth taking the time to seek them out. Many of the books our students love are written by authors living in the United States and getting them on a plane to visit would be almost impossible. However, using Skype we can bring them straight to our door for no cost. It’s a good idea to have students prepare questions in advance and to promote the author’s books heavily before the visit. This will ensure a much more enjoyable experience for all.

We also take part in several Mystery Skypes every year. We bring in Geography classes to Skype with other classes around the world, asking Yes or No questions to try and determine where they are in the world. It combines both new and old technology as students use the library’s geography collection along with iPads to try to narrow down the other school’s location. I also appoint student leaders to organise and collect the information gathered about the other schools. It’s a great way to put leadership in the hands of the students and to create a memorable experience where students get to know other parts of the world.

 

World Read Aloud is also another great use of Skype. Our Year 7 and 8 students read picture books to four and five year old students in the United States. Last school year we took part in several of these and they were some of my favourite programs.

Twitter
Twitter has been a huge asset to my own professional development but our students also use it to connect to their favourite authors. Every month our students take over the Library’s Twitter account to ask an author a series of questions. We attach #booklingschat to every question because our book club call themselves The Booklings. This is a completely student-lead program with our Student Library Assistants taking the lead, organising and typing the questions that we project on a large screen for everyone to see. We have had some amazing discussions about writing advice, surviving high school and of course tons of recommended reads!

Padlet
Our students love Padlet. We use it primarily to connect with other book clubs around the world. We recently shared our favourite book recommendations with a class in Colorado and in Scotland. In Padlet, you create a “Wall” where students can add text, images and videos. As an administrator, you are sent an alert whenever a new post arrives. You can also protect your wall with a password that only you and the other book clubs can access. I have also used Padlet to allow students to recommend books that the library should purchase and our Manga Club has used to it to share their artwork with others. The best part is that Padlet is updated in real time so you can instantly see what your students are adding to the wall.

 

Nearpod
Nearpod allows you to create fully interactive library lessons for your students. We have used Nearpod to teach students digital literacy skills. One feature of Nearpod allows you to pose a question to your students. Using its interface you can monitor which students have responded and what they have written. After all responses have been submitted you can share a student’s response with the entire class. Whether on tablets or computer screens, all students using Nearpod are viewing the same thing. Students also have the option to dra

FlipGrid
I cannot recommend Flipgrid enough, it’s a video discussion forum that is perfect for school libraries. Administrators can create their own space on Flipgrid (called a Grid). Within each Grid you can create a topic of your choice. Students can then respond to the topic by recording 90-second videos. We have used Flipgrid to share facts about our hometowns and cities with places around the world, recommend our favourite books and also as a Mystery Flipgrid where we provide hints with other groups as to where we are in the world. Just like the Mystery Skype, we try to guess where in the world they are. In the future, we plan to use Flipgrid to connect with experts in different professions to assist our eleven and twelve-year-old students with various research projects. For more information on Flipgrid and libraries, Librarian John Iona has published a great article in the School Librarian magazine.

I’d love to hear about your favourite ed-tech tools and how you use them to connect your students with others?

(Lucas can be found on Twitter @lucasjmaxwell )