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The golden threads of your school library

On Monday 22nd May 2023 I was joined by Sue Wills MBE Assistant director: Arts, Culture, Heritage at Surrey County Council, Sue Williams MBE Vice President of CILIP

and Luke Burton Director of Libraries at Arts Council England on our Engaging and Empowering School Libraries podcast to talk about about how school librarians can empower themselves and the profession by focusing on the organisations and schools they work in. I will post a link to the podcast at the bottom of this blog post but wanted to share with you the notes made by Sue Wills from the questions I sent her. As with all our podcasts, we don't always get through all the questions and her replies were too good to go to waste so I thought I would share them here. Thanks, Sue for permission to share.

1. Why do you think it is important for librarians to be aware of their organisation's aims and objectives

Libraries need to be integral to an organisation's aims and objectives and strategies. Librarians need to demonstrate the impact they have and the benefits and value they provide to ensure the best funding and development and training opportunities. Everyone in an organisation needs to show they are contributing to the overall aims and libraries, public, school or academic libraries are no different. The critical thing is to demonstrate impact. To do that, what you want to show will vary but can include things like visits, events and activities, both the range of activity and the amount of participation and feedback from users. That is true for any library or library service.

2. How have you successfully aligned your organisation's goals with the needs of your profession, and what strategies did you use to achieve this?

Research: What are the goals of the organisation – make sure you understand them and how they are measured. Understand the data you have about your residents, catchment area and users. Reflect on what you can add, initiate or develop. I used Libraries Deliver the national strategy and the Carnegie Shining a Light report with the model of a modern library service to do that in my current role.

Listen: to the needs of users, e.g. senior leadership teams, and individual users.

Training & Skills – do you and your team have the right skills and knowledge? Conduct audits to identify the gaps. Even if you are working on your own do it for yourself.

Action: Create an action plan and identify actions, timelines, who is responsible and the budget. Check that against the organisation's plan to make sure it matches up. Agree on how to evaluate the success of the work. Report on it regularly through the performance appraisal system or action plan reporting cycle. If none of that is in place then think about the best way to report on what you are doing and agree with your line manager.

3. What are some best practices for identifying and prioritising organisational aims, and can these be applied to school libraries?

Check on what exists already. What is in the public domain? What is on the school website? What does the latest OFSTED report say? What does the School Development Plan say?

What are the senior leadership team focused on? E.g. pupil premium pupils?

Create your own support network. E.g. Join SLA, buddy up with another school librarian, join CILIP, get involved in The Reading Agency for ideas, opportunities, etc.

Create your own Library Development plan.

4. What are some examples of successful collaborations between organisations and external stakeholders, and how have they impacted your library service?

5. How can school librarians effectively communicate their links to their school's aims and objectives?

Create a communications plan: Agree with stakeholders and users.

Report it. Promote good news stories regularly and show how it links. At the end of the year take these and your Library development plan and write a formal report. Show how you have helped contribute to the school’s achievements. Include any CPD (of any kind) you’ve done. Make sure your line manager, Head-teacher, Bursar (if relevant) and make sure the governor or Chair of governors gets one.

6. How can school libraries effectively manage change and adapt to shifting priorities and demands from their schools?

It is a given that nothing stays the same! So know that and be prepared to change. Sometimes that will be part of the change in the organisation and sometimes it will be change that you will make happen!

  • Do your research and horizon scan! AI is here so get involved in the CILIP conversations – this is an opportunity to make your mark.

  • There is a new OFSTED inspection framework and you can look at how you can support that in a school.

  • There is a new public library review led by Baroness Sanderson and there is an opportunity to email in your thoughts and reflections.

  • Get involved in the professional bodies, CILIP, SLA and be curious.

  • Have your pitch ready – the elevator pitch. If it helps think of 3 key things you want to tell people about and you are proud of.

  • Have a good CPD program so you can be flexible.

  • Have a plan and be clear about what needs to change. Agree what to keep doing, agree what to stop, agree what to develop and agree what to start.

7. How can school librarians leverage their expertise and resources to create positive change and impact within their schools?

Do people know you have that expertise and resources? Be clear about how you are contributing to the school (organisation). Run promo campaigns etc. Think about the work you are doing with pupils (users). Are you doing things to make the school/organisation more attractive to potential pupils/users if the roll/use needs to go up? Show what is unique/special about what you do.

Network! Use LinkedIn! What about your feeder primary schools? Where do your students go on to? Use reading to make that positive change happen.

Curate book lists/exhibitions/displays to promote positive messaging. Diversity and inclusion are a theme we are all working hard to deliver on the ground to make a difference.

Think about the impact you make as a profession. What could you do differently? Find a mentor to support you. Do you make useful contributions to meetings? Do you prep for those meetings in advance? Think about key messages you want to share in a meeting/discussion. Think about the power of 3 – so stick to 3 key headlines you want to share to make an impact. Also, think about ways to follow up on meetings. ‘Great to meet you today – I would like to know more about…Manage up, across as well as down.

8. How can school librarians effectively collaborate with other organisations and stakeholders to achieve shared goals and objectives?

Find organisations that match with your own organisation's aims and objectives. Be clear about what you hope to achieve – do your research.

Be prepared to listen about what their priorities are – can you flex to provide a good match?

Have you got a good track record to share and provide confidence you are a good partner to work with?

Do you have the authority to make decisions or do you need to come back to your organisation to check on permissions?

Over time an effective collaboration leads to great new funding opportunities, service developments and better offers for our users.

Do you have an evaluation model to share?

9. How can school libraries effectively communicate their aims and objectives to stakeholders, including students, teachers, parents, and community members?

Look at how you currently communicate, frequency, format and social media channels to those different groups. How effective is it? Which groups are reading which communication?

  • Do you show how what you are doing links to the aims and objectives of the organisation?

  • Social media channels.

  • Parents need to know that their students are gaining improved literacy skills, learning to love reading and realising the importance of critical thinking.

  • Students need to know the librarian is there to help them.

  • Teachers need to know how the library service is going to benefit their classroom curriculum.

  • Senior staff want your data and research that explains how libraries impact student achievement in positive ways.

The broader community, senior stakeholders etc need data and research to better understand what the library does.

10. What role do the school's aims and objectives play in shaping the future of school libraries and how can this be used to help drive positive change and innovation?

You need to show how you are contributing to the school's overall aims and that is true of all organisations and all libraries.

By doing that you are demonstrating what an integral role the school library plays in making the school successful.

A lot of that best practice is scalable.

Think about the things that are and share them as a think piece, in a Blog, on LinkedIn, on the SLA Twitter feed, contact CILIP – promote!

Podcast - The golden threads of your school library

Or watch the Youtube recording here...

If you are interested in finding out more about the training I can provide do get in touch or check out my membership options here.

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