Creating a book-loving school

Published on: 28 August 2013 Author: Lyn Hopson

Lyn Hopson, librarian at Don Valley Academy, is on the Honour List for the School Libraries Association (SLA) School Librarian of the Year 2013. Here, she tells us about her approach to creating a book-loving school.

Lyn Hopson

To work in a 'book-loving school', where every child loved to read, and hordes of students came flocking into the library every day to choose new books and enthuse about their reading choices would probably be most school librarians' idea of heaven!

Sadly, for most of us at least, the day to day reality is somewhat different. For this reason, promoting reading for pleasure, and attempting to create a positive attitude to reading whole-school, forms a huge part of my daily working practices. It is identified as a key focus area in our Library Policy document, and constantly features in all development plans and self-evaluation documents. At Don Valley Academy, we have had some success in this area, which has given me huge encouragement and a firm belief that we will get there, but it is most definitely still a work in progress!

I have now been Librarian at Don Valley for nearly 12 years, and during that time have employed a wide variety of strategies to promote reading and library use, with varying degrees of success. I have been fortunate in having good working relationships, and the support of managers willing to allow me to try new things. I will mention some of the specific strategies later. However, while each of these special events/activities/strategies have undoubtedly helped to change attitudes, and to successfully raise the profile of books and reading, I believe that what has taken this to a whole new level is the adoption of a whole-school approach that involves all subject Departments, not just the Librarian and the English Department, in literacy promotion.

For the past three years, I have worked very closely with our whole-school Literacy Co-ordinator, and indeed we have shared an office for the last two years. This enables us to co-ordinate our efforts and to target each promotional activity at the group of students most likely to benefit, thus maximising impact. We also have a whole-school Literacy Promotion Group with representatives from every Department.

This group meet in the library at least once every half-term to share good practice and develop new strategies.

My membership facilitates contacts throughout all curriculum areas and enables me to promote up-coming library events throughout the school, not just to those Departments/students who are regular library users. It has also enabled us to encourage teachers to take part in reading promotions, such as; discussion starter posters inside classrooms or on doors with themes like 'Stories that make my heart beat faster', baby pictures of staff around school with their favourite children's book, large posters of staff reading unusual titles etc.

In the last academic year we also successfully ran two whole-school Book Weeks with a series of special events, mostly held in the library but involving staff from all Departments. These included, amongst other things a 'Book Factor' with a panel of student judges, a 'Take me Out' event, and even an interactive ghost story session with real body parts supplied by the Science Dept!

Another important factor in keeping the profile of reading high is to provide a continuous programme of events and activities, and, where possible, to link book and reading- related activities to things that are already part of our students' daily lives; sporting events, TV programmes and films, celebrations, topics from other subject areas, etc. I learnt very early on in my time at Don Valley that being passive was not an option if I wanted to attract students into the library and get them borrowing and reading books. I had first to make the library an attractive place where they would feel comfortable, but also to ensure that there would always be something fun going on to entice them in!

This started fairly simply, (and cheaply!) with themed displays, changed monthly, which might be based on, for example, the World Cup, Halloween, Dr. Who, anything really that the students might find interesting. These allowed promotion of different types of books, but we also ran related competitions/quizzes/wordsearches, for which we gave out small prizes and displayed the winners' names. The next step was taking the theme further with related lunchtime activities, such as ghost story sessions, arts and crafts sessions, treasure hunts etc. I then began to take photos of any library workshops or activities, and to display lots of these, with student feedback comments, all around the library to create a feeling of ownership among our users.

This has continued and expanded right up to the present, and by using some of the material in smaller displays elsewhere around school, we are able to spread positive reading-related images and peer recommendations.

Starting a Reading Group ('Pageturners') has also had many positive outcomes. Aside from encouraging students to try new authors/genres, write reviews, participate in discussion and debate and thus develop their reading tastes and stamina, it also led to the school beginning its participation in the CILIP Carnegie Shadowing scheme. This in turn provided excellent opportunities to make contact with groups in other local schools, and to run joint events such as author visits and drama and writing-based workshops, where our students can interact positively with their peers from other areas and share their enjoyment of the short-list books. Taking turns to host/organise such events means that funding is shared, and provides extra opportunities for our students. We now also participate in the related CILIP Kate Greenaway scheme, enabling our students to work with Y3 students from seven local primary schools, a great confidence–booster, particularly for our less-able students.

The success of Carnegie/Greenaway led a group of Doncaster Librarians to try to set up our own, local Doncaster Book Award, (DBA) one which was based on the students' own reading choices and where the emphasis was firmly on reading for pleasure. From 13 schools in the first year, it now involves over 70 local primary and secondary schools working together. Three years ago we went through the incorporation process to become a not-for–profit Social Enterprise Company, enabling us to bid for funding from, for example, the National Lottery and to put on bigger and better events. These have included; ghostly drama workshops in a local stately home, a fantastic sports-based event at the local athletics stadium to tie into the Olympic Games, where all the races/competitions were based on our shortlist books, and most recently, an Alice in Wonderland- themed event with a series of workshops and author events and culminating in a huge tea party. Being able to attend such events free of charge encourages the students to read, review and vote on the books, and massively raises the profile of reading across the community.

Participation in DBA also provides excellent opportunities to make connections with our local primary schools, so that I can enjoy positive reading-based experiences with our future students. We also have a more formal transition project which allows me to meet and talk about reading preferences to all Y6 classes during each summer term. This is then followed up in the autumn when, as part of the English curriculum, we have three library lessons with each Y7 form.

To conclude, at Don Valley we take every opportunity to promote a love of books and reading, from the Premier League reading scheme delivered to the Y7 football team, to a cinema event on World book day, from a graphic novel scheme based on the Stan Lee Award delivered to disengaged Y8 boys, to making book trailers with Pageturners. I don't know if we could be classed as a book-loving school - but we are certainly on the way.

Lyn Hopson is the School Librarian at Don Valley Academy in Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Read more about her and the other school librarians on this year's School Library Association Honour List on the SLA website.

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