22. Ali – working abroad

Ali enjoying a Year 13 poetry reading event

Ali enjoying a Year 13 poetry reading event

A departure from the norm this week, as we travel abroad to Italy! Ali Kennedy is Library and Resource Centre Manager at St George’s British International School in Rome.

Why am I a librarian?

I never wanted to be a school librarian. Any other sector except schools.

I have found myself working in St George’s British International School in Rome through a strange series of decisions and fortunate incidents.

I used to work in public relations and marketing, but after a redundancy in 2009 I decided that I was not happy in that industry anyway. What did I want to do? I liked working with people and I loved researching things. I also loved helping people find solutions to problems. One day it just hit me, librarian and WHY had I never thought of this before?! So via my MSc, Jordanhill Library, a law library, Glasgow Caledonian Careers Service Resource Centre, two schools in Glasgow City and an opportune meeting with a colleague who uttered the words “so have you applied for the Rome job then?” to which I replied “what Rome job?”, I have arrived in Bella Roma!

My Environment

At St George’s, the students joke that I am also a psychologist: ready to listen to them at any time. I feel honoured to occupy a position where I really get to know the personalities of each individual.

All lessons are in English, but our school has 62 different nationalities and most days I hear multiple languages being spoken among the students. I have even started to pepper my speech with terms from other languages!

The school library serves all students; from the 3-year-old Red Dragons right through to the Year 13 (final year) 18 year olds. I have Year 10 and 12 volunteers who help me out with re-shelving and daily maintenance of the library to free up my time to work directly with students on literacy, research skills, referencing and other activities.

I am also accompanied by a parent volunteer each day of the week. This helps to integrate parents into the school community and helps me massively with the daily maintenance of such a big library. With over 25000 items in stock, just over 1500 new items purchased since September, and over 100 issues everyday, it is a very well stocked, and used, library.

I strongly believe that it is not my library; it is the students’ to take ownership of, and I am simply here to manage, facilitate and improve the service they experience.

My Day

Period 1

My day begins with a Year 7 class in for quiet reading.  Books are returned and recommendations sought. Requests for new books are made and I add them to my purchases list. A teacher pops by asking for Pinocchio in English and Italian.  I have a vast collection of foreign language books, but I do not have this one so I make a note to source this too. Nearby the Year 13s are revising for their upcoming International Baccalaureate exams.  I check emails and respond to some about textbook purchases for next year.

Period 2

A large group of Year 12s arrives and I remind them to keep their voices to a minimum so as to avoid disrupting the work of others.  In the beginning, I had to do this more often and was often greeted with the response that “ah miss, but we are Italian!”  Now, they generally need a gentle reminder to be more self-aware and considerate of others.While they are studying I create two themed displays and assist with some printing problems in the computer lab.

Break time

The tsunami of students arrives. I am greeted with a cacophony of voices asking “did that book arrive yet?”, “can I have this for more time”, “this is a little late but I was (insert destination) last week”, “do you have a book about (insert obscure topic here)?”  For 20 minutes it is as though I am five people instead of one.

Periods 3 and 4

Year 4 arrives; first one class and then another.  The children show me their biggest smiles and ask after my wellbeing. After books are checked in, I work with them on selecting books.  One student takes it upon himself to “tidy” the shelves; I discover he has not quite grasped the Dewey Decimal System!  Meanwhile, some Year 6 students arrive to exchange books and collect reservations.  My second group of Year 4 arrives.  There is a vast range of abilities so, after I have dealt with immediate requests, I sit on the floor with one student with a picture book and we learn some new vocabulary together.

Period 5

Referencing session with Y12 students.  Year 12 is the first year of the International Baccalaureate.  It is important to get our referencing sorted now and nail plagiarism on the head before all of the submissions next year.  I get the usual questions asking “but surely it is not plagiarism if you’re taking bits from different sources?” and so on.  As we debunk some myths and set right confusion, some students look over my referencing guide alongside their own work.

Period 6

Finally a quiet lesson to get some cataloguing done.  While I catalogue, I get a steady stream of enquiries from students, teachers and also a quick chat with the Vice Principal, who is also my line manager, about the Bologna Book Fair which I had attended.  The trip gave me lots of ideas about new activities to run, such as research skills sessions for parents and family reading time.  As we are an International School, the nature of the school library differs from other schools I have worked in, and parents find that a lot of their socialisation comes from school networks.  The library takes on the feel of a public library at times when I get to interact with parents as well as their children.


I start to work on my plan for the parent research skills tutorials that I will launch soon.  I do this alongside preparing for a presentation that will publicise them.  Meanwhile, as always, there is a constant flow of students with returns, issues and queries.

Period 7

After lunch the Green Dragons (age 4) arrive.  I must admit that I was nervous about working with such little children, particularly given that the youngest I had worked with before was 11.  However, I have surprised myself in my joy for the role.  We pick out picture books and sit on our cushions looking through them.  I read to one little girl and she snuggles up in to see the pictures better.  She points to some pictures and tells me little facts that she knows.  I have seen them change massively since September and it is immensely satisfying seeing my, albeit small, role in that.

Period 8

I spend some time responding to emails, planning this afternoon’s bookclub, ordering some new titles, processing new magazine subscriptions, and organising the reproduction of my bookmark competition winners.  These competition winners will then be sold for a minimal amount with proceeds going to the charity that we, as a school, fundraise for.

After School

KS3 Book Club, where we are working on creating a book trailer for a short story that one of our members has written.   The students drive this forward and I offer suggestions about imagery and help with some technical aspects of the project.  Again, I deal with students borrowing and returning simultaneously.  I have a helping hand from a colleague in running the book club so this takes the pressure off the multitasking somewhat!


Final bell of the day rings, and I am free to welcome the staff for our monthly book club.  Rather than have everyone read a book and deeply analyse it, which runs the risk of non attendees who simply didn’t like the selected title, we select a theme and all read a book which we then recommend to others.

Ali is very happy to host personal visits, but recognises there might be difficulties with that! Leave comments and questions in the box below and she will get back to you.

If you enjoyed Ali’s post, you might also be interested in this post from Hack Library School: 5 things to know when taking a librarian job abroad.


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