I am very fortunate where I work in that we have an ample budget and a supportive leadership team who value our libraries immensely. This enables us to run great libraries. We are constantly able to change and create exciting and extravagant displays, successfully designed to entice young people into them. This is something we are often praised for and, make no mistake about it, I absolutely love this praise. I am a glutton for a compliment and I do think having an attractive learning environment is very important. It isn’t, however, as important as the impact the people who run a library can have. I sometimes feel very little is known about what librarians actually ‘do’ or how they facilitate the development of reading. This isn't anyone's fault except perhaps my own for not sharing what we believe and do widely enough.
I believe it is crucially important for all librarians to be acknowledged and valued as educators, not just ‘administrators’ of tasks. I don’t just mean the formally employed ‘teacher-librarians, whom we know work closely with class teachers and children. I mean also the locally hired librarians who are reaching out to our students every day and through every act they do, big or small, and are enabling our children to become readers for life. In my own work place our locally hired library team are very significant players in our success and help massively in developing our children as ‘readers for life’. I am not sure that even they themselves, always realise what an impact they have.
My own team encourage reading in countless ways. Before school our Early Year's librarian can be seen reading with individuals and small groups of children having fun and enjoying stories. Teachers highlight to our librarians which children need help with phonics or decoding and our team are there to help. During the day our team are booked by teachers to support literacy based activities. This might take the form of taking small groups to develop particular reading targets, be it AF2 to develop ‘Reading with Expression’, or AF to develop ‘Reading for Comprehension’; or it might take the form of taking a ‘guided-reading’ group during a regular lesson. Our senior librarians are involved in giving advice on referencing, running library councils and library monitor programmes as well as assisting students create their own book talks.
I can go on almost infinitum… our librarians are involved in choosing and sharing texts that help develop the children socially. Their knowledge of our stock is phenomenal so they are there to help teachers and parents choose suitable age appropriate books for our youngsters. They set up and run competitions and activities which help our youngsters develop as researchers; they share weekly ‘reading extracts with our students encouraging them to branch out and try new genres and they are there to help the teacher-librarian with ‘reading boosting’ ECAs.
In my own library our shared vision is one where we aim to create life long lovers of reading and books and do whatever it takes to get there. I strive to ensure that our whole team believe this as it is central to creating empathetic, rounded, compassionate global citizens ready to face the world. We know that for most students having a lot of books sitting on attractive shelves won’t make this happen and we all have a shared belief that leading our students to the books, encouraging them to make good choices that will switch them on as readers is all of our responsibility. So whilst we are, in a sense, ‘show cases’ of an attractive library and whilst we do have to perform administrative tasks, our team of librarians should be involved in creating lovers of books and reading.
So to sum up, gone are the days when a library team’s primary role is to keep shelves tidy, catalogue and stamp out books and chase up on overdues. Make no mistake, these are ‘tasks’ and ‘duties’ that need completing, but it is an insult to any library team to pigeon hole staff to 'do-ers of administrative tasks' only. All modern thinking school librarians should be dynamic in their interventions and interactions with students and if they are skillful they should be sought out as ‘go to’ professionals who value developing our students as readers. Ultimately, it’s not the place, it’s the people who matter.