Jennifer Horan is a School Librarian. Since writing this post, she has moved on from the school she has written about.
Unlike many others who fell into the profession, I made a conscious decision at a young age to study Librarianship. I had always loved visiting and using libraries, so making a career out of it seemed the logical and enjoyable conclusion. The problem was, however, that I didn’t know how to go about studying it. When I left school in the mid-2000s, there was very little publicity surrounding studying librarianship; it was never an option presented to us. A chat with a careers adviser suggested a postgrad qualification being the best option, and with teachers urging me to “have a back-up”, I decided to complete an undergraduate degree in primary education. Admittedly I didn’t enjoy it, but a Saturday job in my local public library was an encouraging reminder of the light at the end of a long and difficult tunnel! After graduating with my Library Studies postgrad, I was fortunate enough to get a job as school librarian in my former high school, therefore proving my teaching qualification was of some use! I spent two fantastic years there, but a few months ago I moved on to a school in another authority.
My new school library is wonderful – it’s bright and spacious, is set-up with great technology and has so much potential. However, it has been without a librarian for a year and has been locked up and neglected for that length of time as a result. There was also previously no use of an LMS and I have only recently got round to installing one, and making a start on cataloguing all stock and adding all pupils and staff as borrowers. So it is taking a lot of work and time to return it to its former glory as I am basically building it up from scratch. My biggest challenge has been encouraging staff and pupils to come in and use the library! Having been without one for so long, and with the local library recently being closed, has unfortunately led to them getting out of the habit of using a library, and becoming almost self-sufficient, so they feel they don’t need a library. Unfortunately this has proved a difficult barrier to break down and, having envisioned myself becoming the saviour of the school library service, I’ve often felt frustrated at my lack of progress in getting people through the door.
So how do you get kids in and reading? Answer: provide them with books they want to read. As I’ve only just met the pupils and don’t yet know their interests, I decided to form a book-buying committee, made up of pupils and staff, in order to ensure the stock reflects its users’ wants and needs. Once new stock was purchased I had to get everyone reading it, so I set up a lunchtime reading group for pupils and a book group for staff. In order to ensure less confident readers weren’t left out, I worked with the English department to introduce a reading referral scheme, where teachers refer identified individuals to me with requests for supporting reading. This support may take the form of recommending titles or authors, reading aloud to the pupil on a 1-1, or any other strategy either the teacher or I think beneficial. Pupils also got excited about reading when we welcomed local young adult author Kirkland Ciccone to the library to talk to S3s about his book Conjuring the Infinitive, and when I took some S1s to the theatre to see Private Peaceful. The library then had to be publicised, so I set up a Twitter account to promote the library and connect with pupils and the wider community. As well as establishing the library as a recreational space, I had to also remind teachers of how vital a role reading and researching plays in curricular development. With senior pupils sitting exams and most subjects winding down for the end of term, I had an opportunity to set up a whole-school cross-curricular Commonwealth project. Here, pupils chose a Commonwealth flag and set to work researching the country it belonged to and finding out key facts about the country, including its national dish, popular music and sportspeople competing in this year’s Games. Their flags and projects were then displayed on the library wall, matched to their place on the world map. The local nursery also got involved in the project when I visited the class along with some S1 pupils to share stories set in Commonwealth countries. Similarly, during the World Cup, I set up a goal post wall display, where pupils reviewed their recent reads on footballs and stuck them to an appropriate place in or around the goal (the back of the net if they loved the book, outside the goal if they didn’t like it). Although it’s been a slow start, I’m beginning to feel a bit more enthusiasm for the library from staff and pupils. Hopefully continuing these types of activities will inspire a new generation of readers, and allow the library to grow throughout the new school term.
For more from Jennifer, see her blog post for Scottish Book Trust on 5 reasons why we need School Librarians. This is particularly apt at the moment with one local authority considering making School Librarians part-time and filling in the gaps with pupil volunteers (more info here). She also wrote SBT’s learning resources on Patrick Ness and led a session on advocacy at the recent Library Camp Glasgow, which she has written up on her own blog. Best wishes to Jennifer in her new post – she’s still prepared to answer questions on this one though, so please leave any comments below or contact her via Twitter @Miss_Horan7.