School Librarian of the Year Award 2016: Honour List Profile
Portobello High School, Edinburgh
"Her role within school is pivotal."
Praise doesn't come much higher than this, and it is a marvellous testament to Lauren Thow, Library Resource Centre Co-ordinator at Portobello High School, Edinburgh and the way she runs the library and supports her school's community.
At the more formal end of supporting the school's learning and teaching, Lauren is responsible for "benefits of reading" lessons and training in a wide variety of literacy and information skills including skimming and scanning, question types, reliability of sources, research and referencing. These lesson plans are shared through the Scottish Qualifications Authority website, evidencing Lauren's commitment to sharing her skills with peers. She teaches research lessons across all school departments bringing variety and excitement; recently Lauren transformed into Alan Sugar for a cross-curricular day with Business Studies. By effectively disseminating information and research skills Lauren has enabled the library truly to be seen as a learning centre, valued now throughout the school.
Lauren has worked hard to create a library which is "dynamic, welcoming, supportive and (hopefully!) enlightening". Having rediscovered the joy of book illustration as an adult, visual texts are now one of Lauren's favourite mediums, influencing how she's developed her library's atmosphere and stock. When she first started at Portobello High School she took it upon herself to repaint part of the library to make it more welcoming and pleasant, and she always ensures the space is full with beautiful and informative displays, such as a recent reading challenge based on monopoly. Strongly believing that visual texts are really important for all ages and abilities Lauren established a graphic novel section in the library, and jointly runs a lunchtime Comics & Cookies club for all year groups.
Lauren is particularly proud of creating a positive environment for students in their final year. When Lauren first arrived at Portobello, there was a lot of negativity about the Library but through a combination of changing aesthetics, the library prefect scheme, "kindness, biscuits and bad jokes" the atmosphere has been transformed and Sixth Year students now value the Library highly and are active users of it.
Lauren, a former volunteer at Seven Stories the National Centre for Children's Books, has been known to make quite an entrance to her library; she's been spotted being pushed on a book returns trolley, wearing a furry coat, sunglasses and laden with jewellery (admittedly, not the normal style for this quietly spoken librarian but rather a special cameo feature in a reading/library promotion video created by library prefects). Without any additional funding, Lauren established a school Literature Festival, an adjunct to the Portobello Community Book Festival. For the school festival Lauren typically mixes a variety of author visits (recently included Cathy Macphail, Keith Gray, Kirkland Ciccone and Philip Caveney) with workshops, covering everything from creative writing and illustration to comic craft, drawing on the skills of people in the local community, including the nearby Edinburgh College of Art.
This is just one example of the many partnerships outside school which Lauren has developed to tirelessly promote books and reading in a variety of ways. Work with local primaries isn't limited to transition events (though she has great fun with these, often creating book themed treasure hunts or races); primary schools also have a dedicated day in Lauren's literature festival. Lauren also reports for the free local newspaper and worked with local BBC staff to create the radio series The School That Went to War charting Portobello High School's journey as they researched the school's WWI role of Honour. This involved trips around the area to investigate the impact of the war on the local community and culminated in Lauren taking a small group of students from Portobello and another local school to Gallipoli to see the memorials/graves of some of the schools' ex-students.
Originally Lauren studied history and law, before taking up a variety of customer service/consumer advice type roles. Skills from such jobs are no doubt useful for any librarian, but it was actually the creative side of librarianship which drew Lauren in, and it was then a first job as a library assistant at a school in Newcastle which convinced her to gain her chartership. An example of this creativity is the school's 12 Days of Library Christmas which involves Christmas/library related activities, including carol singing, Christmas book craft and Christmas storytelling across 12 break and lunchtimes through December.
Lauren is continually inspired by the fantastic support network made up of Edinburgh school librarians. They have regular training and meet-ups to exchange ideas and information and this, as well as a variety of professional blogs and articles online and in print help feed Lauren's creative approach to her library. She constantly evaluates her own work through surveys and anecdotal evidence, and is able to provide strong evidence of the impact of her work. New ideas she is looking to introduce include work around health and wellbeing including bibliotherapy. When things get tough for Lauren, however, her own school librarian survival pack contains just two essential items: "Chocolate and Patrick Ness books"!
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