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Aspirational and inspirational school librarians

Updated: Jun 11, 2021

Lightbulb held in hands
Sharing the light of school libraries

I'm struggling to blog these days. I normally like to write something at least once a month but nothing, as you know, is normal at the moment so it has taken a little while for me to get my blogging mojo back or even to find something that I feel anyone might want to read.

Over the last few months, like many of you, I have had a massive learning curve. From learning how to live on a small island during lockdown and not be able to see my family to unleashing my training on the world via webinars. Learning to understand myself and others more whilst still feeling I understand nothing.

I have blogged a lot over the last few years about what I think schools and school librarians could achieve if given the chance. What I have come to realise over the last few months, in particular, is that without an overarching focus that all school librarians can work towards the profession is flapping around like wet fish.

Ok, so what do I mean by this? If you were to ask 50 school librarians what their role was, within the school they were in, and what their goals for the future are I am almost 100% sure that you would get 50 different answers. Now, this really has nothing to do with whether they are qualified or not or whether they are chartered or not. I believe it is because at the moment there is nothing that clearly defines the role. If a school wants to know what a professionally qualified school librarian could be doing there are several organisations that can tell you but there is not one that links them all. I truly believe that if the UK could decide on a clearly defined role of the school librarian we would be on much firmer footing.

Now there are many out there who will be saying that this is impossible. School libraries have been on a journey of decline for many years leaving us with schools that have no qualified staff and for some no staff or libraries at all. Many schools who do have school libraries muddle along with 'support' staff with low wages to keep the library running. Buying stock, issuing and returning books and tidying without which our school libraries just won't function.

However, there really is more to school libraries than this. I have said this before and will say it again... I don't believe that shops function without professional people at the top running the business, shop assistants are important but I know there is more to it than what we see. The same is true for school libraries.

So why is this such a problem for me personally? As an Independent trainer, I want to provide a training offer that takes school librarians on a learning journey, focusing on their needs. If there is no clearly defined role then it means I can create whatever I want. Great, sounds perfect, doesn't it? Actually, this makes it so much harder. What do I focus on? Who do I focus on? Do I start with the brand new school librarian? Do I provide something for those who have been in their jobs for a long time? I really need to understand their needs but without a defined role is this even possible?

During our time of lockdown, it has become apparent that there are many school librarians looking for CPD (Continued Professional Development) and I wanted to provide something of value. I didn't just want to run a session for the sake of it. I wanted it to have a purpose and provide an opportunity to inspire those who took part to see a pathway to something exciting, something they could aspire to even if it wasn't within their grasp right now.

I have been working with Darryl Toerien for many years on FOSIL (Framework Of Skills for Inquiry Learning) and more this year with IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions). Both have provided me with a positive focus for my training ideas when I was thrown headfirst into online training in March and I have been very grateful to have them as my focus.

The FOSIL cycle
FOSIL (Framework Of Skills for Inquiry Learning

What I have found in these guidelines, in particular, is a global reflection on the direction that school librarianship as a profession needs to evolve in if it is not just to survive, but to thrive.

IFLA School Library Guidelines talks about the 5 core activities of the school librarian, which are:-

  • Literacy and Reading Promotions

  • Inquiry-based Learning Models

  • Media and Information Literacy

  • Technology Integration

  • Professional Development for teachers

As you can see from this list above, which is unpacked more fully within the guidelines document, has something in it for every school librarian. From the newest school librarian to those who have been there forever. I know that some school librarians will only be touching on reading promotions whilst others, because of opportunities or supportive Senior Leadership Team, will be doing so much more.

I see that a guideline like this provides all school librarians with the opportunity to raise their status. It gives them the opportunity to see what could be achieved if given the right support and a document that they can share with their senior management when discussing why things should and could change in their school.

I don't see these guidelines as an opportunity to highlight what some school librarians are not doing but more of an opportunity to promote and advocate for school librarianship. We all know that every school librarian is doing the best they can in their own individual circumstances. I see the guidelines as an inspirational and aspirational document. Something that all school librarians can look to as a way forward and certainly not rules! These guidelines give school librarians the opportunity to once again work on what they do best for their students whilst clearly seeing what the gold standard of school librarianship could be.

I also don't believe in having such a document that allows everyone to see what could be achieved is a slight on anyone. We would all love to live in a mansion but understand our own limitations. We can, however, save up for that lovely coffee table and feel that we have taken a small step towards that bigger dream. It is the same with these guidelines. Taking regular small steps towards a great school library is far better than saying - I know I will never be able to achieve all of this so there is no point in trying to do any of it... Knowing about something does not mean that you will ever achieve all of it but knowing that school librarians are part of something bigger gives them the power of the collective voice.

My training, therefore, has focused on the 5 core activities of the school librarian, unpacking what they mean, with the guidance and support from Darryl who has worked with them a lot longer than I have. I am now ready to focus a little more on the practical side of school librarianship and I intend to run longer online sessions with smaller numbers to support engagement with teachers and collaborative learning.

Update: These small group training sessions started in January 2021.

Approaching and Working with Teachers

Raising the Profile of your LMS

Reading for Learning

FOSIL and the EPQ

IFLA and FOSIL Explained

I would love to hear what your training needs are, so please get in touch or comment below.

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