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Headteachers and Librarians: 7 steps to immediate collaboration

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

Here is a post I wrote in December 2016. It was one of my first blog post that tackled the issue of school librarians being an unrecognised resource in a school. I have decided to re-publish it here so that is does not get left behind on my old blog.

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

In my last post I talked about Headteachers needing to understand the role of the school librarian. Unless they themselves are aware of the difference a professional librarian can make in their school the loan librarian is fighting a losing battle. Today I want to talk about how understanding the role of the school librarian schools can make change for the better. Embedding information literacy, which includes digital literacy, within school policy can make a difference to academic attainment and how your school librarian is the person to help with this.


The role of the school librarian

We must first look at where the problems are.  Many schools, if they employ anyone at all to work in their school library, pay low salaries. This is because of the lack of understanding between a qualified librarian and a library assistant. It is like comparing the qualified teacher with a learning support assistant (LSA). Schools do need library assistants to run the library which is checking the books in and out, tidying shelves and looking after the day to day running of the school library but they do not need professional staff to do this.

However a school needs to understand and experience the benefits of a qualified school librarian to make change. Unfortunately it is a little like chicken and the egg, if the librarian has never had the chance to work in a professional capacity within a school why would teachers suddenly allow them into their planning and classroom? This is why it is essential for headteachers to know and understand the role themselves, here is a job description incase there are any headteachers reading this. Did you know that this is what they do? Now you need to ensure that your librarian is working as head of department and working on curriculum mapping information literacy across the whole school. This way they begin to work alongside teachers and within the classrooms to ensure that research skills are taught.

A headteacher who is ensuring that teachers were using the specialism of the school librarian within the classroom is working towards raising literacy standards in their school and even impacting on student attainment. Julie Angel, who attended the SLG regional conference, wrote her blog post that David Harrow, academic deputy head of Oakham school said

"the progressive interpretation, where the aim is for students to acquire both knowledge and mastery of the processes of learning more for themselves, as well as engendering ongoing wellbeing, is also dramatically evidenced by the same studies as being strongly supported by libraries. The place of the school library at the centre of teaching and learning can, therefore, be established beyond doubt.” 

If Private school like Oakham can understand the necessity for a school librarian there must be an argument for them to essential in all schools. 

The difference between a library assistant and a qualified librarian 

I was once asked, by a headteacher, why the library assistant could not teach within the classroom as "we are all being asked to do more for less". Why? because this is what we have trained to do and your library assistant agreed to take on a low paid job to run your library not teach in the classroom! We are professionals who actually know our stuff! This would be like asking your LSA to teach your GCSE history class because they have worked with students in the class and now know enough to teach it. I don't think so! Also, if your library assistant is in the classroom teaching who is running your school library? It is not possible for one person to do it all and schools actually need professionals in their classrooms and library assistants in their libraries. I know it is all about money but getting value from a professional role makes more sense than having them stuck in your school library, doesn't it?

Recent reports about fake news causing problems for students when evaluating sources highlights the need for school librarians more than ever. Laura Gardner recently wrote an article for the School library Journal on teaching information literacy within schools and the opportunities now available for school librarians. These artlicles are highlighting more and more how school librarians can close the gap in our students learning by teaching and embedding research skills in our schools.

Effect change at Policy Level

Ok so how can we change this? How can we raise awareness of what school librarians actually do? I do believe that this needs to be raised at local school level. All school librarians need to talk to their headteachers and start the conversation about change as I discussed in my last post but I think it goes further than that. Change in one school is not enough. Oakham do it because they have senior leaders who understand. All schools need to see the opportunities of working with a qualified school librarian, so what is my plan? How am I going to effect change?

Talk to the Education department (or those responsible in government who make these kinds of decisions) and start the conversation about information literacy and librarians in schools. I am sure after talking to many headteachers that if information literacy was embedded at policy level the conversation would be easier within schools. Schools would then be accountable. Schools would have to address how they were ensuring that their own teachers were using the school library and librarian. Librarians as specialists would not only support students learning but teachers too.

How Headteachers and Librarians can make change now.

Ok, I know that many headteachers and librarians will be reading this saying that this all sounds great but what can I do at my level? How can I effect change now? Well here are 7 steps for immediate change if you have a school librarian.

  1. Think differently about the budget for the school library. It is a cross-school resources so don't fund it in isolation. Make sure that every teacher knows that they have a responsibility for the library budget within their subject. 

  2. Find out how your teachers are using the library and librarian within their curriculum - send out a questionnaire like this one.

  3. Provide a framework for information literacy that could work in all schools from yr 1-yr13 so that they can see how it could work. FOSIL (Framework Of Skills for Inquiry Learning) is the one I would recommend. There are ready-made lessons you can pick up and use. 

  4. Embed this inquiry framework at school policy level. It could then be curriculum mapped with the support of the school librarian and would then cascade down through other policies. This would ensure that school librarians were in a position to help. The school library would then not just be something that is nice for the school to have but essential to teaching and learning.

  5. Write the school librarian and library into your literacy policy. Literacy has always been linked to school libraries. It is easy to understand that if you have a library full of good books and someone to encourage children to borrow them the chances are it will improve reading. Sharing stories and finding the right book for the right child is a hugely important role for the school librarian which does make a difference to student attainment. 

  6. Training for all teachers. Do all teachers have the skills of research themselves? Allow your librarian to run training sessions for teachers. Ensure that any trainee teacher knows and understands the role of the school library and the librarian. Librarians need to run classes on all teacher training courses. One of the first things a newly qualified teacher should be doing is finding the school library and the librarian. If new teachers do not know about the school library how can we expect them to excite and encourage their students to use it.

  7. Bring teachers and librarians together through all subjects, not just history, art and geography, open the door to science, PE, etc and get them to work together to collate good resources. Get the librarian into the classrooms to demonstrate how to use these resources and insist on referencing in all year groups.

I hope this is useful to anyone reading it. Please feel free to comment and share. I would love to hear from any Headteacher or School Librarian on how they are effecting change where they work.  

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