A network for new and aspiring library professionals
Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you first become involved in the library and information profession?
I was a Library Ambassador at high school and college and I have always loved reading from a very young age. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I left college so I worked in my local supermarket as a Florist and Customer Service Assistant – which I have to say I really enjoyed. But, I knew deep down that I wanted to work with young people so when a job for a Library Resources Assistant was advertised at my local FE College in 2008 I knew I had to apply. Luckily I got the job and it was working with books too which was a bonus! I stayed at Preston’s College until 2014 after becoming a Certified and Chartered Librarian and it was then that I knew I wanted a new challenge, to work in a different sector and so became a School Librarian.
Currently you are a Learning Resources Centre Manager at Saint Wilfrid’s C of E Academy. Can you describe your current role and the specific skills you use?
I have been at Saint Wilfrid’s CofE Academy since 2014 and what a journey it has been. My role varies from day-to-day but mainly my role is to encourage reading for pleasure throughout the whole Academy, to support students with their reading and manage the day-to-today running of the library. Having patience is key, especially working with teenagers every day and because my role is so varied I have to be very organised. I run two book clubs and the Excelsior Awards so accommodating time to also read these books alongside the students can be quite challenging. We have issued 8500 books already this academic year and returning 90+ books every day. The LRC is a very vibrant and busy place which can accommodate 180 students during break and lunchtimes. I have a wonderful team of ten Student Librarians who help me a lot! I couldn’t do half the things that I do without their help. I have held numerous events to help promote reading for pleasure including author events, poetry events, Harry Potter Book nights, World Book Day events and Murder Mystery Evenings. It is really important that I show the students that reading is fun! I am also a member of CILIP, SLG and the SLA and I am currently Vice-Chair and Secretary for the SLA Lancashire branch.
You won SLA’s School Librarian of the Year 2018. Can you tell us more about the award?
I was nominated for SLA School Librarian of the Year 2018 by my line manager. She submitted a nomination form to the SLYA judges explaining about my personal qualities, recent projects, and how I have showed innovation, promotion and transformation of the library. After the longlist was considered and announced I had to produce no more than six sides of A4 of supporting evidence. This could be made up of lesson plans, action plans, objectives, policies etc. Two of the SLYA judges visited the Academy in June 2018 and they wanted to meet with staff, students, my line manager, parents and they also observed me conducting my guided reading group as well as my Excelsior Award group which was a lot of fun as they were more than willing to also get involved. They met for lunch with my Student Librarians and Book Club members and it was a very rewarding day, especially as in July I found out I had made the Honorary Shortlist. When I returned back to work after the summer holidays I was asked to produce a five minute video about the LRC which would be shown at the awards ceremony which took place in October 2018 at Browns in Covent Garden, London. The Awards day was just fabulous. Meeting the other four shortlists including a librarian from Delhi was just amazing and I was over the moon to be able to share this day with my line manager, other librarians, ex-librarians, and members of the SLA, suppliers and authors! It will always be a day that stays with me. I urge more school librarians to be nominated as it is a great experience to be a part of.
How do you select reading material for your school?
I use numerous suppliers for books for the Academy but it is always nice when they send a selection of books to look through and I like to get my Student Librarians involved in this too. I have a book suggestion box in the LRC which students can put suggestions in and I will do my best to order what I can. We recently had the Browns Books for Students Book Bus visit the Academy which was fabulous. Students and staff could browse the showroom to select books for departments and the LRC. I have also placed lists in form trays for students to complete. I really want to purchase what the students want to read and it has to be primarily their choice. When we started Accelerated Reader back in 2014 we did see that we had gaps within levels and we contacted some reps to come into the Academy to help us fill these gaps. I am a big reader especially of YA books so I try to donate and keep up to date with upcoming titles as much as possible. The School Librarian journal also has wonderful reviews of latest publications, and networking with other School Librarians through the SLA and SLN [a Yahoo group] is also great for sharing book recommendations. Regarding nonfiction revision texts the teaching staff are asked to submit reading lists and request resources relevant to the curriculum for our revision area which consists of revision guides, core texts and support texts.
What advice would you give to new professionals looking for post in the school libraries sector?
When I started as a School Librarian I really didn’t know what to expect as I had worked with 16+ students but working with 11-18 students is just fabulous. I didn’t have a degree (and still don’t) so even though I am a Chartered Librarian I didn’t know if it would be enough to get me the job! Knowing where to look for school library jobs is key – the CILIP website and SLA website are the first place to look but also look at vacancies on local school websites. It is a rewarding role – knowing you have encouraged reading for pleasure, found the right book for the right student and made someone smile is wonderful. The job is what you make it and if anyone wishes to apply for a school librarian role and wants some guidance please feel free to get in touch. Even if you don’t meet all the essential criteria, still apply! I learnt at a recent NLPN event that as long as you meet most of the essential criteria, experience can just be as key to being successful for interview!
Is there anything you would like to see from NLPN in the future?
Just keep doing what you are doing! I was very fortunate to be invited to one of your events in Manchester last year to talk to other professionals from different library sectors about being a school librarian and I am more than happy to attend other events to promote School Librarians in the future. I think every librarian should follow you on some form of social media as you are very informative, have great contacts and provide great events.