The following post was contributed by school librarian, Nicky Adkins. Here she explains the vital role libraries and librarians play in education.
As with most librarians, one of the most frequently asked questions is ‘So, do you just sit around and stamp books all day?’ And the answer is sadly not. We have two part time library assistants who I line manage, and a team of around 14 sixth form librarians who take a regularly timetabled shift at the issue desk during break and lunchtimes, when the library is so busy it’s not physically possible to run it with just two members of staff. As well as them, I manage a team of parents and younger student volunteers who assist us with reshelving, processing new books and keeping the place clean and tidy.
Keeping the stock up to date and relevant can be a challenge on schools’ ever decreasing budgets, but we do have the advantage of a very specific age range of users and a clear idea of what they want. However, within that is a very wide range of abilities; we have some new students come to the school with high reading ages but also some who are functionally illiterate. We also have some students with English as a second language and various special educational needs. Differentiating the stock to ensure that we can cover every student can be difficult, so I’m always on the look out for appropriate resources and keep up to date with educational trends and intervention strategies. Curriculum developments and syllabi seem to shift almost every week, so it’s up to me to ensure that we evolve with it. I check this through research and discussions, as well as by collaborating with every subject area to ensure that we’re stocking what their students will need. Then there’s ensuring that it’s all in good condition, easy to find, etc. Cataloguing takes some time!
Managing the space can be quite tricky, as the library is used for such a variety of things. The space is bookable for lessons, and we see Key Stage 3 English classes on a regular basis. We’re also open during break, lunchtime and after school every day until 5pm and are often insanely busy during these times, with very large numbers of students descending to do homework, research and catch up. As in any area of a school, behaviour management is very important, particularly in such a busy and comparatively under-staffed area. We have established very high expectations of our students’ behaviour and they have responded incredibly well, with very few problems arising. But when they do crop up, it’s down to me to deal with it, whatever it may be.
One of my roles within the school is to lead the way with research skills and information literacy, which we start in Year 7 and really emphasise during GCSEs. I deliver training to staff in these areas, and create resources to support teachers and students, such as how to evaluate web resources and how to reference effectively. I also directly teach information literacy classes when teachers are not too familiar with it. I’m also an EPQ (Extended Project Qualification) supervisor, so I guide sixth form students through their projects and grade them, attending standardisation meetings each year. We also run the careers library and ensure that students have the right resources to guide them into their lives beyond school.
Encouraging reading for pleasure is a huge part of the work we do and reaches well beyond the curriculum. We ensure that all students have access to reading material that engages and excites them, from graphic novels to prose classics. Every form room has its own mini-library of books for students to borrow and adopt, and we run a programme for Key Stage 3 students (years 7-9) to help encourage them. This year we’re also launching a Year 7 parents’ reading group, designed to get parents reading and talking about books. I make sure I’m available to speak to parents on parents’ evenings, review days and also via email. Many of our student reading groups are run by sixth form students, and I support them with resources and organisation. We also shadow several book awards over the course of the year and have a large group of very involved students who read, review and spread the word about reading all around the school.
The library is very involved online, and our Twitter account (@RPS_Library) in particular has given us a great connection with parents, students and the wider community. Through this we’ve had contact with authors, publishers, artists and many others. We’re known around the school as early adopters of new technology and were the first department to buy in ereaders and have the school’s first iPad for staff and student use. I am also responsible for maintaining and updating the curriculum area of the school website.
As a truly cross-curricular area, we have the opportunity to offer a wide range of learning for our students. The library is home to a group called the Nerdfighters, (for more information, please see here) who undertake projects in areas of personal interest. They’ve produced work on rollercoasters, which resulted in a trip to Alton Towers to test out their findings, the (apparently inevitable) zombie apocalypse, vampires, random acts of kindness, cakes, toy mice, anything and everything which just doesn’t quite make it into formal lessons. What typifies all of their work is that it is excellent, and way beyond what is normally produced by students their age. It is a true community of the nerdy and a little bit odd; they’ve formed a strong, inter-year group who support each other both in and out of school. We also host a group of enthusiastic knitters, crocheters and crafters, and see regular chess and Yu-Gi-Oh battles.
Each year we take part in NaNoWriMo and currently have around 40 students all working to produce a novel in a month. Writing clinics are held every lunchtime and after school for the whole of November. Through the Young Writers’ Program we manage a virtual classroom as well as supporting them in school. It’s a crazy time but one of my favourites!
The library also plays an important role in the pastoral care of our students. Those who have taken exams early or cannot cope with some lessons come to us to make good use of their time. We have strong links with the whole of the pastoral team as well as with curriculum areas, so often see a side of students that no one else gets to see. Some of our absolute stars are those who are constantly in trouble elsewhere but really shine when we can give them the opportunity. Though this is a point of contention in some libraries, I see it as a very important part of what we do. We are a safe space for students, always open, always welcoming, with understanding staff who do not have to exert the same pressure to produce results that teachers do. Libraries are often said to be the heart of the school. I think that’s true.