Saturday, 19 November 2016

Headteachers! Why your school librarian is important.

I have seen both sides of the fence having worked as a school librarian for 2 years I know how hard it is to create change when no-one is listening. Now with a different hat on and working for a Schools Library Service we still have struggles engaging senior management and teachers but at least we are a team and can support each other. The librarian's role in a school can be a very lonely place.

If you are in the role as a professional librarian within a school and with the support of the senior management team the job can be engaging, fulfilling and make a real difference to the students in your school. School librarians, as we know, are dwindling but if you are lucky enough to be employed by a school to work in their library then there is still hope.

I have come across two schools where I know their librarians are an essential to the teaching and learning and are great examples of the difference a supported school librarian can make to students.  They are Oakham School, UK and Lakeside school, Arkansas and in my opinion are brilliant examples of great practice. Nigel Lashbrook, headmaster at Oakham School, Rutland recently wrote a piece in the Telegraph about libraries over league tables which demonstrates nicely the impact a good school library and librarians can have within schools. Stoney Evans, Library Media Specialist regularly writes in his blog (@stony12270) about the great activities and learning that is going on in his school with the support of his senior leadership team.

Unfortunately the majority of teachers and senior leaders think that if they have someone working in their library they have a librarian and don't really understand the qualification. You are there to check out the books, keep the library tidy and look after the students who arrive a break and lunchtime with no-where else to go. Now I am not saying that this job does not need doing and it is a great opportunity to engage with students about reading for pleasure but there is so much more to the role and it largely goes unrecognised.

Unless the school librarian is appointed Head of Department which will enable them to get involved in the teaching and learning side of the curriculum it will alway be difficult for them to make a difference within a school.  As budgets get more and more stretched it is important to realise that there are people within a school that will make greater impact on teaching and learning than others but unless you look at the research schools automatically assume that the librarian is the weak link.

There is evidence to support making more use of your librarians, from teaching information and digital literacy to supporting reading for pleasure and literacy. Research from  my own masters highlighted that with the support of senior management teams, collaboration between teachers and librarians had a significant impact on teaching and learning. I also recently attended the ASCEL conference and was very interested to hear from Terry Parkin that there is evidence from the Education Endowment Foundation that oral intervention has a huge impact on learning and it focuses on areas that school librarians are experts in:-
  • Targeted reading aloud and discussing books with young children
  • Explicitly extending pupils’ spoken vocabulary
  • The use of structured questioning to develop reading comprehension

Ofsted are even now proposing that reading for pleasure should be within school policies. If this is not a job for your school librarian I really don't know what is.

My message to senior leaders is this. If you are trying to ensure you are getting value for money look to your school librarian, if you currently see them as the weak link you need to look at why. They need to be empowered to do the job you employed them to do. They are need your support to:-

  • Make an impact in your school. 
  • Ensure that your teachers see them as equals and not support staff. 
  • Embed information literacy at policy level within your school so teachers will look to the expertise of your school librarian.
If this is done you will see the real difference they can make in your schools. Don't allow yourselves to be fooled that your school library can run without one. All you will have achieved is keeping a room full of books, which get older and more useless, which no-one uses. Why waste valuable space on that?

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