Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Self-promotion for school librarians: Do we need to write about it?

Yesterday I heard with great sadness that Walsall Schools' Library Service was closing. Yet another library facility being closed because of funding and underuse and I just don't understand it. If you are a teacher reading this (I hope there are at least one or two!) look at the questions below.
  • Do the schools that were supported by this SLS have amazing school libraries? 
  • Do they have all the resources that they need? 
  • Do the teachers not have to buy books with their own money? 
  • Do all teachers have the research skills to access online academic online resources? 
  • Do all their students evaluate and reference the information they find on the internet?
  • Do the teachers not need advice and recommendations of the latest fiction? 
If the answer to all of these questions is yes then obviously this service should have closed but I am sure that this is not the case so what can we do about it. Why is this service closing? Is it because teachers do not understand the reason that school libraries are important and should teachers and schools be the ones fighting to keep these resources open?

I have often written about the changing role of the school librarian in the UK and how we have had to find different ways to engage teaching staff and it seems to me that it is more important than ever.

I recently read a FaceBook post questioning the promotion of Future Ready Librarians but primarily the need to self-promote and it got me thinking. Why do I feel that school librarians need to self-promote and should we not just be able to do our jobs well and that be enough? I think if you look around twitter and facebook school librarians are not the only ones on the promotional route. Teachers constantly share best practice, digital leaders are there telling us what they do, authors share their books and information about their school trips so is self-promotion really that bad? 

The difference is that other professions are promoting what they are doing in order to tell the world about it. Librarians, on the other hand, need to self-promote to help teachers understand what they do in order to do their job but more importantly to be allowed to support the students in their schools. 

Why do I feel the need to write blog posts to encourage school librarians to self-promote more? 

I posted my latest blog post on advocacy on LinkedIn recently and have had some really interesting comments. One of these suggested that there should not be a need to write such a  post because we, as school librarians,  should already know how to do this anyway because it was taught in library school. The good thing about comments is that it does make me think about what I have written and why. Was she right?

I replied to her that I don't think that self-promotion is covered in library school. Unless of course, I did not read this myself. I did do a distance learning degree and masters so maybe the courses are different of course. I don't think the specialism of school librarianship is covered in the UK library course and this is where things should change. I did one module about school libraries but it was out of date and I had to write a report to the board of governors as far as I can remember. Self-promotion certainly was not covered. Many of us are learning as we go along rather than going in with full knowledge of working in a school library alongside teachers.

Apart from that I also know that many of the people who are working in school libraries do not have a library qualification and are learning as they go along. They are doing amazing jobs but again self-promotion is something that they are having to learn about rather than knowing it is part of the job. I doubt that anyone of us has self-promotion in our job descriptions.

Being a loan librarian in a school full of teachers takes a lot of self-determination and bravery to move beyond the comfort and safety of the school library. If writing a blog post about how self-promotion can make a difference and highlights ways to do it and gives even one library worker the confidence to do something different then it will be worth it. I think we need to encourage all our colleagues to get out there and talk about what we do.

My best lessons have come from me talking about what I do with teachers. A conversation in the staff room or corridor has led to me helping teachers connect their students with India for example. Very rarely am I contacted by a teacher asking for support it is always the other way round. If the only way to get into the classroom is to advocate for what I do then every time I get into a new teachers classroom it has been worth it.

Where next?

Let's keep talking and sharing what we do. If this is the only way to ensure that teachers understand what school librarians do then I am happy to keep self-promoting and encouraging others to do the same.

I am off to the Practical Pedagogies conference in Cologne in November. The only librarian at a teachers conference and I am really looking forward to it this time. No more feeling I don't belong, no more worrying that I might upset a teacher. I have something to share that will make a difference to their students and I am prepared to say it as loud as I can. 

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