Updated: Jun 7, 2019
I run an online book club that provides Continual Professional Development (CPD) for anyone interested in school libraries. As the title suggests we do read and discuss books but sometimes we do something a little different. I came across an opportunity to read free chapters from Elsevier journal called Facing Contemporary Challenges in Librarianship and when I looked at the content on offer I felt that 3 of the chapters could be related to school libraries so I decided for the next three months we would read 3 individual chapters. The discussion at the beginning of May was about Marketing a Profession: Marketing the Future and I was delighted to see so many people join in.
You are obviously more than welcome to take a look at the discussion and read through all the comments but I thought it would be good to share the overall ideas coming from this discussion here and I hope you find it useful.
1. “The continuity of the profession [ ] rely on how well librarians educate our consumers about what we offer students’ academic lives” How do you feel about this statement? How are we already educating our consumers and could we do more?
It was agreed that marketing of school libraries was important. We felt that education of our students and teachers about what we do was essential but there was an overall feeling that it should not be so hard. Most of the librarians suggested that many don't have any idea of what the librarian can do for them and the most effective way was to target individual teachers . The discussion centred around having a 'big picture' so that all school librarians would know what the basic offer from a school librarian should be whilst leaving it open for school librarians to develop their own areas of expertise. We could then promote this at a high level which would then drop down through the school. We hoped that this may come from the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign.
2. Which promotional methods are you using to market your library?
Social media was the main tool used to promote the school library, although we thought that this was more for promoting to the teachers and parents rather than students. Others said they used displays, newsletters to parents, reading lists, staff book groups, posters, assemblies, competitions and Youtube - book trailers. It was also good to hear that some were providing training through teacher training days and others were being given a space on the staffroom wall to promote new resources.
3. How important are your customer service skills? Do you ever find this hard and what do you do when students or teachers are being difficult?
We talked about customer service and I was really surprised to hear how some school librarians were dealing with silent libraries either through something they inherited or requested by students. Having only had one experience of trying to maintain silence in a school library I would never want to be in that situation again. However, this did lead to an interesting conversation about the impact this would have on customer service as it would be difficult to talk to find out what students or teachers needed.
Rachel shared "In my previous role my manager placed a high value on the 'do you want fries with that' approach where you encourage each interaction further by giving users the opportunity to ask about something else". I felt that this was a great reminder of using all the opportunities to engage with students and teachers. They may ask for one thing but do they know about something else that would be useful too...
4. “If we can impart the importance of data verification they will learn to question their results”. In other words evaluation of sources. How do you teach this?
It was great to read that most were teaching, or where planning to teach, website evaluation and there were many who were looking into FOSIL (Framework of Skills for Inquiry Learning). There was a good discussion about when this should start and most felt that it should be started in primary school. We agreed that the building blocks of research needed to start in primary schools and built on through secondary.
5. “We cannot expect patrons to use what we offer if it is not in fact what they want or need” How do you know that you have got it right in your library?
There was a lot of discussion about questionnaires and their value. They are a great way to gather evidence but if students or teachers don't spend time on filling them in properly they are a waste of time. Open questions can go unanswered and if you give them suggestions they don't necessarily think about it they just tick. Having said that questionnaires are a good way to gather data as long as we don't overdo it.
Observation, conversations and loan figures were the other ways to 'know' if you had it right. Book recommendations were seen as a good way to give students ownership of their library and to find out what they wanted. If budgets allowed books were bought on request.
Librarians were interesting in giving students a voice and there were a few talking about setting up library committees with students to encourage them to find out from other students what they want from their library.
6. “Self promotion doe not equal self-gratification” How do you feel about promoting yourself and your service? Has reading this chapter changed the way you think about this?
Advocacy always makes an interesting discussion. We talked about how difficult it is to be brave and share what we are doing for fear of others saying 'so what'. We agreed that it was important to share best practice and whilst we may feel that everyone is doing what we are doing that is not always the case. Sharing is good, not only for those learning from us but also by empowering us to do it more.
We also agreed that it was good to share best practice through our social media channels allowing others to learn from our successes. We recognised that it was important to understand that this is not about saying 'how good am I', but about saying 'this is what is happening in our school library, you could do this too'.
Self promotion included writing annual reports but remembering to include the 'so what?' You issued 1000 books this year... so what? How did it link to the curriculum or the literacy levels or the school management plan. We need to be clever about this not just throw numbers out there.
7. Which partnerships do you currently have? How can you expand them?
There were many school partnerships being discussed such as librarians from local schools getting together and setting up groups as well as links to public libraries making it possible to create events and benefits from shared resources. Other groups like SLA (School Library Association) and SLN (School Library Network) were mentioned as places for support.
8. School libraries are ‘useful, necessary and important to educational research” How do we persuade teachers that this is the case?
The discussion here talked about our own research of our profession. We felt it was important for us to increase our own knowledge of the research demonstrating why school libraries are essential. We felt it was especially critical when we are talking to teachers about why school librarians are important in education.
We also discussed the need for teachers to be taught about school libraries within their teacher training, something I have always thought should be the case and it was good to discuss this with others who thought the same.
At the other end of the spectrum librarians were talking about how school librarians were working with individual teachers to engage and to help them understand how useful and necessary school libraries are.
We all know that reading for professional development is important. However, being able to discuss our thoughts and ideas together is an added bonus. We are not only helping each other to make connections that we had not necessarily worked out for ourselves but we are also building community and are stretching ourselves to think more broadly. Reading and learning together is not just for our students and it is important that we do this too.
You may not be ready to share your thoughts yet but you can still learn from others. Read the suggested readings and watch the discussion unfold. You never know one day you may be joining in because you feel you have something you want to say.
This is just a brief overview of our discussion and I hope you have found it interesting. If you would like to join in our next discussion or to find out about other books we have read please click here. We would love to hear your thoughts.