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Reflecting on a Year of Building Community Support and Engagement

Updated: Jan 1

Here we are heading once again into the summer holidays at the end of a busy school year. I trust that all of you have experienced a rewarding year with accomplishments to reflect upon and take pride in. I have had some excellent times, but honestly, I have had just as many bad times. What you see on social media or via my blogs is all the good times but it is important to know and understand that just like everyone else I have hard times too.

This is not going to be a blog about how hard my life is because it isn't. I have a lovely family and a job I mostly enjoy (I will get back to the job in a bit). I currently live in Guernsey which I have done for the last 34 years but it is now time to move back to the UK. Our 4 children have all moved away and are now settled in the UK and have started having children... 6 on the last count 😊. It takes a while to unpack 34 years so we have spent some of this year planning our move to York in 2024 and are looking forward with excitement and trepidation. We have lived longer in Guernsey than anywhere else in our lives but as we are both originally from the North East so it does feel as if we are moving towards home, but starting again does feel a little daunting.

So my job. What can I say? I love it and find it frustrating at the same time. Does that sound familiar? I am very lucky that I have a job that I choose to do because it feels important. I want to make a difference in the lives of children and am trying to do this through the school library. My main goal is to work with schools to help them engage with their school libraries more, as we know this will help raise literacy levels and academic attainment, but this route seems a little elusive at the moment. Maybe it is a lack of understanding from the senior leaders or teachers, or maybe I am talking to the wrong people, but it certainly gives me something to work on going forward.

Currently, my primary focus revolves around connections and empowerment and inspiring school librarians to progress in their roles. Through the Engaging and Empowering School Libraries membership, I offer training and support to achieve this goal. It brings me immense joy to witness the success of my dedicated members, particularly when they triumph over challenges. While I greatly appreciate the opportunity to provide online assistance, I hope that our relocation to York will pave the way for more in-person training in the future.

As an independent information professional, infopreneur, school library specialist, trainer, speaker, blogger, podcaster and writer I am constantly wearing many different hats so I thought I would give you a glimpse into my world.

To run a training membership I have had to learn some business skills that I didn't expect.

  • Website designer. I wish I could say that once you have done it you are finished but this is an ever-evolving job. Keeping it fresh and looking new is a whole job in itself. There are always new tools and ideas to consider which can be a challenge and also very distracting. Trying to remember how to do something I did a year ago...impossible! I do understand and appreciate why people would pay someone to do it for you. I am lucky that I do have the time but if I didn't and I had more money this is probably something that I would pass on to someone else. Something that an expert could do in half an hour can sometimes take me all day. If I am in the mood for it then it's great, if not, oh boy, frustration central!

  • Marketing Manager. This is also a big job and one that again can be all-consuming. Marketing is all about keeping me, my training and my membership in sight of those who might need me. To do this well, or as well as I can, I have to make sure that I keep on top of what is currently happening in the school library world. This gives me focus for my training and membership but also something to share. My social media presence is important and ensures that I am seen giving my opinion and sharing my ideas with others whilst not over-pushing the fact I would love people to pay to join me. I have had to learn about marketing strategies and algorithms too... not something I would ever have thought I would write in a sentence. I post a weekly 'Three Thoughts for your week' newsletter which enables me to share some of my training offers but mostly is about engaging with people who follow me. Highlighting useful articles and other people they should follow. This also is an opportunity to contact me and open the door to discussions. It was lovely to receive some feedback on this the other day "As a paraprofessional working in a school library, I wanted to take a moment to express my appreciation for the insightful and valuable content you consistently share".

  • Budgeting. I have a husband who is an accountant... he hates my financial spreadsheet... let's just say that when he does my accounts I stay right out of the way or divorce might be on the cards 😂.

  • Blogging. I try to write a blog every month. It can be hard to think of something new and refreshing to say. Thank goodness ChatGPT and AI came along this year as it gave me something new to write about 😂. Some of my members were also happy to write blogs for me this year which helped me launch a series of Behind the Membership blogs. I have to say it was lovely to read what they had written... Gave me a real push to keep going.

  • Writing articles. It is important to have articles published in other publications. I enjoyed writing a series of articles this year with school librarian, Clare Brumpton about the importance of school libraries within education for Headteacher Update and SecEd. I also had articles published in Edutopia and Softlink. School librarians must write for educational publications. We need to break out of our bubbles into the ones we want to influence.

  • Podcasting. This was something that has evolved and has allowed me to work with others. Working for yourself, just like solo librarians, can be lonely. Engaging and Empowering School Libraries podcast grew from wanting to try using Spaces on Twitter. School librarians, Ruth Maloney and Sabrina Cox agreed to help me. We set up a podcast on Podbean. We have had over 3000 downloads to date... Planning each of these sessions takes time. Coming up with interesting topics, finding the guests, creating the questions and running the sessions takes a lot of work but the opportunity to talk to some amazing people makes it very worthwhile.

Update 01/01/24 - Since July I have been chatting with Darryl Toerien every month about FOSIL, Education and School Libraries. This is an offshoot from our main podcast and if you would like to listen to those podcasts alone here is the link.

  • Twitter Spaces chat. Still wanting to use Spaces I persuaded another school librarian, Debra Perrin and Rachel Huskisson to give it another go. This time we decided to run a weekly chat and advertise it as a staff room chat called The Library Lowdown. We invite school librarians to come and tell us about their week, what they had for tea and what they are looking forward to next week. It is a small but regular group that gets together weekly and people seem to be happier to talk. We even had librarians from New Zealand, America and Europe join in the other week which is amazing.

Alongside all of this, I need to find time for my professional development. I read, listen, watch and learn from other professionals. I present at conferences and am a CILIP mentor and assessor, another string to my bow that I added this year. All of this has to be done before I can make any money. I do love all the interaction this gives me but if I want to make a living out of this I need to be paid for something and this is where my membership comes in.

Connections to Empowerment

My training membership is where my main income comes from. It is a yearly membership that at its heart provides 6+ live training sessions a year and personal support. All members can access the recordings if they can't attend live and there is a forum to continue the conversation about the training which is available to all members. This training includes presentations, breakout room sessions and guided discussions all of which are carefully created based on the needs of my members. I am also always trying to think of new ways that I can be helpful to my members.

  • Exclusive content. I started to create resources that members could use that were attached to my training.

  • I offer a termly catch-up for any member who would like to join in and ask questions, get to know each other or share their learning or journey.

  • Open door policy. If members have a problem they would like to discuss they can contact me to arrange a time to talk.

I was talking to one of my members the other day and she said 'Elizabeth you do too much for free'. It made me think about what I do and why and mostly it is because I think it is important. I know how much school librarians put into what they do and I want to be there to support them. If writing a blog or running a podcast can help then I am prepared to do it. I would love more members as we know there is strength and value in numbers. I love bringing people together from all over the world (I already have members from Fiji, China, South Africa, Hong Kong and the UK), and helping to build a community that will support everyone involved is important to me. Find out more about my membership here.

Looking forward

Have I managed to achieve all I was hoping to this year? No, but that doesn't matter. Life can seem to be heading in one direction and you end up in another and that is not always a bad thing. I have lost some members but gained new ones this year and even had someone rejoin after a break... I must be doing something right 😊. I have been given invitations to speak and run training for others this year and I even did a live event this year. I was even paid for writing an article this year so hope to do a little more of that. You just never know when something new will crop up.

I have grown so much over this year and do feel that I am beginning to learn where I am heading even if it is not where I end up. I am open to new challenges, I am open to learning new things and most of all I am open to helping and walking alongside those school librarians who have a tough mountain to climb. I aim to be right there beside them if they let me.

Update 01/01/2024 At the end of 2023 I was put in touch with Udo who has been mentoring me on my business goals. I hope that you can see that there is a new look and feel to how I am doing things going forward. My masterclass will be something I am working on this year as well as moving house so it is going to be a busy one for me.

I do hope that 2024 is a good one and we can walk together.

I would love to hear your stories from this year so please feel free to post your comments below.

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