Subject: School fundamentals
Topic: Careers and school management: librarians
Year Group: All
Synopsis: A librarian can bring many extra benefits to your school, helping teachers prepare and students unlock their love of stories and learning. Here librarian Laura Bennett, from Tower Hamlets SLS, discusses the plethora of ways she’s used by primary schools.
Tower Hamlets SLS
I work as a Professional Librarian in Primary Schools in Tower Hamlets SLS. This means I don’t just spend my time in one school, I actually work in six schools.
There are naturally challenges working in so many schools. Although I get exposed to a lot of new ideas and practices (all of which I can pass on as examples of good practice to my other schools), in some I’m only there for a morning or an afternoon a week. At first glance, 3.5 hours a week does not sound like nearly enough time to do a professional librarian’s job, but the trick is to ditch any thoughts of what you should be doing according to the Official Guide to Being a Librarian and instead focus on what that school specifically wants to achieve and then how their library fits into those plans – any extra flourishes on your part are just the cherry on top.
Each school will use me differently. In some schools their focus is on developing children’s exposure to different texts, voices and literature styles, as well as having the library in use throughout the week. So, I’ll maintain the library; provide information for staff on the basics (eg, how to use the computer system) and spend the rest of my time running around to join eight to 10 diverse story times across all Key Stages in a morning. This is very doable!
Others will see me spending my time applying for funding and trying to plug holes in increasingly stretched school budgets to ensure children have access to the books that they need. This can often be a minefield of lengthy forms, all of which require you to justify why your particular school, out of all the schools struggling, should receive the funding, and it can be hindered by the challenges of finding the right funding scheme before you can get started. But us librarians have the time and knowledge to find these schemes and apply, especially when teachers do not.
One school uses me holistically as a sort of emotional support – reading and doing literacy activities with individual children one-on-one. This is not necessarily because the children need the reading support but because they would benefit from the attention of doing something literacy-based with the one adult in school who is not there to teach. In this school, the library becomes a privileged activity for a few kids who need the morale boost, as well as being part of the school’s wider focus to promote reading for pleasure.
Another school uses me as a literacy professional and expert in children’s literature. A recent trend following the pandemic, lowered reading levels and shocking reports on lack of diversity in children’s literature is for schools to devise their own ‘Must read’ lists of books for each class. The aim is for children to read the full list before the end of the school year, introducing them to different points of view, experiences, genres and literature formats. So far, I’ve written two whole-school schemes from Nursery all the way up to Y6, incorporating authors and characters from a range of backgrounds as well as a variety of genres (including poetry) and formats (especially comic books). I’m also used to support teachers’ classroom activities by recommending chosen texts and suitable excerpts, all of which are selected from the school library to ensure that the kids can find and explore them further later. I also point teachers towards the Local History resources provided by SLS, which are especially useful for those teachers who do not live or come from the borough.
Following story times I frequently get teachers asking for advice about how to read out loud. I’ve also run several modelling workshops for parents demonstrating how to read a book with a young child (eg, when do you ask questions about the story and is it OK to read the same book over and over again).
Finally, there are schools who use me for all the extra Reading for Pleasure flourishes. Aside from a bajillion story times each week, there are the Book Fairs to research and organise, the visits from the public libraries to encourage sign up for, working with parents to encourage family reading time (however and whenever that may be), competitions to think up and run, national competitions to take part in, World Book Day to sort out, authors to book, local SLS Awards to join in with and plan performances for, parental drop-ins plus book clubs for fluent readers, struggling readers and reluctant readers… The list goes on.
Whichever school I’m in, I’m always asked: “Six schools? How do you keep it all straight?”. The answer is that all my schools want what a librarian knows how to do, plus I have a profound love for Excel spreadsheets and a good, roomy diary to plan. The secret to success in this case is that there’s no secret!