My First Year as a School Librarian

Yesterday I finished my first full school year as an Assistant School Librarian! Due to the fact that time is an odd concept that twists and turns and warps itself strangely, it has gone both very quickly and very slowly. On the one hand, 6/7-week half-term bursts with breaks in between push things along quickly; on the other, I feel like I settled in very quickly and had been there forever by Christmas (in a good way).

I thought it might be useful to list, in some way, all the notable things from this year:

  • Kids are brilliant to work with. This was the most surprising thing of all. I had never worked with secondary-age kids before and although I didn’t think I would hate it, I wasn’t sure I would like it as much as I do.
  • There is some absolutely fantastic stuff being written for kids at the moment. It feels like a really good time for children’s and Young Adult literature.
  • There is absolutely no place for snobbery in school librarianship. If a child goes from hating reading to liking it, it is completely beside the point if it something with no perceived “literary quality” by critics. They are reading. This is better than not reading.
  • We have been using the Accelerated Reader literacy programme. The children read books, take quizzes on them and win prizes when they have done well in quizzes a certain number of times.
  • Malorie Blackman came into school. She did a talk for the children about her experiences as a writer and answered questions. It was brilliant. I got starstruck.
  • We organised a book swap.
  • We did a book quiz for World Book Day.
  • I read my first “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book.
  • I helped train teaching staff on the VLE.
  • I helped to develop the VLE.
  • I helped out at sports day.
  • I saw a school play.
  • We did a few stock-picks.
  • We compiled book lists.
  • This is what happens when you Google image search “Justin Beanber”:


I may add to this list as and when I think of things.

Other school librarians, feel free to leave notable things from your 2011/12 year in the comments!


Sport and Reading for Pleasure

I used to love sport. When I was a kid, I went on football holiday camps with my brother and was proud to be the only girl there. I remember going to Old Trafford to watch Manchester United with my Dad a few times, but my main memory of my sports-loving life was when I won football poetry competition. My prize was two things – a) a year’s supply of wagon wheels and b)free tickets to Stockport County Football club and a chance to try my luck taking penalties against the goalkeeper before the match. I also got through to the national heat, which involved a trip to a big football event at the NEC in Birmingham where I attempted to win world cup tickets by commentating on a celebrity football match. Alas, I did not win the tickets, and through my teenage years I also went off sport. It didn’t fit in with all the other things I was trying to do and be.

However, that experience has stayed with me. It connected sport to my school work and made me think about the possibilities of both. It was also good for Stockport County – those school and community connections inspired people to go to matches and get involved (NB -Things are no longer as rosy for County, but that’s another story…)

I absolutely love Tom Palmer’s toolkits for teachers and librarians which connect two of this year’s major sporting events – Euro 2012 and the Olympics – to reading. He also does the Premier League Reading Stars with the National Literacy Trust – another great way to connect football to literacy. Palmer’s books are very popular with the boys in our school library, and it was interesting to read the following quote from his website:

 “I wasn’t a keen reader, but thankfully my mum used my love of football to get me into reading. I’m now the author of fourteen children’s football novels for Puffin Books.”

I think lots of children see reading as something separate to their other hobbies, something boring that they’re forced to do at school, something isolated, attached to values they quite simply don’t relate to, rather than something that can be exciting or engaging or easily connect up with their out-of-school interests. Although I’ve only been a school librarian for one year, it is clear to me that one of the major challenges of school librarians is to break down this assumption.

2012 is a huge year for sport in this country and it is good to see lots of educational activities taking place around this. The Olympics also has an educational website – Get Set – that has loads of resources for teaching and learning.

These sporting events have not only made me think about how sport and literature/literacy can connect up, but also how reading can connect to all areas of the curriculum. And how reading isn’t just about English lessons and literacy (although they are important) – it’s not even just about school – it connects with all areas of life, and can be an enjoyable and fulfilling experience in and of itself.

Librarians: Like a Biker Gang, but with political savvy and shushing.

Parks & Recreation season 1-3 is one of my favourite pieces of television of recent years and I would recommend that, if you haven’t done so already, you should watch it. It tells the story of the parks department in small town fictional USA: Leslie Knope is the workaholic, principled deputy director; Ron Swanson is her libertarian superior who believes in scaled-back government and thinks that “fish meat is basically a vegetable” (look up “Ron Swanson’s pyramid of greatness” and you will see). There are various other friends and colleagues, ridiculous situations and a hilarious rivalry with the libraries department  (mostly due to the fact that Ron’s “sex-crazed librarian ex-wife” works there).

I have to admit this: I really love the Parks and Recreation libraries rivalry storyline. Here are some quotations, starting with my personal favourite:

“The library is the worst group of people ever assembled in history. They’re mean, conniving, rude, and extremely well read, which makes them very dangerous”

”Pawnee’s library department are the most diabolical, ruthless bunch of bureaucrats I’ve ever seen. They’re like a biker gang, but instead of shotguns and crystal meth, they use political savvy and shushing.”

Ron: “Tammy is a mean person. She’s a grade-A bitch. Every time she laughs, an angel dies. Even telemarketers avoid her. Her birth was payback for the sins of man, but you know the worst thing about her?” Leslie: “She works for the library.”

What I take from this is the following:

Librarians: Like a Biker Gang, but with political savvy and shushing.

Boys’ Reading Commisson Report & Libraries

This week began with an interesting new report from the National Literacy Trust/Boys’ Reading Commission. The report reveals that “three out of four (76%) UK schools are concerned about boys’ underachievement in reading despite no Government strategy to address the issue. Last year an estimated 60,000 boys failed to reach the expected level in reading at age 11”.

The report contains many recommendations (and does go on to mention school libraries), however the one I found most interesting is this:

  • Every teacher should have an up-to-date knowledge of reading materials that will appeal to disengaged boys.

My issues with this are as follows:

a) Is it fair to expect all teachers to have such a knowledge? Perhaps English teachers ought to be up-to-date with pupils’ reading habits, and a cross-curricular approach to literacy is certainly something to strive towards, but my fear is that teachers, quite simply, have enough to do already. Which leads me to…

b) Isn’t this the job of librarians? If there is a good school library with an enthusiastic librarian who can work with teachers across the curriculum, then perhaps this would lessen the pressure on teachers (already arguably too high) and enable them to do the job then should be doing.

Libraries/school libraries are discussed in Chapter 2. This extract is, I feel, especially important:

“Libraries have a vital role to play in addressing this knowledge gap around books and reading materials. This function has traditionally been fulfilled by schools library services but evidence heard by the Commission highlighted how many of these have closed in the last 10 to 15 years. In May 2011, the TES published analysis that showed “just 85 councils out of more than 150 with responsibility for schools run their own dedicated service”. Since then, others have been put under review or cut back. In 1997/8, 83% of UK pupils were served by a school library service; by 2002/3 this was 72%. This trend can be linked to the introduction of the fair funding scheme in 2001,which requires local authorities to devolve all funding to schools.

Unfortunately, as pressure on school budgets has increased, many headteachers have chosen not to prioritise school library support, and local services have been forced to close.

Where schools library services no longer exist, public libraries and school libraries need to be supported in taking on this role. As Professor Cremin explained:

“If she [a teacher] does not have a librarian to support her, what does she do? Go to Waterstones? Turn to a publisher perhaps. We are dealing with a problem there.” (Final Report, page 13)

Public libraries could, theoretically, take on some of the work of school libraries in encouraging literacy. However, as public libraries are currently diminishing in number hugely,  it seems highly unlikely that this would be sufficient. So what is being done about this?

It’s been recently announced that there is to be a mass lobby of Parliament in October calling for libraries to be included in school inspections and a wide range of people calling for legislation to ensure there is a library in every school. There is also Ofsted’s recent Moving English Forward report.

Here is Michael Gove talking about the issue.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this?


Welcome to my blog, which will primarily explore libraries, books, technlogy and education.

I will also probably talk a little too much about coffee, running and Bruce Springsteen. Consider yourself warned.