Updated: Jul 19, 2019
As we hear of yet more libraries closing and school librarians being let go due to school libraries being 'a luxury'. We must start questioning where our priorities lie.
Why are school libraries closing?
Is it because teachers do not understand why school libraries are important?
Is it because all teachers know and understand how to teach misinformation and disinformation and research skills?
Is it because teachers and schools don't understand what school libraries and school librarians actually do?
Is it because it is easier for those school librarians left to keep quiet and their heads down otherwise they might be next?
I often write about the changing role of the school librarian in the UK and how we have had to find different ways to engage teaching staff and it seems to me that it is more important than ever. I was once asked by a senior leader in education - What do you do that teachers can't do for themselves? If this is seriously what senior educators think we have a real problem.
I recently read a FaceBook post questioning the need to self-promote and it got me thinking. Why do I feel that school librarians need to self-promote? Should we not just be able to do our jobs well and that be enough? I think if you look around Twitter and Facebook school librarians are not the only ones on the self-promotional journey.
Teachers constantly share best practice, digital leaders are there telling us what they do, authors share their books so is self-promotion really that bad? The difference is that other professions are promoting what they are doing in order to tell the world about it. Librarians, on the other hand, need to self-promote to help teachers understand what they do in order to be able to do their job, but more importantly to be allowed to support the students in their schools.
I posted a blog post on advocacy on LinkedIn and had some really interesting comments. One of them suggested that there should not be a need to write such a post because we, as school librarians, should already know how to promote what we do because it was taught in library school. The good thing about comments is that it make me think about what I have written and why. Was she right?
I replied that I don't think that self-promotion is covered in library school. Unless of course, I missed that module. I did do a distance learning degree and masters so maybe the courses are different. I don't think the specialism of school librarianship is covered in any of the UK library course and this is where things should change. I did one module about school libraries and the importance of self-promotion and advocacy certainly was not covered. Many of us are learning as we go along rather than going in with full knowledge of working in a school library alongside teachers. I doubt that anyone of us thought there would be a need for self-promotion. I'm sure, like me, you would of assumed that the people you were working for actually knew what you do.
Being a loan librarian in a school full of teachers takes a lot of self-determination and bravery to move beyond the comfort and safety of the school library to start talking about what you do. I think we need all need to share more the things that we have tried and worked and even those that haven't. It is ok to fail, that is how we learn. It does not mean that it is time to give up it just means it is time to try a different way.
My best collaborations have come from me talking to teachers about what I can do. However, finding the time to do that is difficult. A conversation in the staff room or corridor has led to me to helping teachers connect their students with India for example. At the start I was very rarely I contacted by a teacher asking for support it was always the other way round. I found that If the only way to get into the classroom was to talk about what I do then I did a lot of talking but if that got me into a different teachers classroom it was worth it.
I then moved on to attending staff briefings. The head teacher was surprised that I wanted to do this as it was a run down of what was happening throughout the week ahead but it enabled me to know what was going on and the teachers began to see me as one of the team rather than someone who just worked in the school library. I generally don't say much but on the odd occasion I have and it has been useful.
I started of offer to do the occasional assembly, not only to raise awareness to the children but the staff as well. I have to be a little careful with this as the teachers like to leave assemblies if they are allowed. There are some that they have to attend and it is these ones that I want to be in.
I then started talking to the digital lead teacher and have run a couple of session with him about the resources we have available for online research. During these sessions I offered support in the classroom when they wanted to use these for the first time. I found that teachers liked the idea that someone else showed the children and then was there to support if the children needed it. What is nice is that I am now being told that most teachers are aware of these now and I can see an increase in use.
Social media is always a good place to share best practice. Take a picture and post it, this is about raising awareness with teachers and parents. Not all are on twitter so maybe think about sharing something in the school newsletter or even write one yourself.
This time of year is great for end of year reports. Before you write it have a conversation with the headteacher about their school aims and make sure you link all you talk about with the curriculum. Finally don't forget the 'so what?' You have issued 10,000 books, great but so what? Why is this an important figure? Putting this number of books into children's hands increases literacy levels for example...
Let's keep talking and sharing what we do. The #GreatSchoolLibraries campaign is in need of case studies in order to share and promote the work of school librarians. A collective voice is better that one lone one and gives us a voice beyond our own schools. If you have done something with students or teachers that you feel is worth sharing then please get in touch with them.