20 December 2021 Share
Our virtual evenings are where SLA President, Richard Gerver, is joined by a special guest to talk about their values, experiences and how they relate to the world of school libraries have quickly become a termly highlight. Last week, we were delighted to have Director of Siddiqui Education and beloved Gogglebox star, Baasit Siddiqui, join Richard for an extra special evening that celebrated Richard’s fantastic first year as President.
Our CEO, Alison Tarrant, kicked things off by thanking Richard for a phenomenal, action-packed year in which he did a brilliant job of supporting both the organisation and our members. We couldn’t be happier to have Richard in our corner, and look forward to what the next few years will bring.
After a brief introduction, Richard starts the conversation by asking why Baasit chose the education sector. Despite starting his career as an IT specialist, Baasit shares that it was interacting with students during a work experience trip that gave him his first taste of teaching and marked a real turning point in his life. He speaks of the ‘rush’ that teaching provides, and says there’s nothing quite like witnessing that lightbulb moment with students where you can see the impact you’ve had on them. As many school library staff can relate to, it’s these magic moments that have led Baasit to recognise the immense value the entire education community holds.
It was interesting to learn that Baasit’s work today places particular focus on supporting disadvantaged young people. It was his teacher training that highlighted how there are two sides to every coin, as he found himself experiencing both a privileged school community as well as a more impoverished one. It was then that he realised the stark difference in attitudes towards education that exist within these two realms, whereby many of the disadvantaged children seemed grateful for their education rather than it being perceived as something that they’re entitled to. When asked about the key levers for supporting disadvantaged children, Baasit believes that learning about the students, empathising with their experiences and tailoring your teaching to fit them is what’s most impactful. It’s important to build these relationships with students and show them aspects of your authentic self, because children will naturally gravitate towards those they can trust.
Here’s where school libraries come into play. Baasit shares his experience of school libraries as being particularly safe havens in disadvantaged areas, allowing children the space to switch off and gain a quiet moment for themselves which they are perhaps unable to find elsewhere. Often in these areas, many children feel intimidated with English being their second language, yet Baasit tells of how he’s seen friendships formed and confidence boosted for these children all through the school library. The school library is so often a second thought, which is the exact opposite of what a library should be.
At this point, the chat box is buzzing with activity as our guests take advantage of the opportunity to speak to Baasit and ask their own questions. One of these draws on Baasit’s career beginning in IT to ask for his personal take on whether IT poses a threat to physical books. Of course, this fuels plenty of debate between delegates, but Baasit's personal take is that it remains important to encourage the presence of physical books. Digital technology can be distracting through its fast-paced nature and the reliance on apps, leading to the concern that children won’t take as much value from eBooks as they will from the physical book. For Baasit, reading is so much more than an app. There’s an important sensory element and nostalgia that accompanies the experience of reading physical books that he believes should always be championed.
As many of us are all-too familiar with, one of the biggest challenges school library staff face is getting Senior Leadership Teams (SLT) to understand the value of school libraries. In response to this, Baasit stresses that it’s about demonstrating that the value of books extends beyond the school library space and into the wider curriculum. For instance, when visiting schools Baasit often highlights how being able to write blogs is quickly becoming an essential tool in today’s world. Reading is intrinsically linked to the ability to write, and so books become an essential tool in equipping young people with this life skill. As Baasit sees it, we must spread the message that reading does not sit outside of education or the learning experience, but rather amplifies it. It’s in this way that we can vitally help schools to connect the library to the wider curriculum.
Of course, Richard couldn’t let the evening end without mentioning Gogglebox! Baasit provides some insight into his experience as a star on the hit TV show by likening it to teaching, drawing similarities between the fact that both roles firmly place you under the eyes and scrutiny of young people. Baasit attributes his past teaching experiences to helping him develop a thick skin and, just as when dealing with students, he always tries to approach his place in the spotlight from a position of empathy.
The evening draws to a close with Baasit commenting on how he has the utmost respect for all educators, particularly given the challenging period school staff are currently facing. The pandemic has made him reflect on the power of collaboration and how education is at its strongest when we work together. This is something that will particularly resonate with many school library staff, as we’re reminded of the fact that everyone in education should be on one team. School library staff can provide valuable support to teachers as well as students, especially when it comes to information literacy, and they can also be the engine behind encouraging reading for pleasure, both at school and within the wider community. So, we must remember to have the courage to invite ourselves to the table rather than assuming we’re excluded. In Baasit’s words, school library staff are “skilled, passionate and vital to schools.” As we head into a new year, let’s make sure everyone knows it!
All our ‘in conversation’ events with Richard Gerver are FREE to members! Our next ‘In conversation with’ is with Jonathan Douglas, CEO of the National Literacy Trust – sign up here to join Richard and Jonathan in March.
If you’d like to watch the full recording of Richard and Baasit’s conversation, it’s available to members here. (Make sure you’re logged in!)