Monday 1 July 2019

The School Librarian of the Year Award

Last Thursday I was delighted to attend the School Librarian of the Year Award in London. It was held in the Millennium Gloucester Hotel and included afternoon tea, on an absolutely gorgeous set of “Alice” crockery (although as it was hand-wash only I felt sorry for the person having to deal with it all afterwards).

This event is one of the highlights of my calendar as it’s always such a joyous occasion although I’m pleased I don’t have to make the final decision as to the winner. School librarianship is a strange beast. Whilst you could be forgiven for thinking that every school librarian position would be the same - after all schools deal with a narrow age range of pupils all at the same stages of their lives and thus experiencing the same exams, events, etc. so surely their needs are similar? - when you actually look at what each of us do within individual schools it varies enormously depending on the ethos and priorities of the school, support from SMT and budgets. Which makes it very hard to compare like-with-like.  

This year there were three school librarians on the Honour List:

Ros Harding from The King’s School Chester (winner)

Chantal Kelleher from Herne Bay High School

Helen Cleaves from Kingston Grammar School

If you look at their profiles on the School Library Association website, you will see what an asset they all are to their respective schools. One of the features of the afternoon is a video created by each school highlighting the work of their librarian and why they were nominated. What is striking when you watch these isn’t so much the physical aspects of their libraries (wonderful that they are) or even the librarians themselves but the impact they’ve had on their students and staff.

And what this highlights is that you can have a room full of the latest books or cutting-edge technology but without that professional librarian to oversee it, the synergy between students, staff and resources just isn’t going to happen. School librarians are catalysts and facilitators, and without them the "library" will simply be a room full of “stuff”. It may be used on an ad-hoc piecemeal basis. Some teachers may take their classes in to change books. It could even be packed at breaktimes with a member of staff supervising students. But the library and its resources will certainly not be used to its full potential, you need a librarian for this – engendering reading, supporting teaching and learning, providing a safe space for all students.

Have a look at the videos and you’ll see what I mean. The most powerful parts are where students and staff are talking about their librarians. If you work in a school and are lucky enough to have a school librarian, do you really know what they do, and how they can support you and your students? Are you using them to their full potential, utilising their skills, experience and knowledge to bring value-added to all aspects of your school? And if you’re in one of those schools that don’t have a school library and/or librarian (and several don’t) maybe it’s time to ask the powers-that-be why not? Because the people losing out here are your students ….