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Alison Tarrant

School Librarian of the Year Award 2016: Honour List Profile

Alison Tarrant

Cambourne Village College, Cambridgeshire

Alison TarrantDescribed as "a walking hug, with the ability to make students quieten on approach", Alison Tarrant is the Librarian at Cambourne Village College, a Free School which forms part of the CAM Trust in Cambridgeshire. The school opened in 2013 and Alison has been in the very exciting position of starting and building the school library from scratch; indeed, the first time she visited her library-to-be she needed high visibility jacket and a hard hat! Three years on, these are the words which Alison feels best describes her library: Welcoming, engaging, proactive, inclusive and outreaching.

Located at the heart of the school, the library is open all day and is in constant use with reading and research lessons as well as homework clubs. Alison designed the school’s information literacy programme, tailoring it to different subjects across the school, making it easy to embed skills into lessons. Alison regularly sends presentations on new books to tutors across the school so they can keep their own book knowledge up to date and has worked closely with subject staff to map the school curriculum, ensuring relevant library material is always available to support teaching and learning. In an ideal world Alison would love the budget to pay for Heads of Department to have cover once a term so even better joint planning of that term’s events and required resources could take place.

Alison Tarrant in the LibraryThrough various regular surveys Alison is able to identify students who need specific attention. Alison is committed to ensuring that literacy and reading can transform the lives of the less-able child, and her inclusive, proactive and thoughtful approach, engaging with students on a personal level informed by research, helps to make sure that all children in the school, including under-achieving students, are able to get the most out of what her library offers. This focus on the young people whom Alison works with shines through. When asked what gets her out of bed every day and into work, she's unequivocal: "The students – they are brilliant. It makes the job totally worth it."

As well as supporting teaching and learning across the school, Alison ensures there's always a programme of interesting events involving the library, whether for National Book Week, National Storytelling Week or the school's Non-Fiction week. Reading for pleasure is as key as reading for learning, in Alison's library: there are reading ambassadors, conversation cards on tables and book trailers created on iPads. All staff display and update a board showing what they are reading. There is a weekly book club and visiting author events, including from the school's Patron for Reading. An atmosphere which fosters a positive attitude and expectation around reading has been helped by DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) days, and working with other staff to ensure that one form session a week is dedicated to reading and that a reading book is now seen as part of everyday equipment that all pupils should have.

Outward looking, Alison's work isn't just in the school library. She works hard to create collaborations across the board, not only with parents (she ensures she has at least two articles in every school newsletter and invites parents to shadow the Carnegie at home), but also with other local schools and the public library. Outside links mean that Alison isn't always in the library, but she has trained a team of Pupil Library Helpers to run the welcoming, engaging and safe space which is known to everyone as the school library, when she's away.

Following a degree in English Literature at Reading, Alison took a Masters in Information and Library Studies in Aberystwyth, where she specialised in Children’s Librarianship, inspired especially by Ray Lonsdale. Before becoming a librarian, however, Alison worked back stage in the theatre and was even Dame’s Dresser for a Panto! These theatrical skills no doubt stand her in good stead for some of the more unusual events and activities she's run in her school library; for example she had a very interesting time using punch fountain to re-create the fountain of knowledge!

Alison also gains ideas and inspiration for engaging library programmes from the termly meetings she has with other school librarians in Cambridgeshire, the SLN email network, and contact with authors and booksellers, but the best inspiration comes from her pupils. For example, after a conversation with a Year 9 student about politics, that young person started reading books about injustices that had been committed, and this led to Alison setting up an Amnesty International Youth Group in the library.

Although as a child herself Alison found getting out of bed and to school on time something of a challenge (which may come as a surprise to the students who know her), "Knowing that my work is understood and valued by my staff, and that it is making a difference to our pupils," has made all the difference. Yes, her librarian survival kit ("A picture book, some chocolate cake, some bookmarks and tea. Endless amounts of tea.") is helpful, but it's the support from the school's staff and the enthusiasm of her students which now makes her get up and go, so much so that being early for work is the norm now!