Welcome to Series 2 of 23 Librarians, aka 23 (more) Librarians. First up is Hannah Saks, Librarian and Archivist at Strathallan School in Perthshire.
In hindsight, I suppose I was always destined to be a Librarian. At the age of 7 my mum gave my sister and me a date stamp to play with one rainy day during the school holidays and we spent the rest of the day ‘playing Librarian’, which involved my sister bringing me every book in our collection and me stamping the inside of it. I was always a bit of a bookworm although when I actually started thinking about what I’d like to do for a career I didn’t consider Librarianship. I was convinced I was going to be the next Steven Spielberg and set out to study Film and Media at Queen Margaret University. Towards the end of my course I started working part-time in Waterstone’s and ended up staying there for a couple of years after that. I told myself that working part-time would allow me to continue to pursue a career in film in my free time – however I quickly realised that all the real film work was in London and I would have to do quite a bit of unpaid work to gain industry experience. This really didn’t appeal to me, especially as I was really missing Glasgow (my home city) at this point. By chance a Library Assistant vacancy within the then Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (now Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) came up and, armed with experience working in the Film and Music section of Waterstone’s, I got the job.
Working within the Whittaker Library at the RSAMD was a great experience. The environment was very lively and my colleagues were supportive when I realised that I’d like to make a career out of working in libraries. I opted for the distance-learning version of Robert Gordon University’s Information and Library Studies MSc – distance learning takes three years instead of one but it meant that I could continue to work whilst studying, something that was really important to me. Last year, whilst planning my Masters dissertation and shortly after passing the PGDip stage of the degree, a vacancy at Strathallan School arose for a Librarian. I hadn’t really been thinking about changing jobs as I intended to stay at the Conservatoire, at least until I had finished my Masters, but the Strathallan vacancy caught my eye as it mentioned the possibility of taking charge of the school archive. Having worked on a couple of projects during the establishment of the Conservatoire’s archive I was interested in working in that area further. I was also attracted to the challenge that being completely in charge of a Library would bring. Given that I was a very recent graduate I wasn’t sure if I would get the job but my enthusiasm and ideas for ways to move the Library forward won the interview panel over and I started working at Strathallan in August 2013. After a whirlwind two-week handover period before term begun I was in at the deep end. One thing I quickly learned is that, although I have timetabled classes, there are no two days the same.
I usually get into work around 8.20 am and check to see if any books were signed out the previous evening – as Strathallan has boarding as well as day pupils, the Library is open access and when I’m not there pupils can sign books out. After checking my emails and responding to any requests from colleagues – anything from booking the Library computer room to arranging a class how-to session for one of our electronic resources – I’ll get the Library set up for the first reading period of the day. At Strathallan all pupils up until IVth Form (S3) have one reading period in the Library each week which is organised via the English department. This means that I will see at the very minimum 250 pupils every week. Quite a lot to keep track of in terms of individual reading likes and dislikes, and certainly something that seemed quite overwhelming at first, but I now find no greater thrill than when I can recommend a book to a pupil and have them come back to me the next week and tell me they loved it. One of the first changes I brought to the Library was the introduction of a graphic novels section which has proved especially popular with our reluctant readers. It’s brilliant to see the change in them now – from kids who took ages to reluctantly choose a book every week to ones who enthusiastically head straight for the graphic novels section to see what’s new. I’ve even had some read and enjoy classics such as Great Expectations and Jane Eyre because I’ve got them in graphic novel format.
Like most school libraries, the Library is busiest around exam time. Although every pupil has a study bedroom that they can use, many prefer the Library for studying as there are none of the distractions you’d find in the boarding houses. In between reading periods I often find myself helping pupils find information online such as exam past papers or revision websites. I’m also frequently called upon to fix the printer at this time of year as it’s used to exhaustion!
I also take a group of IIIrd Form Learning Support pupils for an additional reading period every week. With this group the focus is less on an extra 40 minutes of individual reading every week and more about finding things that interest them that involves reading. At the moment they’re working on projects where they have to use the Internet and books in the Library to find out more information on their chosen topic. My aim is to get them interested in non-fiction, as often the thought of a sitting down to read a traditional novel can be quite daunting. It seems to be working – one pupil is doing a project on Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 and told me that the book on planes he used for research was, “so cool”!
After classes are finished for the day I will process any new books that have come in and spend some more time helping pupils who are studying. I may do some work in the School Archives if a request for some specific information has come in, but the bulk of that work is done outside of term time – I’m one of those rare School Librarians who works year round. I also use the end of the day for catching up on various admin tasks such as signing invoices and making sure the budget spreadsheet is up to date. The role of the School Librarian encompasses many roles – Shelver, Tech Support, Library Assistant, Head of Department, and more – and this was something that I had to get used to when I first started. It was a big adjustment to go from a busy academic library with several members of staff to just me. My advice to anyone starting out as a School Librarian who feels lost and maybe a bit lonely is make sure you reach out to as many members of the teaching staff as possible – a big part of my job is promoting the benefits of the Library to other members of staff so that they are aware I’m available to help them with their teaching and I feel a lot more involved in the school community because of it.
Thank you to Hannah for kicking off Series 2 in style! If you have any questions or comments, please leave them in the reply box below and she will get back to you.