Monday, 25 September 2017

Thing 2: Running UK primary school libraries

It’s a while since I have written for my own blog, although I do contribute regularly to other professional blogs and write articles, news items and contribute to specialist publications from time to time.  I need to find my voice.  What are my concerns?  What needs saying? I also then need to write regularly, as the latest Rudai 23 course says.  I will try and start afresh….
Running primary school libraries
As a primary school librarian in London, I aim to provide excellent libraries that are well-stocked and well managed, to run promotional events and support pupils and school staff in their information and literacy needs. Somehow, primary and prep schools tend to fall under the radar: many UK reports about libraries concentrate on secondary schools, presumably because most of them employ librarians, whether qualified or not. Although primary means ‘first’ we are often made to feel ‘second’ (-best.) Professionally qualified librarians are rare in UK primary schools (why?), libraries are rare in UK primary schools (why?) but they should be central to developing literacy and information learning skills.  Sometimes it feels as if we are competing against levelled reading schemes, but we should be working hand in hand.  (A future blog post?) But it’s no good just moaning.  This is a chance to do something about it.
Where shall I start? 
The day job
My day job hours are unusual for librarians (but quite normal for other education specialists), in that I run four school libraries from half a day to one day a week each.  I work in a team of primary school librarians for Tower Hamlets Schools Library Services, a subscription service.  Have a look at our website for details of our many activities and support networks, as well as details of our library resources.
Strategic management is key
It’s all about communication within the schools so I can ensure the existence of regular library promotions.  (What I call promotion covers most activities beyond basic library administration, ie clubs, displays, shadowing book awards, Reading Year events etc.)
I need a regular budget. I need to behave like a responsible manager and I need to gain the trust of senior staff as a professional. I need support from SLS colleagues and SLS resources.  I need to be able to find out what support the school needs and provide it in the form of expertise and resources. 
It’s hard running a library on half a day or even one day a week, so I prioritise my work and plan long term.  I don’t let myself get bogged down in shelving and tidying or adding new children to the database (even though I do these things every week.)  I generate and analyse tasks into four sections (slightly tongue-in-cheek): Ignore, Delay, Delegate or In-tray.  Within my In-tray I have Important, Middling Important and Slow Cook activities.  In my working session I aim for a third of my time doing library admin/tidying, a third on day-to-day management and a third on planning/analysis. I aim to offer something for every sector of the school community over the academic year: young children, older children, staff, governors, families, children in transition from primary to secondary school, wider communities.  Some initiatives involve several sectors, others are specific.  I base them on reading celebrations through the year. I meet regularly with senior staff. I may get an hour or two a week of Teaching Assistant (TA)  or volunteer parent help.  This usually waxes and wanes. Teachers or TAs deal with classes in the library for their weekly timetable slot, usually not on the day I am in.  If I am in when a class comes in I showcase books to them, teach information skills and help them choose suitable books.
I also advise staff on curriculum resources, both information books and fiction.  To get involved with this takes time, communication, advertising my willingness to help and being pro-active: see what’s going on in the school, what the current priorities are, what wider education priorities are and offer support to the right person in the form of a workable project.
Independent learning
I encourage independent use of the library by staff and pupils.  If things don’t work out, for example, staff complain that the library is always a mess, I give them pointers and suggest solutions: training up pupils to shelve daily for example, instructions for using the computer system on the noticeboard, contacts for troubleshooting, using a message book etc.   I train volunteers and TAs in better use of the library and resources and information skills.  
Reports, reports, reports
I offer regular feedback in the form of termly reports to the Head and senior staff, including data analysis (borrowing figures, use of library by particular groups, eg Gifted and Talented, Pupil Premium children) and pre/post evaluation of projects.
Time management
It’s not all achievable in 3.5 or even 7 hours a week.  I write emails, long term plans and term reports in my own time and read librarianship and education literature and professional social media to come up with ideas too, but I can often use these for more than one school.  Life gets complicated when I have SLS meetings to attend, but they are invaluable for sharing ideas and catching up on my colleagues’ activities.

As I said, communication, strategic management and planning are key, as well as confidence, a sense of humour and a long term vision for the school library's place in the centre of school life.

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