Full Title: Every School needs a School Library with a School Librarian – By Elizabeth Hutchinson
I love school libraries! Well you would, I hear you say, you’re a librarian. My love of school libraries is not about being able to work in a room in a school with a lot of books, or my ability to sit and read books all day (I wish) or even being able to play with the bleepy scanny thing (that is one of the many names for the book issue scanner). Nor is it my love for school libraries based on sorting out photocopier jams, or peeling the plastic from yet another laminator jam, or being called the library lady, shelf sorter or any other name that teachers or students can think of when what they are looking for is the librarian. Joking aside my love of school libraries is their ability to support and create literate, independent learners and this is why teachers should love them too.
We are living in strange times where it is normal to hear about another school library closing due to lack of use (we have the internet so why do we need books?), librarians removed due to lack of support (what does a school librarian do anyway?) and all in the name of saving budgets. I would understand this if every school across the country felt the same but this is not the case. Some schools are increasing their library budgets for stock, spend money on refurbishing their libraries and employing not only library assistants to organise the day to day running of the library but also a professional librarian to work alongside teachers. The difference between these two scenarios, as far as I can see it, is the lack of understanding about how a well stocked school library with a professional librarian can impact student attainment and support teaching and learning, so how has this happened?
I imagine that if you are a teacher born in the 1990’s you will have gone through school at the time my own children did, when the internet became commonplace in school. Teachers at the time seemed to stop encouraging the use of the school library as much. My children were repeatedly being told to come home and click to find the answers to their homework and I am sure you were too. There seemed to be very little need to use the school library at all, especially if you were a parent who had enough books at home for your child to read and were lucky enough to have a set of encyclopedias. I can hear my children moan now as I made them look in the encyclopedia before I would help them find what they needed online. My children were lucky, although they didn’t think so at the time, but what if you didn’t have that support at home? There was no conversations about evaluating the information found or giving credit at school and this skill has slowly been lost over time.
Fast forward to these children now becoming teachers. In teacher training there is very little said about school libraries if anything at all (I know this because two of my sons are now teachers and neither heard anything about school libraries as part of their courses). Most of the research done at university level is online and then teachers are expected to somehow know and understand the role of the school library and the librarian. Ask any teacher if they think a school library is important the answer would be yes but ask them how they use it to support teaching and learning, the response would be different I am sure. This is a worrying problem because if teachers don’t really understand how the school library can make a difference to themselves or their students, the gap between the schools that do have and those that don’t will increase.
Why do schools need school libraries with professional librarians in them?
With literacy levels currently at a worrying level we know that children who are surrounded by books and people who read, read more, and the more children read the better they do at school. If children are not getting the example from home they should be seeing teachers engaging and talking about reading. A well stocked library with a professional librarian is known to increase literacy levels in children (National Literacy Trust, 2018).
Apart from improved literacy what else can you get from a well stocked library? Many teachers link the school library to English, I agree it is an easy connection to make but why should the English department get access to lots of resources when other departments are struggling for budgets? Every department in a school should be working with and benefiting from the school library. A library budget is not for the library it is for the whole school. Do you as a teacher know what resources are available from the library for your subject? If not the next time you pass the library go in and ask. Most school librarians are desperate to work with all departments but struggle to find out what teachers need because you are always busy and who has time to answer emails? Give them a few minutes of your time and you many find that you have access to more than you thought.
Is it all about resources?
No! School librarians are information specialists so you have access to someone who can co-teach information and digital literacy within your classroom. Is the thought of trying to teach about fake new/misinformation worrying? Would you like to use Hangout, Padlet or Flipgrid to have an international collaborative lesson but don’t have the time or know where to start? Should your students be using online resources but you are not sure, what is available or how to guide them to finding what they need? Do you need to teach about referencing and plagiarism and although you can teach it you would like to try something new. The school librarian can do all of this and so much more!
What can teachers do about this?
If you have a school library with someone working in there it is about building relationships. Go and have a conversation with them. Find out what they can do for you and your students. As a librarian working alone in a school it can be almost impossible to talk to every teacher to explain how they can support so I would like to encourage teachers to be proactive. If you don’t ask you don’t get.
If you are a teacher who has no-one working in your library start asking the questions. Do you have a local Schools’ Library Service that can fill that gap if the school can’t currently afford to employ someone? Is there a budget for your school library and how is it being spent? A room full of books does not make a library unless schools are encouraging its use and keeping it up to date. Teaching was never meant to be a do it yourself job and the school librarian is there to support you and your students so next time don’t walk past, walk in and say hello.
Elizabeth @Elizabethutch is Head of Schools’ Library Service in Guernsey, a Chartered librarian and Fellow of CILIP. She came runner up in the 2016 LILAC Information Literacy Award, is an international presenter and published author.
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