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Wendy Roberts

Wendy RobertsWendy Roberts

Senior School Librarian
Ardingly College, West Sussex

Wendy was appointed seven years ago with a brief to bring Ardingly College's library into the 21st century. After refurbishing the physical space, involving students in the planning, her next move was to hire an assistant and she now heads a department of three.

Having been a solo professional for most of her long career before coming to Ardingly - she turned 60 last year and has worked in a college of education and four schools -- she says:  "You need to take every opportunity you can to develop your practice with colleagues. It is rewarding to work with two keen younger librarians, and also encouraging that the College has seen the value of a professionally run library. I feel confident that it is understood that we're worth the money and can make our contribution to teaching and learning."

The senior school library at the independent co-educational boarding and day school is staffed for long hours, until 9pm on three evenings a week. Wendy's two assistants - one chartered and one working towards chartership - also run the library in the Ardingly College prep school, and one of them is setting up the library in the pre-prep department.  Although Wendy herself does not work with the younger pupils, her influence is felt in the whole school community, through sharing the library team's services and skills.

Wendy Roberts helping students with Year 8 induction activities
Wendy Roberts helping students with Year 8 induction activities

There are 540 pupils in the Ardingly senior school ("It's small enough to know everyone," as Wendy says) with about half of the pupils boarding. Wendy and her colleagues share tutorial duties with the teaching staff and also team teach to cover information literacy issues, the area which represents Wendy's most significant contribution to teaching and learning, including responsibility for the Theory of Knowledge course in the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma curriculum.

Her expertise in supporting IB students has led to her being in demand as a trainer outside Ardingly. She recently ran a training day for librarians at schools starting the IB and is about to welcome the Sussex group of CILIP on a visit. The requirement for students to write a 4,000-word extended essay on a subject of their choice related to the IB curriculum calls on many information literacy skills.

"We hold study skills workshops and talk to students about their research to ensure they have the tools to find out what they need," says Wendy. "Providing this sort of support is an obvious role for librarians: we are the information experts. We might give them a one-to-one session on using particular resources or help them choose their topic, although they have a subject mentor as well.

"It is a skill in itself to choose a topic with a scope appropriate to the form of an essay of that length. They are required to become a mini-expert in the area they choose and it's good to have a clear focus: for example, if you were looking at a historical topic it would be good to choose one with clear differences of opinion that you would have to acknowledge."

In addition, Wendy has devised an academic honesty policy, and run training for teaching staff on plagiarism issues. As a head of department, she is on the school's academic planning committee and contributed to the Ardingly Learner Profile, which reinforces the values students are expected to embrace.

"It's important to teach students to ask good questions and that we keep up with how they are approaching looking for information," Wendy says. One book on her recent reading list is The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember by Nicholas Carr. Another is The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, an old Ardinian who is due to visit the library this month (September).

Because the college offers a wide range of sports and cultural activities, reading groups are run on demand and usually by the students with the library staff's support, but a Year 9 group is organised to take part in the Southern Schools Book Award, in which students choose the winning book.

Wendy believes that peer recommendation and introducing the right book to the right reader at the right time are crucial in encouraging students who may not be confident or motivated about reading for pleasure. Her most memorable student is a dyslexic girl who did not enjoy reading until Year 10, when her friend recommended Pirates by Celia Rees. "After this, there was no looking back and she became one of the most voracious readers I have encountered, and practically lived in the library."

Wendy has wanted to be a librarian since her grandfather took her to the public library at the age of five. "I wanted to be the lady behind the desk with the date stamp." Now her work as an information expert has impressed her colleagues to the extent that they decided she should be nominated for something. They went looking for an award to nominate her for, until they found the School Librarian of the Year Award.