Friday, 27 March 2015


Throughout the UK, day in and day out, you will find a large group of reliable and committed pupils giving up their time and volunteering in their school libraries. Many of them do this for years, providing a valuable service to other pupils and staff and yet, so often, this goes unrecognised. School receptions and display cabinets are full of certificates and awards given for sporting achievements, drama performances and prizes won in writing competitions. Occasionally an individual school will acknowledge the work a pupil does in their library and present them with an internal award but there is nothing on a national scale. And it was this idea of a national award that gave shape to the CILIP School Libraries Group/School Library Association Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award. 
Launched in September 2014, the award is open to all secondary school pupils who have volunteered in their school libraries for a minimum of two years and is supported by the two main professional bodies that represent school librarians; the CILIP School Libraries Group and the School Library Association. Aware of the time pressures on people, it was decided to run most of the award electronically with the judging panel meeting for the first time to discuss the nominees and create the shortlist. Additionally, the structure and guidelines for the SLA School Librarian of the Year Award were used as a starting point and to add a sense of connection.

I thought the award might attract a dozen or so entrants so was pleased when we received almost sixty nominations, all of an extremely high calibre showing excellent work being done by pupils within their school libraries, although this did make selecting the finalists and then the winner very difficult. We also attracted some very supportive sponsors including our guest speaker, Charlie Higson, and had our logo designed by Chris Riddell.

As for the award ceremony itself, this was held at the BT Centre on a lovely afternoon affording us wonderful views of St Paul’s. All finalists, their librarians and members of their family were able to attend, we arranged for each citation to be read out and award to be presented by an individual author, and succeeded in making the focus of the afternoon the pupils and their achievements.
So … apart from an excuse for a ceremony with cakes, balloons and books, why have a Pupil Library Assistant Award?

School libraries do not exist in isolation. There is a synergy between them and their pupils that extends beyond the room and the obvious. The school, the library and the librarian benefit from the work that pupils do within their libraries – be it desk duties, creating displays, helping others to find a book to read or a resource for homework, leading reading groups, talking in assemblies about the library – the list is long and varied. But this is a reciprocal arrangement because the pupils that volunteer in their libraries also benefit, in ways that are sometimes impossible to measure but that are extremely important, gaining those soft skills that employers find so essential: increased self-confidence, improved communication, working both as a team and using their initiative, working under pressure, customer service – skills that impact on academic work, career and life choices.

So this is one reason for the award, to acknowledge this mutual impact between school libraries and their pupil assistants, to show the difference a school library has made to them. But it is also an opportunity to showcase the incredible amount of work done by school librarians throughout the country, with the help of their pupils. To illustrate that a school library is not just a room full of books and other resources, that it is not just a place to go and read or study, it has a much more pivotal role to play within a school and when you close a school library, you are removing a place that is unique within the school. A place where interaction and collaboration occur to change pupil’s lives.  As the winner, Abbie Craske says, of her school library: “In the beginning it was an escape from life – now it enhances my life. It has made such a difference to me and it is a privilege to give something back to the place I love.”