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Rachel Knight

School Librarian of the Year Award 2016: Honour List Profile

Rachel Knight

Sherborne Girls, Dorset (www.sherborne.com)

Rachel KnightWhat sort of librarian can strip down an SA80 rifle in 15 seconds and also loves the challenge of racing one of her school's sports scholars up the 54 steps to the Library at 8 in the morning?

It turns out to be one who is equally at home hosting a Jane Austen dinner party complete with bonnets, flickering candelabras and even a special guest appearance from Mr Darcy or co-ordinating an exciting month-long wellbeing event with Library yoga, storytelling, acoustic music and smoothie making, all in the name of bringing books to life for the whole school community.

And that librarian is Rachel Knight, from Sherborne Girls, an independent day and boarding school for 470 girls aged 11 to 18.

Mr Darcy in the LibraryDescribed as "open, friendly and welcoming" and having "a lovely rapport with the girls", Rachel's time at Sherborne Girls has seen library use increase considerably thanks to her innovative and creative school-wide promotion of books, reading and library resources. Events have included poetry afternoons, guest speakers like Britain's No.1 female alpine skier Chemmy Alcott and the "Books That Changed Your Life" promotion. Her "Desert Island Books" campaign was designed to raise the profile, prominence and vibrancy of the Library at Sherborne Girls.

As well as instilling a sense of fun and energy, the promotion created a buzz around the Library with students excited and inspired to read more widely and in different genres. The event welcomed involvement from all members of the school community – from senior management to catering staff to international students and sixth form. Girls were given the opportunity to discuss and debate their favourite books with confidence and passion.

Rachel planned, promoted and delivered the three-day "Women and Adventure Festival". This was an exhilarating celebration of travel and adventure literature, guest speakers, films, photography, orienteering and outdoor challenges, all designed to raise the profile of the Library. Boosting the culture of books, reading and storytelling is at the very heart of Sherborne Girls' Library and both staff and students had the opportunity to hear a wealth of inspirational stories about endurance, strength, resilience and positivity during the festival. Girls were able to hear tenacious tales of mountaineering, endure the physical and psychological realities of climbing Everest, negotiate the wild Indian Ocean, surf big waves in California and experience the triumph and grit of the human spirit… all by coming to the Library.

These highpoints have taken place alongside regular and well attended book clubs for all staff (including support, catering and cleaning staff as well as teachers), reading groups for students (with reviews of the books read published on the vibrant library blog, (https://sherbornegirlslibrary.wordpress.com/), personalised book prescriptions from the Book Doctor (Rachel in disguise, complete with a white coat and stethoscope) who helped readers stuck in a rut find new enthusiasm for books, and competitions such as Extreme Reading and Guess the Shelfie.

Rachel, who has an MSc in Information Studies, first meets new students in Year 7, where she spends time with each girl individually, getting to know them and providing tailored, informal introductions to the library. She teaches engaging lessons on study skills both as part of the Year 9 PSHE course and also for Year 12 and 13, covering topics including essay writing, digital resources, referencing, mind mapping and academic honesty. Rachel has designed these specialist sixth form workshops in order to nurture independent learning, raise attainment and optimise the effectiveness of the Library and Library Staff.

She liaises closely with subject teachers who use the library for projects, providing subject-specific library support throughout the academic year. A new initiative is the creation of Summer Reading Lists for students who are moving into the sixth form, with subject-specific titles made up of three or four popular, thought-provoking texts to inspire girls in each of their chosen A Level or IB subjects, whether they be the sciences, humanities or languages. All new school staff receive an hour long library induction "with a clear message that the library is there to help."

In addition to the library blog, Rachel produces flyers, posters and mini postcards to promote the library of 25,000 titles, a space consisting of four areas including a collaborative space, silent working area and teaching room. Very aware of the needs of teenage girls (Rachel has also been a non-residential, pastoral tutor at Sherborne Girls), a relaxed and welcoming library environment is very important to Rachel.

In her time at Sherborne Girls, Rachel has also developed a reading strategy. The strategy reflects on reading as an integral part of personal and academic wellbeing for both pupils and staff. She talks about the school Library and the "mission to nurture the culture of reading and lay down reading foundations which will last a lifetime."

The five words Rachel would associate with her library are: energy, imagination, reflection, drive, passion. That passion is there for all to see: when asked what she would include in a school librarian survival kit, Rachel tellingly replied, "There has genuinely never been a day where I felt like I was simply 'surviving'... the rewards, job satisfaction and sense of fulfilment [have been] second-to-none."