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Lyn Hopson

Lyn Hopson
Don Valley Academy, Doncaster, South Yorkshire


Lyn HopsonA nomadic life in an Army family led Lyn to appreciate the instant community and resources offered by public libraries, which also offered her a career until the move to Don Valley in 2002.

She grew up in Northern Ireland and interrupted her degree course at Queens University, Belfast, when her husband Mark was posted to Germany with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. The young family (their two children are now grown up) moved seven times in eight years, with Lyn taking a range of jobs in the Army’s civilian management structure. “Everywhere we lived, the first thing I would do was take the children to the local library.”

When they decided on a permanent base in South Yorkshire – “we wanted the children to be settled in schools and my husband’s family live nearby” – Lyn became a part-time library assistant in Scawthorpe Branch Library and found herself in charge of summer activities and storytimes for children.

“The branch didn’t have a children’s librarian and I found that I really enjoyed working with young people.” Relief posts in Doncaster public libraries followed plus a full time maternity cover post at Spotborough public library, before she was hired by Don Valley Academy at the end of 2001. She was promised promotion if she worked towards Chartership which she was awarded in 2005. She has worked as a candidate support officer for CILIP, helping candidates for certification.

Since moving into school libraries she has continued to work closely with public libraries, especially in developing the Doncaster Book Award which has a growing profile and has attracted funding from the Coalfield Regeneration Trust, (CRT), the National Lottery and the Arts Council of England. As a committee member, Lyn has just helped to compile the longlist for 2014 and has been involved in bidding for funds.

The process of choosing a winning book by children’s vote takes from October to April/May every year, with a public launch and finale and a programme of workshops and events, many of them hosted by Don Valley.

Many of Lyn’s initiatives have been highlighted on the Readingzone and National Literacy Trust websites, such as the Postcards from the Gap project for Don Valley’s feeder primary schools.

“I go into all the primaries and do a session with the Year 6 children talking about their reading preferences and leading a discussion on how they choose books.  They then fill in postcards and we put them on display with their comments and books they have requested each September.  They make good discussion starters for the Year 7 library induction lessons.”

Don Valley’s primary liaison work has grown as a result with Lyn recruiting her own students to give presentations to primary classes and inviting primary classes to Don Valley for author visits and workshops.

Her weekly reading group, Pageturners, is famous in its own right. Members commit to reading one new book every two weeks and are rewarded with trips, activities, craft sessions and events such as a “second breakfast” for the 75th anniversary of The Hobbit.  “I realised that groups where everyone reads the same book at the same time, as in most adult reading groups, don’t work for this age group. Interests and reading levels vary a lot and we want everyone to enjoy what they are reading and share their excitement.”

Most reader development activities are aimed at Years 7-9 (“the GCSE students get too busy although I hope by then they enjoy reading enough to come back to it”), but some Pageturners members continue to meet in Year 10, having formed friendships over books.

Don Valley, a performing arts college with more than 1,200 students, is the perfect setting for Lyn’s creativity and she often liaises with performing arts departments to create events.

For Hallowe’en last year, sixth form drama students performed short stories by M R James for a spooky lunchtime Pageturners session.

Lyn’s most memorable activity, an interactive session based on Ray Bradbury’s story, “The October Game”, was also held last October.

“We had darkened the library, blindfolded the children, and put on spooky background music.  While I read the story aloud, other staff passed around ‘body parts’ (a bag of cold spaghetti, peeled grapes and so on).  However, I had also got hold of a real pig’s heart and some bones and teeth from the science department, which we put on a low table in the centre of the room.  When it came to the climax of the story and they whipped off their blindfolds and saw the bleeding heart, the sheer disbelief and horror on some of their faces was hilarious.”

Lyn consistently focuses on raising the library’s profile and sharing good practice, sending reports on library events and workshops with student comments and feedback to the headteacher, governors, literacy co-ordinator and her line manager. Then, she says, “it is easier to get support for new ideas”. She adds: “I think a whole-school approach to literacy/reading promotion is the way to go, and am very fortunate that our school has gone this way.  However, I believe the key is for librarians to be proactive, look for new ideas and for ways to get involved with things already happening in schools, such as transition, or major external events such films/sporting events.

“I look for ways to work with other departments and give them lots of good feedback.  Also it is good to network with other librarians and keep up with the National Literacy Trust, readingzone.com, the SLA website and other fabulous sources of ideas.”