CE Blog 1: The Future of the SLA :: NEWS

CE Blog 1: The Future of the SLA

09 July 2018 Share

Based on Alison's talk at the Weekend Course - this looks at the current and future work of the SLA, and how everyone needs to contribute.

Welcome to the first Chief Executive’s blog. This will be monthly, and the aim is going to make sure members of the SLA are aware of what’s going on within the SLA and what I’m working on. It’s important as all our activities are dependent on the memberships that you pay for, and I want to make sure that you are informed and involved. This first blog is going to be based on the keynote I delivered during the SLA Weekend Course in late June. You can comment on anything in this blog by using the #CEblog.

I have now been in post for 4 months – and I feel like things are going well. I’ve learnt a lot, and the team in the office and the board are phenomenal – they  all really care, and have made me feel incredibly supported as I started out on this journey so a big thanks to them.

The vision I have for the SLA is to continue to grow it as a strong, diverse, supportive community. The SLA needs to be pro-active and education focused – building on the brilliant work done by Tricia, and ensuring that pupils remain the inspiration and central focus. The aim of the SLA is clearly stated on our website – every pupil deserves a first class library experience, and that’s why we support anyone who is involved in running or supporting school libraries.

I am really pleased we have been able to announce two new member benefits in the most recent edition of Info[at], so now members can benefit when they use DLT Magazines or The Literary Gift Company – see your latest copy of Info[at] for more information.

I am also excited to announce that the SLA have joined forces with Softlink to run a quarterly school library display competition – this is open to everyone, members or not, and internationally. The deadline for this round of entries is 1st October 2018 and the winner will be announced in the Winter Edition of Info[at]. For more information about this competition have a look here: https://www.  softlinkint.com/lp/sla-and-softlink-invite-you-to-enter-the-school-library-display-competition

So that’s a little insight into the current activity of the SLA, but we have also been busy making plans for the future as well.


The Future

One of the issues we know is impacting the profession is access to training. This is one of the key drivers for starting this blog – it has a dual purpose. As I mentioned I want to increase communication between members and SLA headquarters, but I also want to deliver access to current themes and topics of discussion. In between my monthly blogs will be blogs written by people external to the SLA – the main point of which will be to deliver some element of CPD, something that will cause you to think about your practice, and reflect on what you are trying to achieve. The first external blog post has been written by Alison David, from Egmont Publishing, looking at the barriers parents face in reading to their children, and what we can do to help them overcome them – it’s an important piece of research that has implications for us as we converse and communicate with parents.

Next, some very exciting news! I have been spending a lot of time on this since I started in post, and I am delighted to announce that by the end of the year the SLA will have a new website. Short term, our aims are to make the website easier to navigate, more user friendly and to increase engagement. I am also hoping this new system will allow us to streamline processes in the office, giving us more time to spend on other vital things. Longer term, we are hopeful that this will mean we can have another look at our brilliant online courses, and see if there’s a way we can develop these further.



We are currently exploring the ways we can increase benefits to organisational members – at the moment there is no difference between the two types of membership, but if the organisation is a member we should be engaging with more than just one member of staff within that organization. We want to proactively feed information to line managers, HR teams, Bursars and Heads to ensure that they have the information available to make decisions, and to make any conversations regarding budget or training easier. So often these conversations are strained because there is a lack of common ground – there isn’t a common starting place, and we need to try and build this.

We are also exploring new types of membership to engage all our supporters, rather than just those who rely on our services. More details about this will be released later on in the year, and hopefully this will mean additional engagement from organisations beyond the sector.


We are currently putting together our training offer for 2018/19 so if you have areas that you would like training on please let Ann know via info[at]sla.org.uk. We are keen to increase and diversify access to training, and part of the way we will look to do this will be through an increased number of sponsored places both for the Weekend Course and for our training days as well. This is dependent on the goodwill and generosity of the companies involved in this sector, but I will be doing everything I can to encourage them to get involved.

I am also in the process of seeking renewed sponsorship for the Awards the SLA runs. These do not take any of your sponsorship money so they are completely reliant on the generosity of companies. While I’m on the topic of the Awards, let’s do a quick Awards update.

  • Information Book Award – the shortlist is out, and the Activities and are available on the website (https://www.sla.org.uk/information-book-award.php# ). Voting for the Children’s Choice Award is also open!

  • School Librarian of the Year – we are currently putting together our Honour List which will be announced soon, and this year we are going to be changing the timeline so the winner is announced before the end of the school year – this means that nominations will open earlier than before. Do consider putting yourself forward for this – it’s not attention seeking, but a brilliant way to show everyone what we do, and it is lovely to get some external validation of the things you are doing so well within your school.

  • The Inspiration Award will open again this year – this is an award all about the inspiration, innovation, creativity and resourcefulness in its library design and in use – it’s not all about new libraries! I know there are brilliant uses of space out there, so do include yourself!

  • And finally, the SLA supported Pupil Library Assistant Award moves into its 5th year next year, so planning and scheming for that has already started.

As we move on our Awards, training and publications continue to be a priority – enabling everyone to access best practice and then celebrate it is really important. We need to show that school libraries are worth saving – if the only story the general public ever hears is that there’s no funding they will think there’s nothing to fight for. We need to show everyone all the best that a school library has to offer.

Our focus on high quality publications will continue. We are excited to welcome Cathal Coyle into the SLA family as he takes over from Geoff Dubber as our Publications Editor. He has some brilliant ideas and I am sure our publications will move from strength to strength under his supervision.

We will also continue to provide quality resources for you so they are there when you need them. I particularly want to highlight two resources to you.

The first is called ‘Reading Grids’ (https://www.sla.org.uk/reading-grids.php ) these stemmed from some research I was doing at the time, looking at intervention for reluctant readers, and I came across Teresa Cremin’s research on ‘Building Reading Communities’ – the research is here, and well worth a read (https://researchrichpedagogies.org/research/theme/reading-for-pleasure-pedagogy ). She found that there are four main components to building a reading community – book knowledge, reading opportunities, book talk and a supportive, diverse reading environment. So often school librarians have a wealth of book knowledge, but as incredibly busy people they struggle to disseminate this information – you are not working in isolation, so use the rest of the staff. If you can disseminate what you know to them they can pass it on to the pupils. So this is what the Reading Grid is for – it lists lesser known recommended books by reading age from 0-Adult and it links to book trailers or reviews making it something that’s useful in the classroom rather than something that is just for reference.

The second resource I want to highlight is an assembly presentation for Years 9 and 10 (https://www.sla.org.uk/info-lit-assembly-for-year-910.php ). It’s entitled ‘IL in the Real World’, and looks at evaluation skills outside of academic work – from Youtube videos, to Google, to newspapers. It’s quite hard hitting, but I’ve found this is the best way to get these year groups to pay attention! It will need some editing for your context, but hopefully this is a helpful starting point, and as the NLT have recently released their Fake News Commission Report (https://literacytrust.org.uk/research-services/research-reports/fake-news-and-critical-literacy-final-report/) and CILIP’s ILG have released a new definition of information literacy (https://infolit.org.uk/ILdefinitionCILIP2018.pdf ), now is the time to talk to your SLT about putting this in the school and library development plan for the forthcoming year and make sure you’re involved.

Great School Libraries

There are issues across the sector, and this is part of the reason that the SLA has joined forces with CILIP and CILIP SLG to launch a 3 year, evidence based campaign called ‘Great School Libraries’. We are asking for ring fenced funding, a national strategy for school libraries and for school libraries to be included in Ofsted Inspections. The campaign is backed by a large number of reading and literacy charities, and we are hopeful that this will see the situation across school libraries improve. We will be launching resources in September, so sign up as a supporter now to get your supporters pack when it is released: https://www.cilip.org.uk/page/GreatSchoolLibraries

School libraries are a nuanced sector, and so what we are asking for differs between primary and secondary – more information about that can be found on the webpage. As part of the campaign we will be conducting a study into the number of school libraries through a survey – as school libraries currently aren’t included as part of the Department for Education Census there is no reliable data about the number of them, or whether they are staffed or not. We will also be asking as many people as possible who work in school libraries to complete case studies showing the impact of what they do – we don’t want to start talking about school libraries in broad brushstrokes and loose the detail, so please do consider completing one of these and contributing to the national picture. Anything you do that impacts children counts, and as the campaign will be running for 3 years you have time to plan and make sure you collect the best data.

Period of Change

The SLA is going through a period of change and we really want your wants and needs to be at the center of what we do. If you haven’t already please complete the survey – its open to members and non-members - https://www.sla.org.uk/blg-sla-launches-2018-member-survey.php it’s open for just another two weeks so get your opinions in now!


Biggest Issues

At this point in my talk I used Sli.do and got people to vote on what their biggest issues were. These are the results. There is an additional vote of 6% for Pupil Behaviour in the question “What is the thing that stops you doing the job the way you want to?”

Poll results - biggest issue

I think this is really interesting, and certainly presents a challenge for us as to how we change this on the national picture – but the start has got to be increased discourse between library staff and the educational establishment, and working harder to proactively feed information more widely into the schools picture.


What would have happened?

When I left the school I was working at, I was given a note by this one pupil. I’d been working with her over her four years at the school, and she was a reluctant reader. We had been on this journey together with me being determined, persuasive, consistent about the need for her to read, and trying a whole host of different materials with her. In my last full term, I gave her a book called ‘No Virgin’ by Anne Cassidy – a short, powerful, gritty novel about a girl who is raped. I suggested the book and gave her a realistic review – I had come to understand the grittier tale was more her thing – but she wanted to try it and she read it and loved it. On my last day she handed me a note that thanked me for not giving up on her, because she’d seen an improvement in her attainment across subjects. I now keep that note in my drawer at work, because what would have happened to her if there wasn’t a member of staff in that library? What if there hadn’t been a well-resourced library with a range of resources to offer her?  This note stands as a reminder of what’s happening to pupils day in, day out, term in, term out as there’s no one to cajole, explain or persuade them. There’s no one to show them how to evaluate websites, and no one to find them that book.

The future of the SLA is in your hands. The future of pupils are in your hands. Please get involved, and don’t give up. I won’t.