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Carol Webb

Carol Webb

Librarian
Forest Hill School, London
(www.foresthillschool.co.uk)

SLYA - Carol WebbNurturing the boys of Forest Hill School (“the best boys in London”, she believes) as readers and as individuals has been central to Carol’s work in her 17 years at the school, a comprehensive and performing arts college with a mixed sixth form in the south London borough of Lewisham.

For example, two years ago she worked with a pupil to prepare an assembly for LGBT Month. As she said in her assembly address, “A librarian’s job is to collect everyone’s history”. The assembly has now become a fixture on the school calendar.

A Year 7 pupil whose reading was under-developed because of health problems has been encouraged to the point where he is a keen reader in Year 9, thanks to Carol using every tool in her kitbag: support to join the public library, school reading challenges, poetry jams held every half term and a school team for the cross-borough book quiz.

The author events that she holds in school always have an enthusiastic audience and she makes full use of the school’s state-of-the-art theatre. A highlight of her career has been hearing from author Bali Rai “that he had not, in ten years of school visits, had such an overwhelmingly positive response from boys about reading”. Carol’s strong relationships with publishers mean that Forest Hill has hosted webcasts by Eoin Colfer and Rick Riordan. When Jeff (Wimpy Kid) Kinney recently spent just three days in the UK, he found time to meet a party of Forest Hill boys.

She relishes every opportunity to make young readers feel special and adventurous. “The boys love it when I get proofs of a new Charlie Higson novel, for example, in the post and pass it around, and they know they are reading it ahead of the public. They like to be in the know.”

It helps that Carol is herself a voracious reader of children’s literature. When she participated in the 2010 Booked Up panel for Booktrust (to select books to be given free to all new secondary school pupils in England) she read 80 books in 40 days.

To advance reading for information skills, she organised a guitar-building workshop. “This involved staff and students working together, using information from books to design and build from scratch a fully-playing instrument, all in one day.”

Carol received a Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) fellowship in 2007 for her work on reader development. With a network of fellow school librarians built up while studying for a Masters in Education degree in information literacy, she is a co-author of The Innovative School Librarian: Thinking Outside the Box (FACET, 2009). She has given papers at conferences including the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust and a public services umbrella bodies conference.

Her current key project is her doctorate in education. Like her masters, it is based at Canterbury Christ Church University, with research for both being done at school. She is in the final phase of research and started drafting chapters over the summer break.

“I’ve been interviewing teachers about what they perceive information literacy to be in relation to their subject area and how they perceive the skills changing through technology. The first findings were very exploratory and very fragmented. Each teacher has a different set of lenses through which they view these skills and a different vision for their subject. We’re working out a common language. It’s exciting work.”

Forest Hill is benefiting from her research. She uses her library lessons to get to know pupils and introduce information literacy skills at the point of need. The sixth formers receive information literacy skills sessions and Carol is working with the senior leadership team to extend this work throughout the school.

Carol chose further studies in education rather than librarianship because, she says, “I enjoy being part of a cohort of teachers, and meeting heads of departments and higher education teachers with similar interests.”

She started her career in Department of Health libraries, including a post at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, then moving into public libraries before her first school library at Westminster City School. She intends to stay in schools, and loves her job because “libraries make a difference, and it really is that simple”.

If she had not become a librarian, she is sure she would have been working elsewhere in public services: “When I was a teenager, I read Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. I remember my shock when realising how little had changed in society for those who have nothing.”

Carol has a busy year ahead: she must submit her doctoral thesis by summer 2012, and expects to do most of the writing in school holidays (“I really need a few days to get into writing. I can’t get much done in term time except trying to read around the subject and research”). Her work on restoring her 18th-century farmhouse and garden near Gillingham in Kent has been put on the back burner.