A woman and a child looking at books in a primary school library.

Staffing the primary school library

SLS UKAdvice

Subject: School fundamentals

Topic: World challenges

Year Group: All stages and ages

Synopsis: There are three elements to the well-organised library – space, stock and staff – that lead to a fourth, personalisation, which will help your pupils get the best from your library resources.  Here Gillian Harris from Tower Hamlets SLS looks at stock.

Gillian Harris

Gillian Harris
Tower Hamlets SLS

Librarian’s view:

We’ve discussed the space and books your library needs in previous posts. The final piece in the puzzle of how to run a primary school library is assigning the person or people who manage the library.  A library without a person running it is just a roomful of books – and those books will be getting dustier and tattier every month.

What’s more, the way your library is staffed leads to personalisation – the unique element that turns the library into a place that children can discover the sort of books that encourages a lifelong love of words.

Personalisation is matching the book to the child – something that can only be done where the person managing the library knows the books and the children and can tailor book suggestions on an individual basis.  I am sure we can all name a particular book that wowed us when we were younger or even a book that turned us on to reading. Once I’d read all the famous five books by Enid Blyton, mine was To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. But how do we ensure children today find that magical book?  Each child needs that personal recommendation, or to be given a special selection of books from which to find their inspiration. 

The library often falls under the remit of the Literacy Lead in primary schools, although this is quite a tall order, especially as the library serves the whole school and is not just a support for literacy. If the school has a teaching assistant who is keen and interested in running the library, many Schools Library Services, as well as the School Library Association, can provide training. 

Parent volunteers are another source of help. It is important to get commitment from parent volunteers and recognise that they are likely to move on when their children leave the school, so you need a strategy in place to replace them when this happens.

Pupil library assistants are tremendously valuable too, but will need to be managed and trained. In Tower Hamlets, we run a “primary pupil library assistant of the year” award to recognise the input these children have in the life of the library. 

The school community can provide many options, but my view is that a professional librarian coming to the school regularly, even for a few hours each week, to develop the library and manage the work of parent volunteers, pupil library assistants and teaching assistants will take a lot of pressure off the Literacy Lead and brings value for money in ensuring that the thousands of pounds you have spent on the library, books and furnishings over the years do not go to waste.

In terms of the book stock, a librarian’s forte is knowing the children’s book publishing field and being able to spend your school library budget wisely to the maximum effect.  A librarian keeps your library management system up-to-date quickly and efficiently. A librarian is also wired into the world of books and book promotion so will bring knowledge and information into the school about ideas for promoting reading. This means your school can take full advantage of the many offers, schemes and programmes that are constantly advertised to the library world and help you plan your Reading Year.

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