Monday, 18 September 2017

WHAT'S ALL THIS FUSS ABOUT GENDERISATION?

There’s been a lot of talk recently about the decision by John Lewis to stop labelling children’s clothes as “boys or girls” – I never realised quite how divided things were until I became a grandparent and discovered that even baby wipes are marketed in both blue and pink packaging (despite the contents being identical)!

I’m not sure why some people are up in arms about children’s clothes being labelled with just an age range. If you look at boys and girls clothes, the differences are ridiculous, especially considering all children like to do the same sort of things ie: be a child. Clothes need to be adequate for the task in hand which means coats should keep them warm, shoes should be tough enough to withstand kicking balls whilst keeping toes safe, and trousers need to be thick enough to protect knees when they fall. A glance at the girls’ ranges in almost every shop will show you that the majority are totally unsuitable for any of these activities … they are thin and skimpy in pale pastel colours that get dirty the minute you put them on.
I have nothing against pink or sparkly - my 3 year old granddaughter loves sparkly things and I’m rather fond of a bit of glitter myself (though prefer it with black or red) but it’s the messages we are sending with different styles of clothes that I object to – “just sit and look pretty little girl, you’re not meant to get dirty or play and explore the world because your clothes aren’t suitable for doing that”. And it’s not just the implied message via the types of clothes; the actual messages on them are appalling. Go and look at ANY range of clothes and you’ll see what I mean – girls just want to have fun, girls are pretty and lovely whilst boys are clever and strong and adventurous (and don’t get me started on “suggestive” messages on T-shirts for 5 year olds)!

The argument that you can buy from any section is fine except that parents are taking on board this message about boys v girls and will say “you can’t have that because it’s in the boy’s section (believe me, I’ve heard them). They also seem to be concerned about the social stigma of having somebody ask why their daughter is wearing a boy’s top or is mistaken for a boy. Of more concern is a child being bullied for the same reason (and yes, this happens too). I’ve also been in a situation where a girl has turned up wearing a boy’s t-shirt that a boy in the same group also happens to be wearing … and the boy has been teased over this! If they were wearing “just” a children’s t-shirt then this wouldn’t happen.
Let’s move on to toys and books.
The majority of shop displays have a definite split between the type of activities considered suitable for girls and boys - you can probably guess what it is but if you aren’t sure then take a look at the fantastic “Let Toys Be Toys” campaign! All children need a wide range of play to develop different skills. The reality is that 51% of the population is female and if we don’t encourage girls to look at science and technology as being valid to them, to stop sending the message that playing with construction toys or science kits is for boys and that craft activities are for girls, then we are losing out on a huge source of creativity and inspiration that will be important for our future economy.
Not all of our future scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs and business leaders are going to be men! There’s a saying “You can’t be what you can’t see” and this applies to both boys and girls, though most particularly to the latter.
And what about books?

Fortunately, the majority of librarians I know are pro-active in supporting diversity and inclusion within their stock (and this is one of my most popular workshops) – they have books with strong female characters, stories about boys who are emotional and cry, tales with both boys and girls fighting evil and saving the world. Unfortunately though, many publishers still seem to market books aimed at one or the other sex … either via the cover design or actually using gender-labelling in the title or blurb. The latter is, happily, becoming less common but any glimpse in a book shop will show you a plethora of pink and glittery covers that are obviously aimed at the “girlie” market.
I will be the first to admit that I’ve used these covers to lure students into picking up (and then hopefully reading) a book. Anything that gets them reading is my motto, and I will unashamedly be manipulative and use any means to achieve this. But it is a sad fact that, whilst girls are frequently happy to read a wide range of books with varying covers, boys will rarely pick up a book that they think looks “girlie” which is a shame as the covers often hide a fantastic story (the secret is to wrap it in brown paper and run a lucky dip in the library!).

You would imagine that my granddaughter, having a rather outspoken grandmother, a mother working in the emergency services and an aunt who is an adventurer, would be immune to any of this. But no … a few months ago she announced that “girls don’t play football”(much to our horror)! This was soon corrected with the use of a rather wonderful book (“What Are You Playing At?” by Marie-Sabine Roger) but goodness knows where she got this message from – at the age of three.

I do find the statement “boys are boys and girls are girls” rather odd because what’s the definition of a boy or girl within the context we’re talking about … ie: the colours they like, the games they play, the toys they enjoy or the books they read? There isn't one. There’s nothing wrong with girls liking pink or boys playing with cars. Nor is there anything wrong with girls liking rugby or boys being interested in art.
But pink shouldn’t be the only choice available to girls (or cream if you’re lucky) and by sending the message via their clothes that “girl’s stuff” is pink, they automatically veer towards pink toys, which we’ve already ascertained are restricting their play and thus their development.

Also by constantly focusing on appearances we are creating generations who value what they look like above everything else. This applies to boys too - we expect them to be strong, brave and fit into a specific mould. Any child that doesn’t conform to these “norms” struggles and that’s where the problems start.

Girls and boys who are different, who do not imitate what society expects of them - girls who don’t like pink and pretty or boys who don’t like football and rough stuff - are often targets for bullying. Bullying reduces self-esteem and self-confidence as does feeling that you are not acceptable. This results in an increase in mental health issues including self-harm, depression and suicide.
One of the most important (yet often undervalued) roles of the school librarian is the pastoral aspect and I’ve spoken about this before in a previous blog. I know from experience that this role has increased over the years and statistics reflect this yet there’s only so much we can do and support we can give, to truly combat this issue we need a healthier approach to letting children develop naturally and not trying to label them or put them into boxes.

You might think children’s genderisation isn’t important, that it doesn’t really matter. If you get a chance try and see the BBC TV programme “No More Boys And Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free?”  - in which a class of seven year olds state that “boys are cleverer and have better jobs” and that “girls are pretty and look after children” - these perceptions were actually affecting their belief in their capabilities within the classroom as well as their self-esteem and self-confidence. At seven years old!
Now imagine they are receiving the same signals time and time again via their clothes, their toys, their books, not to mention media and society for the rest of the time they are growing up? Do we really want to programme our children’s brains – and thus their futures – in this way?

I was recently in a high street shop where the girls t-shirts had the message “Fun All Day” and “Funtastic” whilst the boys said “I want to see the World” and “Create the Future”!!! Come on parents (and grandparents and aunts and uncles ...) … don’t you want your daughters to see the world or your sons to have fun? They’re not mutually exclusive …

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

BACK TO SCHOOL - A READING LIST FOR LIBRARIANS


It’s back to school time (although my colleagues in Scotland went back a few weeks ago) and I’ve noticed a few “top ten books for teachers” lists doing the rounds so thought I’d come up with my own one for school librarians. This is NOT a definitive list! I have at least a couple of bookshelves full of library/education-related books, all of which I could have included – although that would make this a bit of a tedious post so … a short but sweet selection! These are all books that deal with reading or managing a school library but as we work in the education sector, many books aimed at the teaching profession are also invaluable to us in our roles.
In alphabetical order by author (because I’m a librarian), these are books that I find myself recommending and talking about at workshops I run, and going to for ideas and advice.
·         The Reading Environment – Aidan Chambers
First published in 1991 but still relevant today, this gem of a book looks at the reading process and environment, as well as considering ways to engage students with books. There is a companion volume “Tell Me” that deals with the discussion of books.

·         Reading by Right – Joy Court (Editor)
A collection of chapters, written by expert practitioners, that looks at successful strategies for overcoming reading barriers, from birth to teens, to ensure that every child can “read to succeed”. Case studies are backed up with international research, and the book has excellent references and appendices that enable you to explore this issue further.

·         Unlocking the Reader in Every Child – Susan Elkin
This book is jam-packed with ideas for creating and sustaining readers, from young children through to older teens. It covers learning to read and looks at reading in different situations as well as the use of various formats.

·         Free Voluntary Reading – Stephen Krashen
A series of articles that were originally published in a variety of journals, Krashen has supported his arguments with extensive references. If you are unsure whether FVR has any value, this book will give you food for thought.

·         Innovative School Librarian Second Edition – Sharon Markless (Editor)
Considers various models of library practice and explores the wide range of issues that librarians face in their differing roles within schools. Adopts a strategic approach with examples from “real-life” situations.

·         The Book Whisperer – Donalyn Miller
No idea where I discovered this book but I’m so glad I did! The by-line is “awakening the inner reader in every child” and it’s full of clear, practical advice about getting and keeping students reading. Whatever your situation, you’ll find something to inspire you. US-biased but relevant to librarians everywhere!

·         The Rights of the Reader – Daniel Pennac
There can’t be many who haven’t seen the poster illustrated by Quentin Blake (and I would hazard a guess that many school libraries have this on display) – this book discusses those rights and covers all sorts of ideas around reading. It’s an absorbing and fascinating book that gets you thinking.

·         The CILIP Guidelines for Secondary School Libraries – Sue Shaper (Editor)
This covers every area of school librarianship from staffing and policies through to information literacy and promotion. It provides guidance and support regardless of your situation, and has recommendations, suggestions for further reading and examples of best practice. One to give to your senior management team!

·         Stop What You’re Doing and Read This! – Vintage (various)
My last book isn’t so much about the practicalities of running a school library or suggestions for reading-related activities but a collection of ten essays by authors and people in the publishing industry talking about why they consider reading is important. Every reader will find something of themselves in these chapters.
I’ve stuck to printed books for this list but there are many superb blogs and online resources that I also go to regularly for ideas and inspiration. And there are also several excellent books that I’ve left off … probably everyone who reads this blog will have a favourite that I’ve not included. If that’s the case then please do add details in the comments … I love getting book recommendations!
NB. I realised after I'd written this blog that I had missed off a source of information on school libraries that I use constantly ... and that's the fantastic School Library Association publications http://www.sla.org.uk/publications-list.php (probably because they're kept in my study rather than in the bookcase). These publications cover every aspect of managing a school library and are suitable for all types of schools. They are written by experienced practitioners, full of good advice and excellent value-for-money. You don't have to be a member to buy them (although if you are you'll get a discount).  

Monday, 7 August 2017

WHAT VALUE A LIBRARY DEGREE?


I’ve noticed a recent trend with employers in the education field, when making librarians redundant or downgrading their positions, stating that their degrees are no longer relevant.
Now this is an astonishing thing for any educational establishment to say.
Do they really want to send the message to their students that “doing a degree is worthless” because that’s what this does. It indicates, to me, that those who say this have no idea what a library and information science (LIS) degree actually encompasses but also that they do not have a clue as to the benefits and value that can be obtained from undertaking any sort of degree. Benefits that include:
·         Proof of a certain level of educational ability

·         Time management skills, including the capability to meet deadlines

·         Independent thought and analysis, including problem solving

·         Team working, collaboration, leadership abilities

·         Effective communication incorporating written and verbal skills
These skills are advantageous to most employers, regardless of their industry. They should also be encouraged amongst students at educational establishments and anyone who has been through an FE process can show good practice and teach others in their use – I delivered a time management module as part of a Higher Project Qualification to Year 9 students who, invariably, would tell me how useful it was when doing their GCSEs and revising.
You don’t become a qualified librarian by learning how to shelve books or by entering bibliographic data into a library management system; you learn a set of skills in an interdisciplinary field that can be used outside of libraries. These include the ability to organise and navigate information as well as ways to preserve, prioritise and manage information on all types of media; not to mention the exploitation of research data, knowledge management, and the planning, marketing and delivery of information services.
LIS degrees cover the fields of informetrics, applying the practices and tools of management, information technology and education, dynamically combining theory and training to produce reflective practitioners – CILIP have highlighted some of the values of trained information professionals. Education has changed and thus libraries have evolved, becoming a complex educational, recreational and information infrastructure supporting a wide range of students with multifaceted needs - in schools, FE and HE establishments. It is also important to recognise that many librarians proactively undertake CPD (often outside contracted hours) to maintain their skills and experience, to remain relevant in today’s world and to provide services needed by their communities. Nurses are required to undertake 35 hours of CPD over 3 years; CILIP advises 20 hours per year for Chartership revalidation.
Furthermore, librarians in education:
·         Work in collaboration with academic staff to provide unique and personalised support and thus have an impact on student learning

·         Are able to offer training to students, both formally and on an ad hoc basis, providing opportunities for the development of information literacy skills

·         Deliver directed CPD to teaching and support staff, helping to reduce training budgets

·         Communicate ideas, information and knowledge – the lifeblood of education

·         Have an overview of the curriculum and a wide knowledge of resources including literature, periodicals, video and electronic formats enabling them to develop a relevant collection, based on user requirements, that provides value-for-money

·         Are able to ensure library resources and services are inclusive and diverse, meeting the needs of a multi-cultural student population

·         Manage staff, space, resources – often under tight budgets, and pressing priorities and deadlines
Many businesses recognise the value of LIS professionals and employ them in various roles – in research, law, media, health, the list is endless – so it’s rather ironic that establishments whose role is to educate (usually via the use of information) do not see the value in employing a qualified librarian. And you have to question what sort of library service are they offering their students and staff? Certainly not one that is the best it could be …

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

HOW CAN YOUR SCHOOL LIBRARY SUPPORT VOLUNTEERING?


Last month saw the third Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award, an award that recognises and celebrates the voluntary work carried out by students in their school libraries. Like all awards there was a winner, Victoria Langford from St Hilda’s CE High School in Liverpool and, as with previous years, selecting the finalists and winner from the nominations was not easy. The calibre of entries was high, the work that each and every student did was outstanding, and they all wrote so passionately about their individual libraries and the difference being a pupil librarian had made to them.

So why have this award? In schools it is quite common for sports achievements to be acknowledged, for drama and music aficionados to take centre stage in assemblies … and whilst some schools do have internal awards that recognise pupil library assistants … many do not. Yet these students give up their time, week after week, often for many years, to help run their school library. And make no bones about it, many libraries would not run as efficiently or be able to offer the level of service that they do without the help of these students. They are wonderful advocates not only for the library but also for reading and influencing the rest of the student population.

But it’s not a one-way process. Listening to the finalists, you realise that being a pupil library assistant has enriched their school experience and given them skills they will take into the workplace; skills that are valued by employers such as customer service, teamwork, and communication. Additionally most of them have gained social skills and an increase in self confidence that enables them to interact with staff and students alike, to connect with peers and younger pupils, and to represent the library to visitors, be they parents, authors or local dignitaries.

Pupil library assistants are also very loyal which is why vacancies are rare and in all my schools I have always had a waiting list to join the team. This can be difficult if you want to provide volunteering opportunities for students but there are other avenues you can explore:

Arts Award:
Arts Awards inspire young people to develop their arts and leadership capabilities and as “arts” in this instance includes reading, the school library is a natural place to deliver and support this. There are five levels of award, ranging from Discover (an introductory award aimed at children age 5+) through Explore (aimed at children age 7+), Bronze (age 11-25 years,), Silver (14-25 years) and Gold (16-25 years). The level of activity varies at each stage but it can lead to a national qualification. However, someone at the organisation needs to train as an Arts Award adviser.

Duke of Edinburgh Award:
The DoE provides opportunities at three levels: Bronze (14+), Silver (15+) and Gold (16+) although if you are in Year 9 and only 13 years old you may be able to start your Bronze Award. Each level includes volunteering and skills sections, both of which are ideal for the library environment. The amount of volunteering varies from 3 months for the Bronze Award to 12 months for the Gold Award but as they are relatively short-term, it would be easy to accommodate DoE students within a pupil librarian structure. The skills section lists library and information skills but also mentions things like event planning (author visits? competitions? book weeks?) as well as reading, newsletter production and writing – all of which can be encompassed into school library activities.

Reading Hacks:
Reading Hacks is a voluntary scheme organised by The Reading Agency. It involves young people (13 – 24 years) running activities that have reading at their heart, and gaining skills and experience that they are able to put on their CVs. Most are delivered via local public libraries but there are a few schools that support reading hack programmes – enabling students to use the library, organise activities and inspire others to read. Young people are also able to get involved with the Summer Reading Challenge – a scheme aimed at children age 4-11 years but supported by volunteers. Although this occurs outside the school library, volunteers help staff run the scheme, help children choose books, get involved in craft activities and create displays – and these skills can be put to good use back in the school library!


This is by no means a definitive list; there are many opportunities for students to get involved in volunteering opportunities that link with books, libraries and reading. However, if you do have a long waiting list of students clamouring to be involved with the library, perhaps some of these might offer them alternative avenues to explore?

And don’t forget, next September nominations open for the Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award 2018 …

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

TOO MUCH TO DO, TOO LITTLE TIME? TIME MANAGEMENT HELPS ...


There’s been a lot in the media recently about teacher work overload and it’s well known that the teaching profession work many hours outside the school day but there are very few school librarians I know of that also don’t work beyond their contracted hours, either taking work home or coming in early/staying late. Every single week. That’s a lot of librarians doing a lot of extra hours.
Fine if you’re paid full-time because you can balance the additional hours worked during term-time with days off in the school holidays; however, most school librarians are on term-time only contracts, which would be fine if the job was either “librarian” or “library manager” – and believe me, these two roles are very different – so, as solo librarians, they have to combine them and fit everything into their 37 or whatever hours a week. Almost impossible to do.
It’s a bit like expecting the doctor or nurse at your local surgery to also staff the reception desk, answer phones and deal with patient paperwork. Think about it … school librarians keep the library open during the school day and are permanently “on call” behind the issue desk, they have regular classes timetabled as well as ad hoc lessons (and I had several days when every lesson was booked), and are on duty at breaks as well as before and after school. You are also likely to have a constant stream of interruptions from students coming into the library looking for books and information, from phone calls and emails. So, no time to do any of those manager-type tasks that are needed to ensure the library runs smoothly, that resources are up-to-date and relevant, displays changed, activities organised, no planning or long-term strategic development work … it’s an endless list which never gets completed. No wonder that stuff gets taken home.
Sure, we could walk out at the end of the day and leave it all behind but I didn’t. Why? Because I love my job, I wanted to provide the best service I could and I would have felt that I was selling myself, the students and the profession short if I didn’t. I also knew that working in the evening meant a less stressful day to follow. But there were a few things I learnt to try and keep work in perspective and under control. It probably helped that, before I became a librarian, I was a project manager and even way before that I was one of those people who organised things … cake sales at school, the sixth form charity concert, PTA jumble sales. So how do you manage a crazy workload?
Time management (TM)  – ie: organising and planning your time between specific activities. Sounds easy although is actually quite involved with several aspects to consider, and sometimes the thought of stopping and taking a step back can make you feel a bit panicky when you’re already overworked. But getting yourself organised will result in greater productivity, increased efficiency, less stress and you’ll also work smarter. Most school librarians are very good at managing their time – they have to be! Nevertheless, it can help to rethink the process:
·         Write down everything you need to do, no matter how large or small. Break down larger tasks because just having something like “weed books” will never get done whereas “weed fiction books authors A-C, weed D – F, etc.” is more attainable. You are also far more likely to do something when you feel you actually have a chance of finishing it.

·         A to-do list is fine but the temptation is just to work through it which may mean that the important tasks get left. So prioritise the list. This will ensure you work on the most urgent/important tasks first (more about that shortly) and it will also help you remember what needs to be done. However, don’t just carry the list on from one day to the next; it needs to be dynamic with items added/taken away and re-prioritised.

·         Note: this is your list – there’s nothing wrong with deleting something that is no longer a priority or that you don’t have the time to do. The tendency is to want to carry on with initial ideas or projects but if you discover something is taking too long and eating up way too much time, causing you to fall behind with your schedule, then revise your target and/or expectations. One of my faults is that I can be a bit of a perfectionist which means I’m always convince there’s a “better” source of information to find or that I can improve a poster with a different font … if I took this to the extreme, it would mean I’d never actually “finish” anything! So I’ve had to accept that the important thing is that the task is completed and that no-one will notice whether I use green or grey as a background colour!

·         Think about why you are doing things. What is the purpose of your tasks, what are you trying to achieve? You should be focusing on results, undertaking activities tied into your goals as sometimes we carry on with actions automatically. If you’ve always ran a specific competition, for example, it’s very hard to stop doing it but if you only get a couple of entries, perhaps it’s time to rethink. Things have a sell-by date!

·         Break the library development plan down into actions and assign targets to each one. This is important because your activities should link into these actions and the targets will enable you to identify when you have succeeded. Be ruthless about sticking to tasks that feed into your goals; there’s always something new coming along and it’s easy to get distracted but make a note and put it to one side if it’s not relevant right now.

·         Actions need to be SMART – specific, measurable, agreed on, realistic, time-based. Having a phrase such as “supporting teaching and learning” is too broad because everything we do could be put into this category. “Source book review trailers” could actually be never-ending so give the action a time limit (60 minutes) or an explicit number (20 trailers). The problem is that although we have goals specifically for the library, for example, we may want to increase our graphic novel collection by 50% (to attract reluctant readers, to provide a wider range of graphic novels, to purchase graphic novels that link with films, etc.) because we are a whole-school resource, our tendency is to take on board ALL the school goals. Don’t even try …

·         Look at your list and decide which activities are: important and urgent – these are usually things left to the last minute, planning will help to reduce the number of these although there are always unpredictable actions that turn up; important but not urgent – these are the activities that will help you achieve your goals and if you don’t give yourself time to do them they are likely to become urgent; not important but urgent – these often prevent you from achieving your goals and usually come from other people; and finally, activities that are not important or not urgent. Ignore these! I do an exercise with my Extended Project students based around this and it’s interesting how many unimportant and non-urgent tasks they put at the top of their to-do lists!

·         Having got your tasks sorted, schedule them into your week. The easiest way to do this is by using your school timetable (with additional spaces for outside hours work) although as I’m a sucker for stationery, I use a nice colourful weekly planning pad for this purpose. Enter the lessons you have booked and then slot in when you’ll do your other tasks from your list (and include your own outside interests), making sure you start with the top priority ones. Be realistic as to how long things will take you and allow for contingency time because you’re bound to be interrupted.

·         Although tasks have been given a priority rating, think about which ones you need to do without interruptions as it’s unlikely you’ll be able to work on them during the day, even if they are top of the list. Look at other actions that need to be done but that you can stop and start … and slot those into your timetable. This will ensure you effectively use your time. One of the worst time-wasting activities is trying to do something that needs your concentration and being interrupted so that you have to almost restart it every time.

·         Keep these timetables as evidence of what you’ve done, make a note of interruptions and what’s prevented you from completing tasks, jot down any ideas that occur to you (having a space to note down those random thoughts that occur will ensure you won’t forget anything and will reduce stress) AND make sure you add any additional hours worked. These will be useful for informing meetings with your line manager, appraisals, future planning or even just to give you an idea of who or what is consistently stopping you from working.

·         Managing interruptions is almost impossible in a school library! I regularly had teachers come and “hide” in the library when they had work that had to be done but I didn’t have the luxury of going off to another space myself. One trick, which sometimes works, is to move out from your desk to a table in the library. When I’ve done that, staff have said “oh, you’re busy, I don’t want to interrupt” and don’t … didn’t have the same effect if I stayed behind my desk. However, be aware that we can also create our own interruptions … checking emails, looking at the latest publisher’s catalogue that arrived in the post … and try to minimise switching between tasks.

·         Learn to say no. I find this hard myself but I’ve had to get better at it otherwise I would have been horrendously overloaded at times. One trick when asked to do something is to say “yes but I can’t do it until Monday (insert day of your choice here depending on your workload) as I need to get XZY done for Mrs Smith and I have library lessons to plan for tomorrow”. If the person can’t wait that long then they’ll probably do it themselves … or find somebody else. Keep in mind that your tasks should be linked to your library goals not to somebody else’s. Our mindset is to help everyone that asks us as we work in a “service” but you also have your own job to do so it’s a matter of balance.

·         Delegate. To your student librarians. Yes, I know they may not complete tasks to the same standard but in the long run it’s not really important if the date label is crooked. I know it’s hard, I’ve had to make myself step back at times and just let them get on with the job but it can help to cut down on non-essential chores. Use their strengths. I had a boy who went pale at the thought of sticky-back plastic (and having seen his attempts at book covering I can understand why) but he loved sorting the magazines into order so I let him get on with that.
TM is obviously an extensive topic that I usually cover in a workshop rather than a blog (and I haven’t even mentioned procrastination!) but I don’t want to make this too long so I’m going to finish with a summary:
REMEMBER:
·         Set SMART goals

·         To-do list linked to your goals

·         Prioritise and schedule

·         (Try to) manage distractions and interruptions

·         Don’t take on too much

The work-life balance is different for everyone so you have to create your own, find whatever works for you. I recently went on the National Libraries Demonstration in London and, whilst some people might consider that work, I didn’t think of it as such. Likewise author events and book launches … sure, I’m invited as a school librarian but I’d still go even if I wasn’t in this profession because I love books and reading. We cannot buy time so make sure you use yours efficiently and don’t forget to add the things you’d “like to do” to the list … these often get pushed aside by the things we have to do and the things we are expected to do but without them, the job can become lacklustre and monotonous. 
Finally … accept that some days will just be chaotic and the list will go out of the window … my solution to this is a large glass of red wine!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

HOW TO CREATE A BAD READING EXPERIENCE


I’ve always been a reader for as long as I can remember and will read (almost) anything; I’ll read the back of cereal packets or adverts on the underground if nothing else is available. I’m also never short of things to read … I have piles of books all over the house and keep a TBR list on Goodreads. Then there are the post-it notes with recommendations from friends plus photos on my phone of books I’ve seen in shops and libraries.
Just setting the scene … lifetime reader, librarian, house full of books, never short of something to read …
So why did I join a book group a few years ago?
Over time, most of my reading has veered towards teen/YA with the occasional new novel by a favourite adult writer thrown in during the holidays. Nothing wrong with that but it wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time I read only adult novels, wasn’t even aware that teen/YA books existed but exposure to these writers as a school librarian meant that slowly things changed and I wanted to extend my adult reading again, discover new authors, try something different. I know I could have done this by asking for recommendations or browsing the shelves in my public library but there’s something about sharing the experience of reading a book. Whilst reading itself is a solitary activity, each book will tell a different story to every person who discovers it and listening to others talking about what they got out of a book, how they identified with the characters, what they picked up on and noticed, adds additional dimensions to your own reading experience. It’s good to share.
It worked. I wouldn’t say I enjoyed every book we read and some of them I wouldn’t have finished if I hadn’t been listening to an audio version during my daily commute. But there were certainly a few books which encouraged me to read more by the same author.
Then I moved, joined a new book group and it’s been a bit of a disaster!
I have struggled with every book. Every single one! Even when I was able to find an audio version, I would not connect in any way with the story and my thoughts would drift off so that I missed chunks of it. I found myself resenting the time I had to spend reading these books for the next meeting, glaring at them sitting on my bedside table and covering (aka hiding) them with other, more appealing, tomes.
This surprised me. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt such animosity towards a book in my life before plus I found myself not wanting to go to the book group, which got me thinking about why? How had something that was such an integral part of me, something that was as natural as breathing, been turned into something I was actively avoiding?
I recognised it was because I didn’t want any more books that would result in a bad reading experience as each of these felt like a failure. Everyone else was able to read the book, and most of the group enjoyed them, so why not me?  There was also an element of guilt involved as I felt I was letting down the other members of the book group. And I realised how awful it must be for those children who really couldn’t seem to find a book that they connected with and yet were forced to read. How, if they tried book after book after book, only to give up half way through, or only ever read books chosen by their teachers and which they didn’t like or enjoy, they would soon come to the conclusion that all books were the same and that they hated reading. I don’t think I’d ever really been able to truly understand this because I’ve never felt like that towards reading.
Students today have huge demands on their time so reading often isn’t a high priority and if they don’t find it a pleasant experience, why would they actually choose to do it? This makes connecting the right book with the right child so important. It also means that they need to be able to try, and give up, books that they don’t enjoy … without any pressure. And they need to be able to choose their own books, not be directed by a reading scheme or a book list or a teacher’s choice for the whole class. Sure, guidance from a knowledgeable librarian helps but ultimately, it has to be their choice because they will be the one reading it.
As for my reading group, a busy time and the summer holidays provided a natural break, and the next book was one that I actually wanted to read so that aided a natural move back into it. I have also given myself permission to “not” read a book if I don’t want to …  

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

HAVING AN OVERVIEW - THE UNIQUE POSITION OF A SCHOOL LIBRARIAN

It’s the beginning of another school year; teachers will be getting to know their new students, even if they only see them for a few minutes each day during tutor time or for a couple of lessons a week, learning their names, finding out about their interests and anything relevant in their background.

But what of school librarians? They are part of the school community with the majority getting to know the whole of year 7, seeing them on a regular basis to introduce them to the library, books and the pleasures of reading. Many will also be getting re-acquainted with year 8 students, finding out what they’ve been up to over the holidays and marvelling at how much they’ve grown in six weeks. Then there’s year 9 and above … all of whom librarians will have seen throughout the past two years and many of whom will continue to be library users, either individually or in classes, within and outside the curriculum.

Librarians are one of the few staff within a school who have contact with all students; other than a Head of Year, transition manager and careers co-ordinator, it is likely that no other person will deal with the whole of a year group or the whole student body. This gives school librarians a unique position.

There’s the obvious benefit of the library having a curriculum overview, of knowing that whilst History study the causes and outcomes of World War 1, English look at the background to World War 1 poetry so they’re interested in similar resources, that both Geography and Cultural Studies investigate other countries. You would not believe how often I’ve had students borrow books for a homework assignment, leaving me with about 2 items on the topic, only to have another department book the library for research on that very same subject! And yes, I know there’s the internet but often the reason for a research lesson is to try and get students looking beyond Google. A co-ordinated approach would ensure an efficient use of resources as well as avoiding such clashes and the librarian can provide this. One argument for including them in curriculum meetings and involving them when planning topics to study. Librarians are also very aware of trends be they superheroes, Minecraft or Pokemon (though it’s hard to miss the latter). This information can be used to inform lessons; how much more interesting would gothic art or literature be if it coincided with the vampire obsession?

But the librarian has a wider remit than that of curriculum co-ordinator, one that involves us in a pastoral role, a position that is often overlooked and undervalued.

The library is a safe environment, with a member of staff who is not a teacher, and students quickly recognise this. During breaktimes, there’s no pressure on them to complete specific tasks within a timeframe (unless they happen to be trying to get their homework done before the next lesson), they can sit and read, browse and take a step back from their busy schedule. At the end of lessons, both students and teachers are usually rushing off allowing no time or opportunity to talk during the day but this isn’t true in the library, which means students will often hang about the issue desk, chatting about all sorts of inconsequential matters and this is often when a seemingly innocent remark will set off a trigger, an internal alarm that makes you think “there’s more to this”. It’s hard to explain but those who work with children will know what I’m talking about.

Librarians will have undergone safeguarding training so are aware of issues to look out for and the people within a school to contact if we have any concerns. This may seem a bit “big brother”-ish but it’s not. The mental health and well-being of all the students we work with is important, worries and fears they have need to be dealt with in order that they can develop, not only academically, but also emotionally. If a child is being bullied, has issues with gender identity or is trying to deal with family illness, it will impact on their behaviour and attainment. Thus it’s helpful for librarians to know any relevant background information yet I’ve known schools where this is withheld on a “need-to-know” basis. Surely if a student has a parent with cancer or a grandparent recently deceased, anyone working with them should be informed so we can ensure they receive the right care and response?

Seeing students regularly means that librarians are quick to notice when things are not right – the student that is suddenly quiet and withdrawn; the one that isn’t included in their usual friendship groups. Often a quiet reassuring word is all that is needed and you discover that the problem is minor and transient but sometimes it’s more serious and then we’ll pass on concerns. Schools need to have “the complete picture” when dealing with students and they can only get this is everyone feeds into the system.

It’s also interesting how often a teacher has a completely different view of a student than that of the librarian. Many assume that if they’re not borrowing books from the library they are not reading and yet I always notice whenever students bring in their own books from home or the public library. I’ve had students focus and concentrate in the library whilst their teachers have remarked “they don’t behave like that in the classroom”. Students with Asperger’s that keep to themselves for most of the time will join in library activities. Others will happily take on library duties and responsibilities yet not want to be involved in anything else within the school.

So what can school librarians do about this? A few suggestions:

·         Ensure you are on the mailing list to receive relevant information including any SEN and IEP details.

·         Create a curriculum overview to highlight where departments study similar topics and share it with your curriculum manager and Heads of Departments.

·         Make friends with your pastoral team and pass on details about any useful resources you’ve purchased or websites you’ve come across.

·         Email tutors of individual students if you have any concerns but also share positive news.

·         Keep an eye on trends such as a reduction in book borrowing in a particular year group or a drop-off in the use of subject-specific resources and share this with the appropriate staff including the literacy co-ordinator.

The librarian’s knowledge and viewpoint of students is extremely valuable and is underused by most schools, which is a shame as these observations, carried out in a totally different environment from that of a classroom, allow us to get a complete picture of each student, building up a relationship and getting to know them as individuals. It is important to remember that a school community works best as a team involving all of its members, including their librarian.