Tuesday, 18 April 2017


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 …

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