Updated: May 9, 2020
I often write about how school librarians should lead the charge in shouting about what we do. It is important for those schools, teachers and parents who do not understand the role of the school librarian to read and hear about what a good school library with a professional librarian can do and why they are important.
What do you do, however, if you are a new school librarian in the UK, whose school really does not understand what you do? The interview was great, they liked all your ideas but the reality is something different... You have begun to realise that they really don't want a school librarian what they want is someone to issue and return the books, they want someone to keep the room tidy, they want you to provide study space, a sick room and naughty corner.
This blog is going to look at some of the ways that you may be able to tackle this.
One of the first questions you need to ask yourself, as a school librarian, is do YOU know and understand what your role should be and are you confident in talking about it? This is not as daft a question as it sounds. By connecting with school librarians on social media I know that this differs from school to school and regardless of library qualifications, it can vary from librarian to librarian too.
One of the aims of the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign is to produce a national framework for school libraries. By doing this not only will we have something to share with our schools to help them understand the role of their librarian but also empower school librarians to talk to those teachers or Senior Leaders who are not listening. Their website can be found here if you want to know more.
As the role of the school librarian has evolved so much over the years I thought I would create my own basic framework. These are the jobs that I believe school librarians should be focusing on. You may disagree or want to add more, if so please add your thoughts in the comments box.
Role of the School Librarian
General understanding of the role:-
Library management (this is what everyone thinks a school librarian does)
Encourages and supports Reading for Pleasure
Shadow or run book awards
Invite authors into school
Works with the English Department
Supports students in finding books and online resources for inquiry research
Supports teachers in planning research-based lessons (resources, ideas, collaborations and so much more!)
Teaching research skills across all age groups
Co-teaching inquiry skills either in the classroom or in the library
Works with all departments
Provides CPD for teaching staff
The school library and librarian is not just a room within your schools that students visit when it is time to find a book to read, it is not just a place your students go at revision time, it is not just a nice thing to have.
It should and needs to be part of every teacher's planning. The library, resources and librarian should be very visible throughout the curriculum and I believe that this is what every school librarian should be aiming for.
Sounds impossible! What can you do?
Until the #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign comes up with a national framework it is down to us. I do think that your own interests are important so look at what you are currently doing and what your interests are. Many of us are avid readers and promoting Reading for Pleasure is an easy link. Begin to work more closely with the English department, run those book clubs and provide a space where your students feel comfortable talking to you about their reading.
However, whilst you are doing this work towards understanding your role in inquiry-based learning. Take a look at FOSIL (Framework of Skills for Inquiry Learning) and join The Fosil Group website. Look at their discussions forum and join in. Join the School Library Association and look at their resources for teaching research skills. Join CILIP and look at the School Library Group.
Many school librarians do not get any CPD from school but this does not mean that you can't do anything. We need to make sure we know what is going on in other schools and are able to share best practice. One idea is to find the most useful conference you would like to attend and then every year submit a request to attend even if you know the answer will be no. The reason for doing this is that it highlights your need for CPD and how important you feel that it is. During your appraisal, you will have to opportunity to talk about why you need this kind of training. I would suggest looking at the JCS Digital Literacy Conference as it is all about how to integrate online research through your school library.
During your appraisal talk about all your professional reading. Keep a list of blogs or articles you have read. Talk about any podcasts you have listened to and ideas you have used because of this. A new one to me is School Librarians United which is full of inspiration and ideas. Join in my group #LibraryStaffLoveLearning which looks at books, articles and blogs in order to share ideas and support each others learning. Here is the link to the page.
Whilst you know that you may never get to a conference being proactive in learning for yourself is essential. Twitter is a huge resource and there are many expert librarians out there willing to share their knowledge and experience with you. It is also important to look at #Edutwitter. Don't just tie yourself to school librarian chats lookout for what teachers are talking about too. There are many teacher conferences too ResearchEd is an inexpensive teachers conference that is really good for school librarians. It runs on a Saturday so no need to ask for time off school and it will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your link to education and the curriculum.
Talk to your teachers about how you can support research skills and inquiry-based learning. Help them understand that you are more than reading and fiction. Work with one or two that do understand how you can support them. As your confidence grows, talk to your SLT and ask for some time at INSET day or departmental meetings in order to talk about how you can support the curriculum more.
You are the information specialist. Empower yourself and become the school librarian that your school needs, even if they don't know it yet.
Update: Writing an annual report is also a good idea for advocacy and impact. Want to know more then read my new blog post here.
Update: Webinar training now on offer. Check out what is available now, here Supporting your journey to leadership from your school library. The more you know the more confident you will feel. Come and join me!