Having just returned from #SLAYLG17 conference where I presented a workshop on change management alongside school librarian Terri McCargar @liberryan, I was reminded of the diversity and expertise of school librarians, the need for us to help schools and teachers understand the benefits of working with us and the importance of our own advocacy. The list of our skills is vast but it still seems that many still have to fight too hard to get teachers to understand our role.
As far as I see it, the problem is that the skills of a school librarian have become so diverse and adaptable, at the point of need, that it is almost impossible to stand, one next to the other, and see the same thing. As schools do not understand the role, school librarians have had to find a way to demonstrate what they can do at every opportunity. If a teacher is interested in promoting literacy and the library the school librarian will focus on that, if the school wants to increase use of online resources they can also do that, if research skills are the focus they can do that, if a school is interested in communicating with others across the world a school librarian will be able to set this up too. There is no set of expectations or understanding of the role from school to school. It's not even a statutory obligation for English schools to have libraries and qualified librarians. If the role has become so diverse how do we explain what we do?
If you employ any other professional you know what their skill set is and what they are being employed to do but this, sadly, is not the same for school librarians and is maybe why many school still think that a school librarian is a keeper of books in a room. They employ 'school librarians' to issue and return the books, to keep the library tidy, buy new book and online resources and to keep control of the students during lunchtime and they would not dream of giving them a budget to manage. This is NOT a school librarian this is a library assistant, who quite rightly should be paid term time only and on a support staff/admin wage. School librarians agree that you do not need a professional qualification to do this job.
If a school needs a Maths or science teacher they would not employ a teaching assistant and a law firm would not employ an unqualified lawyer, likewise a qualified teacher or lawyer would not work for low pay. If you want to be able to employ the best, you have to pay the right wages.
A qualified librarian has a degree in information and library studies and many have gone on to masters level too. Continuing their professional development you will find many librarians are also chartered. This high level of academia is important in the role of school librarianship as the skill set to support teaching and learning is critical but is sadly wasted in many schools. In a recent report by the literacy trust they stated that "Evidence collected by Williams, Wavell and Morrison (2013) also shows that one of the elements of the library that contributes to the impact on learning is a qualified full-time librarian who is proactive and has managerial status" this can only happen if Head teachers and the senior management teams understand and supports the role of the school librarian.
So why is it so hard to understand what a school librarian can do? Teachers have many different skills but fundamentally their role is to teach the subject they specialise in. This is the same for librarians. Many have different areas of expertise but fundamentally they are there to teach information literacy and encourage reading for pleasure. Both of which will make a difference to academic attainment.
What should schools be looking for in a school librarian?
First and foremost you are looking for someone:-
1 who knows and understands their role within in the curriculum
2 who is happy to work alongside teachers in the classroom
3 who can help the school integrate information literacy into the curriculum
4 who can train teachers in information and digital literacy and support teaching and learning
Secondly you are looking for someone:-
5. who will inspire your students to read more
6. who has ideas to engage your students and make your school library a welcoming place to be
7. who can empower your students to become independent learners through reading for pleasure and information literacy
However, if schools want this they have to ensure that the school librarian is paid equivalent to full time teachers. That they are also supported and respected as a Head of Department with a departmental budget and in a ideal world have access to a library assistant to run the library on a day to day basis so that they can work alongside teachers and students within the classroom.
How to make sure your teachers know what the school librarian does?
• Make sure you and your SLT understand the role of the school librarian. Have you employed a professional or a library assistant?
• embed information literacy into your school curriculum policy
• ensure your school library is mentioned in your literacy policy, how are they supporting your curriculum goals?
• invite the school librarian into Head of Department meetings. If they do not know what is going on they will not be able to support the teachers or the students
• Ask the librarian to run training sessions on how to use the school library and it's resources for both teachers and students
There is so much more to do, to ensure that all students have access to good quality school libraries with qualified librarians. By meeting and talking to so many passionate librarians with different skills at #SLAYLG17 I am delighted to say that there is some brilliant collaborations going on out there and I am proud to be part of this profession.
Teravainen, A. and Clark, C. (2017). School Libraries A literature review of current provision and evidence of impact. [online] National Literacy Trust. Available at: http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/assets/0004/1275/School_Libraries_2017_-_Final.pdf [Accessed 1 Jul. 2017].
Williams, D., Wavell, C., & Morrison, K. (2013). Impact of school libraries on learning: Critical review of published evidence to inform the Scottish education community. Robert Gordon University. Retrieved from http://scottishlibraries.org/wp- content/uploads/2015/05/SLIC_RGU_Impact_of_School_Libraries_2013.pdf