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CE Blog 2019_2: Why school libs are important, and what the SLA's plans are

Firstly, an apology - I have missed two blog posts. The beginning of the year is full of activity with a new strategy, policies to revise, budgeting to do and the weekend course to finalise. I hope you'll forgive me. This month’s CE blog is a bit of a mish mash of things that I think would be useful to share, normal service will resume next month. Recently a journalist asked me why school libraries were important, and here’s my response.

School libraries are vital in schools because they hold the key to literacy for many children, and the key to information literacy for many more! Having a wide range of resources (fiction, information, audio, e-book, newspapers and digital resources) is the only way that children build the range of skills needed to understand and utilise the resources they will encounter in later life. As well as encouraging reading for pleasure (which correlates to reading attainment) school library staff use these resources to develop critical thinking skills and teach vital concepts for the 21st century – ideas like bias, plagiarism, the difference between opinion and fact. It’s through the resources that children grow their world perspective and see beyond their immediate community – also allowing empathy, creativity and curiosity to flourish. It’s these skills and abilities that allow children to engage actively in a modern, democratic community.

School libraries are important spaces in all schools – giving children a chance to browse (a skill they are less likely to learn at home, given the dominance of buying over the internet) and engage in libraries at a young age allows them to learn skills they’ll use as they get older: taught well, the basics of using your university library are taught at primary level. When staffed, school libraries provide a safe space for pupils, not only for those who struggle in the more chaotic environment of the playground (though a busy school library on a wet break time can be chaotic too!), but also for those introverts who need time and space to recover from demanding lessons, those who play with their creativity by writing, or drawing, or telling stories, or taking part in a club, those who play chess or those who just want some peer support with their homework.

School libraries are spaces, filled with potential. School library staff are the ones who release the potential and turn it into engagement, learning and enjoyment. School library staff use every tool at their disposal to draw children in, to show them a world beyond their immediate surroundings, and a future different to one that they see. They use all the resources – including but not limited to books – to allow children to maximise what they get from every lesson and to make links across the curriculum. The clubs, competitions and events that library staff run allow children to explore who they are, find something they are good at and maybe even find a role model for their creativity – something which is ever more important in these days of a narrowed curriculum and the development of AI.

School library staff promote independent learning – ‘look it up’, ‘what do you think’, ‘why do you think that’. They challenge lazy thinking and an over reliance on a single source of information – and they do this informally through conversation as well as formally through information literacy, research and enquiry based learning lessons. This generation is not going to be able to find a one reliable source – they are going to have to mentally engage with everything they come across, and be constantly thinking about purpose and audience and author.

School libraries can actively contribute to the aims of a school. If a school development plan mentions literacy, reading attainment, EAL, pupil premium pupils, ‘More Able’ pupils, developing creativity, combatting fake news, the importance of transition (both KS2>3 and KS3>4), the importance of creating a learning culture, raising outcomes or contributing to a positive mental state the school library should be mentioned and have its own development plan linked to the school’s priorities for that year.

In a time where education is constantly talking about retention and workload, some schools seem to ignore the place that a member of school library staff has in supporting teachers. By collaborating over schemes of work, co-teaching lessons, sharing the weight of knowing which resources will engage a pupil, and entice them want to read workload and stress can be reduced. There are no ‘red lines’ of domain within schools – teachers should be seen in, using and contributing to the library, and library staff could be doing the same in classrooms.

Teachers can maximise their school library by involving them in the conversations about research and teaching, allowing them to access CPD (there’s lots of high quality but cheap or free resources out there), allowing them to network, (which costs time only)to brainstorm with colleagues - after all, unlike teachers, they are (sometimes) the only person doing that job in that school. Talk to the organisations available about how to make the library relevant in your school, and have high expectations. When you appoint a librarian/LRC Manager choose someone whomyou respect, and allow them to participate: involve them when creating solutions and talk to them about issues. The school library is the centre of the school – the one place where every subject, year group, cohort and both academic and informal needs are all provided for – give them a chance to support and help.

I’m sure there’s lots of things I should have included, so let me know what they are and I’ll make sure they are there next time. Meanwhile, at the SLA we have been working on the three year strategy, trying to make sure that school libraries have all the support that they need, and how best to combat the issues the sector is facing. I recently spoke at the Berkshire Branch unconference, and asked for feedback – good, bad and ugly! – about some of the things we’ll be working on, and some of the things we should be. This will give you some understanding of where we are going, and what we’re working on.

 

Here’s some of the comments I got back:

  • As someone with dyslexia the journal and website are hard to read

The first one was something very close to my heart – that for some members the journal and website are hard to read. Being the only one out of four siblings without dyslexia made me keenly aware of how important equal access is. This is something we will look into.

  • Are you talking to heads, offering guidelines on salaries etc?

This is something that reaches the heart of our 3 year plan – closing the gap between school libraries and education. We are, and we have developed a ‘Skills and Expertise in the school library’ booklet that we will release with our new website. We have also developed a short online course for teachers who line manage school library staff to help build a common understanding of what the school library can do, what the guidelines are, and where support can be found.

  • Job adverts – there are not many on your site, could you advertise it better?

We are hoping that the new website, and some additional advertising about the service will help. We are changing the pricing so it costs £100+ VAT for members and £150+VAT for non-members. This is still significantly cheaper than other job advertising websites, and goes directly to the desired audience, so there is a strong argument to use our site!

  • I really like the audio/podcasting idea

Good! This is something for the longer term – we want to make sure our content is as accessible as possible, and so we will explore making some audio content as well. This may be podcast versions of the blogs, or first chapters of some of our publications.

  • Crowd funding for schools that aren’t members

This is something we are investigating, but need to be slightly careful of. The SLA needs to, and will always maintain the position that school libraries should be funded by the school – it is the schools responsibility to fund and resource them. However, we also can’t betray the current generation who are moving through school in an era of increased financial insecurity. The new website will have a donation page, and we are talking to partners to try and look at other ways that membership could be gifted to a school, however this may also be done in house. Ask your PTA if they would buy some books to allow you to buy membership; or talk to local businesses – it’s sometimes easier with a local connection.

  • Benefits of membership need better advertising

This is true, and something that was made apparent in the membership survey we conducted last year, and is one of the things we will be working on. The new website will allow a member, and non-member newsletter to go out, and this will be the best way of keeping up to date with all of the SLA news.

  • The online training for teachers – is it free? Would it also apply to inspectors?

The training isn’t free but will be priced very competitively – we didn’t want to use membership money to create it, but know teachers will find it difficult to pay for the course if it’s expensive. It won’t be for Inspectors – we have separate plans (along with the Great School Libraries campaign) to address Inspectors directly once the new framework is confirmed. Of course, there’s nothing to stop inspectors doing the course.

  • Ask big 6 accountancy firms for support

This is something I would love to do, and now we have a three year strategy in place it will allow us to write a compelling bid.

  • Work with publishers to offer free books

This is something we do at the moment, all competitions are in the Info[at] newsletter, and it is something that I will continue to work on (along with the member benefits).

  • Can I have an unconference Day at Herts SLA?

Absolutely! Just talk to the committee.

  • Each branch should have their own section of the website

They do, and we will be able to upload documents from branches to the website.

  • Each branch has their own email address

This is something we are working on at the moment.

  • Inviting library degrees to run a workshop at the SLA weekend course

This is a fab idea, and something we will look into. 

  • Lesson plans on digital literacy skills

This is an interesting idea – if you know of anyone who does this let us know!

  • A student library helper section of the website

Maybe in a future development of the website!

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