Back to Basics After the Pandemic :: NEWS

Back to Basics After the Pandemic

01 September 2021 Share

Rebecca Henry shares her tips for how fellow librarians can help support pupils’ learning in a post pandemic world

The last year has, as everyone knows, been difficult on all fronts, but if we put the very serious issues aside for a moment, one thing that has been hard was watching the struggle to access books and literacy. Of course the situation was different for different groups of people, but inevitably the closure of schools, large-scale move to online learning and various stages of lockdown surrounding libraries has had an impact on the education and reading abilities of the school demographic. For those who don’t own literature at home, this will have been much more noticeable.

Now, as things pick up, it is time for all libraries that haven’t been open for a year to try and get back on their feet – or, if they have been lucky enough to be accessible by students, to get back in the groove. All school libraries have had setbacks this year whether open or not, but the start of this year is important for getting back into good habits of doing things we perhaps haven’t been able to do for a long time.

Top of the priority list is always advertising the mere existence of the school library. It might seem very obvious and such a basic requisite that it’s hardly worth thinking about, but if your library has been shut all year then it’s time to get back to basics. Of course there will be students who will instinctively find out where the library is – but at the same time, there are also many who won’t have a clue and never would unless you drag them in the right direction. At St Joseph’s, the school library has been closed all year, leaving some students unsure how to use the library and even where it is. Many of September’s Year Eights haven’t been in– and, as I have begun to discover, a surprisingly large number of children come to secondary school and have never visited a library.

Library lessons are an ideal time to support the promotion of the library and everything it is about. Although many do already know how the library works, it’s a great opportunity to try and renew students’ interest, which may have faded if they haven’t had access to it for a long time.

Schemes such as Drop Everything And Read (DEAR) is a great way to make sure that reading is fitted into the weekly routine. It takes reading out of the library and into the classroom, but often brings students back, wanting more from what they have read in lessons. At St Joseph’s, DEAR is run as a class activity with the emphasis on the teacher reading in order to model a good reading voice.

Depending, of course, on the size of the library, it is also important not to forget non-fiction. With the popularity and ease of fiction books sometimes non-fiction can get pushed to the side. When I need new stock, I often find it useful to ask the teachers and sometimes also the students what sort of things might be useful to purchase. It means a lot to the students when they are included in the choices of what goes on the shelf, and increases the likelihood of certain books being borrowed.

Although librarians are not in the classroom environment, a great way to support teaching is to monitor reading levels. Accelerated Reader is an extremely popular and very efficient program for doing so, although regimented library sessions are usually beneficial in order to make the most of it. At St Joseph’s we follow the reading progress of Year Sevens and Year Eights and due to the high number of EAL students we have, it has proven very useful for identifying students who struggle with their literacy – which in turn helps us to guide them towards texts that will gradually improve their reading level, or to allocate them to student mentors who help them improve.

With the above out of the way, the next step is drawing in students more often. Though it can often be challenging to reign in as many reluctant readers as proficient, enthusiastic ones, putting together group activities is a wonderful way to bring both together. In Swindon many secondary schools run a ‘Gr8 Book Debate’ or ‘Riveting Read’ during the summer, which encourages students to read through five books – texts that they might not normally pick – and to interact with other students about the books. It’s vital to make sure students are aware of the importance – and greatness – of reading for pleasure, and activities like this can really encourage them to have a go (especially if prizes are included).

My final port of call, when things are going smoothly, is to promote the local public libraries. Of course, we want the students to use the school library as much as possible, but sometimes they can’t find what they want in the school library – and this might apply more to schools with smaller libraries. It’s an option likely to be chosen by those who are really keen readers, but it’s great to make sure that the students are aware that the opportunity is there because again, many of them might not.

As we get the ball rolling with the new school year, I’m sure more ideas will come. But my top goals are to open the library doors and lure as many students in as I can, hopefully with an air of not just reading, but also learning.



Rebecca Henry is a librarian at St Joseph’s Catholic College, based in Wiltshire. Her debut YA novel, The Sound of Everything, is published by Everything with Words.