12. Kateri – back to school

23 Librarians started with a School Librarian, and now that it has reached the half way point it seems a good point to go back to school! Kateri Wilson-Whalley is Librarian at James Young High School in Livingston, and here she shares her, rather lively, World Book Day. 

In the interest of full disclosure I should state that I never wanted to be a librarian. I wanted to be an archaeologist. However, I couldn’t find gainful employment as one so a career rethink was needed. For five years I’d been working on a Saturday at my local library and I began to wonder if perhaps I could take that role further and it transpired that I could get funding to do the post-graduate degree in Information and Library Studies from Strathclyde. So an MSc later, I set about applying for work. I couldn’t get work as a librarian and instead worked for a year as a Learning Assistant in the library at the local college. While there I worked on my charter and having completed that I applied again for librarian jobs. This time someone was willing to take a punt on me.

That job was in a high school. Luckily for me it proved to be an excellent piece of luck and the varied, independent nature of the job suits me. So I thought I’d share my World Book Day. It’s an exciting date in the librarian calendar that, this year, almost skipped by without notice in my school. Why? There are a few different reasons but I think the main one is the staff all seem really busy. Seriously busy, not just walking around with a pile of papers busy, but actually run off feet busy. This is because the new exams loom for the senior school and teaching staff feel they aren’t yet on top of these.

Anyway in the end I opted for subtle and I ran a ‘get caught reading’ promotion all month.  If you got seen reading a book in the library at break or lunch, you were in the draw for that week’s Easter egg (Cadbury’s of course). It seemed to work well and it led to some surprising pupils being seen reading.

It may have been short on whole school involvement but it wasn’t short of drama. One of the S6 boys and I were having a chat about my role. We agreed that my spending time chatting and sharing information with the young people was important and being a friendly face was needed. We also agreed that while he was living proof that it can be positive (since he’s gone from banned to helping out), actually measuring this is an issue. So here are some highlights of my pupil interactions on World Book Day:

1) Overheard:  “That is so gay, but not in a homosexual way” – prompting a wee chat about how that didn’t make it less homophobic language.

2) Explaining how to ‘find & replace’ in Word so an S6 pupil could change his best friend’s advanced Higher Geography project so that China / Chinese was replaced with Cheese. The ‘cheese one child policy’ and the ‘pregnant cheese mother’ had him (and I admit me) giggling far too much.

3) I untied a pupil who had been tied into his backpack (apparently it was his request, though he admitted hadn’t thought through how to get out).

4) Explained that a joke is only funny if everyone thinks so and at no point is hitting someone in the windpipe funny.

5) Listened as an S5 girl with a swollen knee cried on my shoulder at the pain NB: the shoulder is metaphorical at no point did I touch said child or see her knee.

6) Helped solve the mystery of why the kid with OCD had two fewer books on his shelf than on Monday (someone had taken them out).

7) Was concerned to hear one of the pupils could be pregnant and passed that on to those who could help her.

8) Discussed why Rangers and Celtic players should play by the SPL rules rather than feel they can just act anyway they want.

9) Sympathised with a pupil who’d burned himself while saving his jotter from exploding milk (next tonight ‘when science experiments go bad’)  and laughed far too much when one of the girls made a jaw dropping comment and then hurriedly explained that she meant to think not say that.

10) Discussed a range of topics with a range of other pupils including cute animals, Justin Bieber and the fact that it was World Book Day but none of them knew.

Plus I taught information literacy classes, had 120 pupils in at break, answered queries, ran a board game club and issued some books. Now how can I quantify that into a statistic?

You seem to have to know a wide variety of stuff to be a school librarian! Kateri is happy to answer comments on the blog, by email, telephone, or in person. As always, please start by replying below.


4 responses to “12. Kateri – back to school

  1. Great post. I think building that relationship and having conversation are among the most important things we do as school librarians, but it’s something that teaching staff often don’t realise we do.


  2. Thanks Jennifer! I firmly believe that knowing the pupils and staff is vital to the job. I am very lucky that my Senior Management Team has always seen the value of the relationships i have with pupils and the relationships I try to foster amongst them. I love the enthusiasm young people bring plus they are always a great source of inspiration and help.


  3. Hi Kateri. Nice post and I got some new ideas but I would like to talk to you by email. I just start a new job in a high school library and still need some more ideas. I don´t know if we can chat on the email.
    Mine is ceferlaso@gmail.com.
    Thank you, Clara


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