Category Archives: School Libraries

The Librarians’ Bookshelf

Suzanne Bhargava shared a photo of her brilliant “bookshelf” idea on twitter the other week, and we loved it so much that Matt asked her to write a bit about it for the blog:

When my school built its new library, it was designed with no walls or ceiling. Just shelves forming the perimeter, lots of tables and chairs for sixth form study, two giant trees and an extremely expensive sculpture in the centre. It is stunning. A showpiece. The bit of the school that is always shown to visitors. It’s a powerful message about our values. I mean, I was still annoyed of course, about the lack of display space. But oh well. It’s an awesome space anyway.

Ages ago, I came across a book display idea on Pinterest, but never knew how to riff on it or where to put it. Last summer the lightbulb moment finally arrived: I would create a sort of “What we’re reading” display to go with the little “Your librarian is reading…” chalkboard which was already on my desk.

I had the perfect space for it – the flat, blank front of my desk, which sits at the entrance to the library. The idea was that every time my colleague or I finished a book, we would update the display so it would be full of a wide range of book titles by the end of the year.

I started the year by making a little, unobtrusive sign saying “The Librarians’ Bookshelf (what we’ve been reading)”. Then I cut a stack of different coloured paper and card to roughly the size of a bookmark. When I finished reading a book, I wrote the title and author on one of the strips of paper and fixed it with blutac to the front of my desk. As the year went on, the “shelf” filled up and I started a new row beneath.

[First Day of School]
[Last Day of School]
I received lots of positive responses from staff and students. Staff would point to one of the titles and ask what I thought of it, or share their own opinions if they’d read any of them. In this way, I managed to get a lot of teachers to read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and My Name is Leon (my two favourite grownup reads this year). It became a sort of unofficial bookclub that never meets.

Students interacted with it in a very different way. They didn’t use it for choosing their next read (except maybe with Ms Marvel – there’s a strong little Kamala Khan fan base amongst the Oratory boys now), but took a keen interest in my reading habits: “How long does it take you to read a book, Miss?” “Why do you read kids’ books, Miss?” “What are you reading right now, Miss?” “Have you read __________ yet Miss? Well you have to.” “What’s your favourite book ever, Miss?” That one always stumps me.

I will definitely do this again next year, as it has been one of my most successful efforts to date. Next academic year I’ll be in a primary setting, so I will definitely be including picture books this time. Other than that, there are only a few practical changes I’d make:
1. Use only card. It won’t tear or roll up so much when students inevitably pick at it! Also, paint pens are better on card.
2. Take time with the design of each bookmark. I scrawled some out when I was pushed for time, and they just don’t look as good.
3. Get student library assistants to create their own shelf too! Peer recommendations can be a very powerful thing.

#BookBuddy: an interview with Maz Evans

Over the weekend a discussion about donating books to School Libraries blew up on Twitter, led by author Maz Evans (Who Let the Gods Out?); she and other Children’s Authors in the course of visiting schools to speak to students had stumbled onto an open secret – that School Libraries in the UK are not statutory and many (if they exist at all) are not adequately funded.

Rather than writing an article about it I reached out to Maz with a request to interview her about the idea she had for a BookBuddy programme to introduce it to library folk and others that may have missed the initial discussion.

So without further ado, here is the BookBuddy interview with Maz Evans

What is BookBuddy?

It is essentially a scheme to pair those who have spare kids’ books with schools that can give them a great home. Anyone who has children’s books lying around – or wants to buy some new ones for a school – will be put in touch with a school for either a one-off donation or a longer partnership – entirely up to them.

What sparked the initial idea?

I travel extensively around the UK and visit at least one primary school a week. Most schools I visit don’t have a library, very few have a librarian and some have no books at all. I’ll say that again. There are schools in this country with no books in them. I don’t think people realise this. So many books are being funded by the educators themselves, which is insane. I have been badgering the government to address this issue, but I am a lone voice. I was trying to encourage the Education Secretary, Damian Hinds, to pass comment when one kind individual offered to donate all her reading books for a year to a school as their “book buddy” – I retweeted her offer and a school that follows me was ecstatic to take her up. More people came forward and schools started putting their hands up, so I drew up a “first-come” list and matched them to the offers. It was a total accident, but a happy one.

Has the response to your idea surprised you?

Yes and no. The number of schools desperate to join the scheme has, sadly, come as no surprise. The government should hang its head in shame to see schools in this parlous state when we have such wonderful people doing such a great job inside them. The generosity of people has been beyond uplifting. Authors, bloggers, reviewers, booksellers, schools and caring members of the public have come forward in their dozens, offering to donate used or buy new books for schools. What has been a very sad surprise has been the negativity the scheme has attracted in certain quarters, but more on that later…!

How many schools responded to your offer before you had to cap it?

On a Saturday afternoon, within an hour I had 100 schools on my list – I had to cap it to have a hope of finding those schools book buddies and didn’t want to create false hope. I currently have 28 schools left on my list – although many matches have been made ad hoc on Twitter for people who can only donate locally or have a particular type of donation. Over 100 schools are now receiving books from total strangers. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.

Will you be opening the school waiting list again if more buddies come forward?

Me sitting at the laptop copying and pasting Twitter handles is not the most efficient or sustainable way of running the scheme. But a very kind person has come forward and offered to build a website where schools can register and book buddies can find schools when they want to clear out or simply be lovely. I am absolutely behind the scheme and will do everything I can do to support it while I’m trying to pester the state to sort this mess out.

Does the non-statutory nature of school libraries shock you?

Horrifies me, actually. Something that came of the conversations prior to BookBuddy was that libraries are (rightly) statutory in prisons, but not in schools. So some children have a better chance of being exposed to books if they are convicted of a crime than during their primary school years. It’s a national disgrace.


What do you say to those that have criticised your endeavours by saying that:

  • it is the government’s responsibility
  • that it will spark an increased wave of schools approaching authors directly for donations or free visits
  • or that it will reduce an author’s pay
  • I’m not going to lie, I’ve been incredibly disappointed by the reaction of a certain (small) number of people, primarily because they haven’t bothered to research what I’m actually doing before sounding off on social media. To be explicit on this point, I am NOT putting the begging bowl out to the publishing industry. I receive hundreds of requests for free books and free visits and feel horrible that I can only fulfil a fraction of them. The last thing I want is to put further pressure on people. BookBuddy is firstly for people who have books they WANT to clear out. Yes, many of those are coming from the publishing industry because lots of us are fortunate enough to receive a lot of free books and not everyone wants to keep all of them.

    But as a parent, I know how easy it is to accumulate books that are never going to be read again and I have always donated them. I haven’t approached anyone to do anything – people are hearing about the scheme and coming to me. This whole thing was born out of me trying to get the government to see the damage they are doing to our future and the need to fund schools properly – how nice it would be if those who have the time to denounce this scheme on Twitter put their energies into lobbying their MP or Mr Hinds to demand action, as I am also doing.

    As for the financial argument, sorry, I just don’t buy it. These are books that are a) books for which royalties have already been paid 2) books for which royalties were never going to be paid (free copies to publishing people) or 3) new books that are being bought for the scheme, therefore are paying royalties! Also, put a book in a school and watch it breed like a randy rabbit. If anything, this will market books, not cost sales – and it gives schools a place to ask for donations, potentially easing the need to approach publishers/authors directly. If none of that convinces you, question your own humanity and privilege. At the end of the day, this is getting books to kids who wouldn’t otherwise have them. Should we have to do it? No – the government should. But as one author eloquently put it, we shouldn’t have to donate to food banks. But are we going to stand back and let people starve?

    If given the opportunity to speak to Damian Hinds the Education Minister what would you say to him?

    I want – no, demand – that the government enshrines funding for books in schools. One school I spoke to has £40K put aside for sports equipment, but can’t remember the last time they bought a new book. The government itself insists that reading for pleasure is at the heart of education – how the hell can educators do this without the books?! I see inside 100s of schools and while I see so much passion and inspiration from teachers and students, I also see an education system that is at breaking point. If we don’t invest in our future, we won’t have one.

    “Every secondary school in the UK should have a good library” – call by MPs and Peers

    A new report by Westminster politicians calls for every child in the UK to have a good library in their secondary school.

    The Libraries All Party Parliamentary Group’s report calls for the Department for Education to start collecting figures about the number of schools that have a library and librarian, and for Ofsted to look at school library provision when they inspect a school. It is vital that all schools have a good library to ensure children develop essential literacy and digital literacy skills in order to fulfil their potential and to contribute to the success of the UK economy, says the report, The Beating Heart of the School.

    See more at: http://www.cilip.org.uk/cilip/news/every-secondary-school-uk-should-have-good-library-call-mps-and-peers#sthash.mB72Iu5Y.dpuf

    Three Years a School Librarian

    In all the excitement over the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Awards, coming to the end of another school year and the Football World Cup I overlooked the fact that this June is my third anniversary as a School Librarian.

    For the eight years prior to this momentous month three years ago I had been (mostly) a Teen & Youth Services Librarian, with a bit of Reference, Adult Services and team management thrown in for good measure. Then the public services cuts started, at this point I was in Brent, a borough that cut its already tightly run library service into the bone. I was the first casualty in Brent and one of the first librarians in London to get the chop, the only upside to being at the front of the line was I could see what was coming and had six months to scramble for a new job before the axe came down.

    I interviewed for 12 positions in six months and did well but not well enough in most.

    It was in the final interview I went to that got me the call-back to run a library lesson on Anne Frank and biographies which went brilliantly until I turned round and realised that the computer that was running the powerpoint display I was using had downloaded an update and rebooted itself, it was Windows Vista so took about 20 minutes to sort itself out. I had decided not to wait for the reboot went on with the lesson using and got the kids to look at specific titles.

    I left, convinced that I had blown it and cursed Microsoft products under my breath.

    The lesson was a week before my post in Brent came to an end and I felt the breath of doom on my neck. My last day of work was on a Monday and on the Tuesday morning I was unemployed. I received a phone-call around midday on the Tuesday offering the post of School Librarian.

    Three years later I am still here!

    I have restocked the library, discarded ancient and unsuitable stock, physically removed broken bookshelves, organised about 25 author visits, gotten to know an entire schools worth of students (& staff), participated in two pantomimes and run an ongoing series of weekly lessons for years 7, 8 & 9 as well as all the other things that happen in a library but are usually handled by other teams.

    I have learned a lot – how to survive being a solo practitioner, partnership working with school departments and new (to me) outside agencies.

    One thing I did not have to do was learning this alone! There is a brilliant School Librarians Network who helped me and continue to do so and Librarians are some of the most avid & helpful Twitter users that I know and they guided me through the early stages of my new career path.

    This summer my library is receiving a comprehensive refurbishment from the ground up – carpet, chairs, tables, a new coat of paint and an enhanced IT offer (five new computers).

    I am looking forward to my fourth year and have started working on new educational resources to use in the new school year.
    librarytrail lego mattimrie

    The Impact of School Libraries on Learning

    A considerable body of international evidence shows that school libraries impact on:

  • Higher test or exam scores equating to academic attainment: this includes academic attainment in the form of higher standardised test scores in reading, language arts, history and maths, and better grades in curriculum assignments or exams;
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  • Successful curriculum or learning outcomes, including information literacy: this includes higher quality project work, the development and practice of information literacy, increased knowledge and reading development;
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    and
     

  • Positive attitudes towards learning: including increased motivation, improved attitude towards learning tasks, self-esteem, and wider reading for pleasure.
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    http://www.scottishlibraries.org/storage/sectors/schools/SLIC_RGU_Impact_of_School_Libraries_2013.pdf

    Canadian Learning Commons book

    The Canadian Library Association (CLA) is pleased to announce the launch of its latest publication Leading Learning: Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons in Canada at the annual CLA National Conference and Trade Show in Victoria, BC, on Friday, May 30th, 2014. This publication presents a model for the development and implementation of the school library as a library learning commons. It provides educators with a common set of standards of practice for moving forward. CLA President Marie DeYoung stated that the organization considers this publication as a “definitive learning support that is critical for all Canadian schools.”

    http://clatoolbox.ca/casl/slic/llsop.pdf