How a School Library Can Have Impact
Published on: 05 January 2023
Barbara Band MCLIP, School Library Consultant, and co-author of Creating a School Library with Impact, explains how a school library is more than just a room with books.
Why are libraries so important?
Have you ever considered how amazing and multi-faceted school libraries are? How they support the needs of the whole community from reading development through to reading for pleasure, providing a curated collection perfect for the ages and reading levels of all students, giving them access to a wide range of authors and genres, enticing and encouraging them into the wonderful world of words and images.
How school libraries engender teaching and learning throughout the curriculum and beyond, with relevant and up-to-date hard copy and digital resources, encouraging students to become independent learners and critical thinkers, to reach for their goals and explore their interests. How school libraries provide a safe and welcoming environment, fulfilling a pastoral role that supports students’ mental health and wellbeing, where they can just “be” without having to worry about grades or exams, and where they can recharge before re-entering the busyness of a school day.
I could go on – the list is endless: school libraries promote equity and inclusion; provide access to technology (so important for those who do not have this at home); are a place to read, study and do homework – again, something not always available to all students; have staff who can help answer questions and find the perfect resource, be that a book for escapism, an autobiography by a possible role model, or an article to help with an assignment.
Where do librarians fit in?
However, none of this happens by chance. It is possible to create a beautiful space full of bespoke furniture and fill it with delightful books before opening its doors to the school community. But without someone to plan and implement strategies, policies and actions – to link the library to the needs of the school – it is likely to become a rather muddled space and look very tired very quickly. This is why the person managing the library – the librarian – is so important and why being a school librarian requires a wide range of skills and experience.
Librarians don’t simply issue books, tidy shelves and supervise students. They need to be managers, have budgeting and negotiating skills, have knowledge of marketing and promotion techniques, and be aware of books and other resources (fiction and non-fiction) available as well as what is due to be published. They need to know the curriculum, the school demographics and students’ interests, not to mention education initiatives that may impact on school policies and thus library support.
In addition to specific library skills, ideally they should have training in behaviour management, teaching techniques and mental health first aid. It is conceivable for them to be working with every single student in the school, both in a formal lesson setting or a more informal breaktime session where, in a large school, they could be supervising over 100 students, all with differing needs.
Do all schools have a library?
Many people, when asked about school libraries, assume that every school has one but, as they are not statutory, this is not the case, with libraries often being closed due to budget and space constraints. Time and time again, people express disbelief at this idea; that a place whose function is to educate children does not consider having a library as essential in this task. Yet, whilst it is possible for some of a library’s roles to be taken on by other departments, the unique space of the library cannot be replicated within the school.
Many people also think school libraries are all about the books. Even teachers and other educationalists have this impression and if they’ve not worked in a school with a fully functioning library managed by a professional librarian they can be forgiven for not realising its full potential. This can also happen where a solo librarian is employed, resulting in operational and administrative responsibilities taking over from more strategic actions and services.
Written by CILIP School Libraries Group (SLG) committee members, Creating a School Library with Impact: A Beginner’s Guide is perfect for the newly appointed school librarian who has little experience yet needs to get to grip with their role quickly. Covering all aspects of the school library, including the environment, behaviour, information and digital literacy, using technology, marketing and evaluating the library, and more, the book is full of practical advice and guidance provided by experienced librarians. It would also be a useful CPD read for more experienced librarians; those who would like to expand on their role but are uncertain of where to start. If you’re not sure what exactly a school librarian can do then I encourage you to have a look at this book and give it to anyone with an interest in the school library – it will help them understand how the library can be developed into a place that really is at the heart of its community.
Creating a School Library with Impact: A Beginner’s Guide is available now.
Bookbuzz is a reading programme from BookTrust that aims to help schools inspire a love of reading in 11 to 13-year-olds. Participating schools give their students the opportunity to choose their own book to take home and keep from a list of 17 titles.