Lauren Thow is Library Resource Centre Co-ordinator at Portobello High School in Edinburgh.
I have always been a regular Library user, whether that be a Public, School or University Library, but I had never considered working in one. After studying History then Law at University, I worked in a variety of advice and customer services roles. Like many humanities students I felt indecisive about my career plans post-University, but increasingly felt that I would be more fulfilled working in education or the arts. I took up volunteer work with Seven Stories, the Centre for Children’s Books in Newcastle, which instantly re-ignited my passion for literature and showed me how rewarding working with young people could be. I was lucky enough to then gain employment as a Senior Library Assistant at Whitley Bay High School in Newcastle. Having had no prior Librarian training, this role involved a steep learning curve but I was very fortunate that my first experience of Librarianship took place in such a well-supported environment. With a full-time Library Manager and two full-time Senior Library Assistants the school was very unusual, but it showed how big an impact a well-supported Library can have on young people.
After nearly 4 years as a Senior Library Assistant in Newcastle I felt that I was ready to run my own Library. Due to a lack of suitable positions in Newcastle, and for personal reasons, I decided to relocate to Edinburgh and in October 2012 I took up the post of Library Manager at Portobello High School. (I was also attracted to Edinburgh because of the city’s excellent reputation for supporting libraries and literature).
I have been in post for two years now and I really enjoy working at Portobello. The role can be very demanding at times but it is also incredibly rewarding. I enjoy the flexibility and varied opportunities that managing your own time and workload brings.
The following is a typical day:
The Library officially opens at 8.30am, but often if students see me in the Library before this time they will pop in to return books or say hello before first lesson.
I have an S1 Literacy Lesson in first period and so I am in school early to ensure that everything is ready. Today we are learning about referencing by creating our own general knowledge questions. We then use the questions to play a game of the Million Pound Drop – mixing learning with fun is something that I learnt from Whitley Bay High School. This lesson can get quite heated, and there’s an audible sigh when they realise that I’m not actually going to give them a million pounds!
Period 2 is very busy with S6 students. The school doesn’t have a common room so students with free periods tend to use the Library. On busy periods like this I spend my time moving around the Library monitoring students and keeping them focused on their studies. Managing the vast number of S6 students can be challenging at times, but it is also rewarding as I am able to get to know them and build up a good relationship because of the amount of time they spend with me. The shelves have been left messy by the previous research class so I also tidy up. A few small groups of S2 students come in to return and choose books.
The Library opens every Break for students to return and choose books, read and complete homework. Break can be very busy and today is no exception. I have S6 prefects who volunteer to help out and today, because the Library is full to capacity, their task is to monitor the queue of students waiting to enter. We have just received an order of graphic novels, and I get these out to show to students who have been waiting excitedly for them to arrive.
Period 3 brings an S2 Maths class to the Library to research famous mathematicians. This was a particularly satisfying lesson for me because Maths has hardly used the Library since I started. It is great to start working collaboratively with new staff and departments. The Library has netbooks but the S2s bring along their school iPads and I talk to them about the advantages/disadvantages of book vs internet research.
Period 4 brings in only a few S6 wanting to study and so I am able to work on our upcoming Literature Festival. I email a few authors asking if they would be willing to be involved and then spend some time replying to other emails.
The Library normally has open access two lunchtimes a week and book clubs the other two days. On Fridays the students finish at 12.35pm. I found the shorter day hard to get used to at first, but find that it is useful because it means I have time on a Friday afternoon to attend meetings, training or to prepare for the following week. This afternoon I am taking a group of S5 students to the Hearts football stadium to interview Jack Alexander, football historian and author of McCrae’s Battalion, about two former students who fought in the First World War. This is part of a collaborative project with BBC Radio Scotland entitled The School That Went to War. The project will culminate in a radio series following our students as they research the school’s Roll of Honour and the impact of the war on Portobello. The students were particularly excited about trying to spot any Hearts players arriving in the car park!
There is no one word to describe what being a School Librarian really means. It is challenging, exciting, rewarding, inspiring and sometimes infuriating! I don’t think I could imagine doing anything else.
Thanks to Lauren – it’s always good to be reminded of the vital work of School Librarians, especially at the moment when many of their jobs are under threat. If you would like to show support, check out the following resources:
It’s not specifically Scottish (and we’ve mentioned it before) but Heart of the School is also very useful.