3 aims that make our Great School Libraries campaign so important

Together we are stronger

School libraries are essential to our children’s education. School libraries increase our children’s academic attainment. Thankfully you don’t have to take me at my word as there are plenty of studies saying just that. We regularly hear about the more children read fiction the better they will do at school and recent research from the UCL Institute of Education confirms this. “Young people who read fiction have significantly stronger reading skills than their peers who do not” https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/news/2018/oct/fact-or-fiction-novels-come-top-reading-skills

The wonderful thing about school libraries is that we have another string to our bow. We can also support and teach inquiry-based learning which also impacts student learning. Dorothy Williams et al have carried out numerous studies into this. If you want the evidence then read this http://keithcurrylance.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/WilliamsWavellTLfeb2014.pdf

We are constantly hearing of schools removing their librarians in order to save money but across the country, there are, thankfully, still some very hard working passionate school librarians all wanting to do their best for their students and teachers. They work in schools whose budgets are being pushed to the limit and they are still finding ways to support their schools on a shoestring. Often alone fighting for their place in the school and the curriculum but it is time to stop doing this all on our own. Time to stop fighting our own corner. Time to come together and support each other regardless of past disagreements.

We come in all shapes and sizes. The biggest elephant in the room is qualifications, to have to not to have. Well, let me put this one to bed immediately. We have so much more to worry about! If you are a school librarian with no qualification at all or a school librarian with a degree but not a library one, or a school librarian with every qualification under the sun it really does not matter. We all believe that our schools need someone in their school library. We all know that students will do better in school with us than without us. This is not about us it is about our student’s futures. How can we fight between ourselves at a time like this?

We are stronger together! We have a clear opportunity to stand together and say that our students are important and we need to be in schools to support them. The aims of this campaign are threefold. Let me remind you of what they are:-

  • To secure school library funding

There are many school librarians who don’t know how they are going to continue supporting their students with the poor resources they currently have. Like any other department in school, they should know what money they are getting from the school budget. We are not saying how much, we know school budgets are tight, are just saying that as a department it does need some of the school budget to do the job it is there for. If we can raise awareness of the importance of school libraries to our Headteachers and the need for a budget to function properly our ability to support their students through literacy and independent learning greatly increases.

If your budget is good then you also need to join this conversation in showing what you are achieving with it. How is it impacting your students and teachers? We need your voices too!

  • To produce a national framework for school libraries

A national framework will not change your role dramatically if you don’t want it to. It is not a magic wand that will make schools instantly recognise the amazing work that school librarians do and start making demands of you. If a framework were produced it would work as a guideline for best practice, a path to something better for everyone in the future. No longer would we be struggling to put into words why school libraries and librarians are important. This document would highlight all the possibilities and opportunities that come from school libraries. You could use it to say look what we are already doing or look at what we could be doing. We want our students to have equal opportunities and this framework will support that.

  • Recognition of school libraries within the Ofsted framework

Schools don’t like Ofsted inspections. No school wants them but this is how they have been told they will be judged on their quality. How often has one of our schools been inspected and the school library is never mentioned? What does this say to the parents reading the inspection report or to the school who get outstanding? This worrying trend re-enforces the national lack of understanding of the role the school library has within teaching and learning. In ensuring that Ofsted recognises the work the school librarian plays in supporting independent learning, schools would be encouraged to look at what is happening within their libraries more. If you have a great library and are proud of what you do then this is your chance to shine. This is just going to help you tell everyone what a great job you do. If you feel you would need a little help, there are lots of school librarians out there that could and would support you.

What can you do now?

Talk positively about our campaign, talk to your teachers and schools about it. If you are not sure how then ask, we are more than happy to help! We are still looking for case studies to help build a picture of best practice throughout the country. We are going to release a brand new website in September along with the results of the questionnaire and would love to share your stories about what is going on in your school libraries. If a case study is just a step too far then send us a blog instead.

Please remember we are doing this for our students. Together we are stronger! Our children deserve great school libraries.

By Elizabeth Hutchinson, Head of Learning and Development, Guille-Allès, Guernsey.

Works Cited

Walker, R. (2018, October 17). Fact or Fiction, Novels Come Top for Reading Skills. Retrieved June 19, 2019, from UCL Institute of Education: https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/news/2018/oct/fact-or-fiction-novels-come-top-reading-skills

Williams, D., Wavell, C., & K, M. (2013, October ). Retrieved June 19, 2019, from Impact of School Libraries on Learning: http://keithcurrylance.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/WilliamsWavellTLfeb2014.pdf

Photo by Duy Pham on Unsplash

Winners Announced

We are delighted to announce the winners of our competitions who will be receiving a bundle of books for their school libraries.

Drum roll please…

The Lucky schools for the ASCL competition are:- 
Wymondham College
Cockburn School


The Lucky schools for filling in the questionnaire are:-
Ark Isaac Newton Academy
Northfield School and Sports College
St John’s Catholic Primary School, Camborne
St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School


We hope you enjoy your books!

Thank you to everyone who took part. The results of the questionnaire will be released in September.

Passion and commitment are key to successful primary school libraries

As a literacy and literature adviser and university lecturer I have visited many primary schools and worked with many hundreds of teachers, English subject leaders and senior managers. I have found that although most primary schools have libraries there is no uniformity in provision or access.

What are the Issues?

  • Class libraries or school libraries?

Due in large part to budget limitations many schools prioritise either classroom book corners or a central library. Both are of value – children need instant access to a well-stocked class library but also the opportunity for regular access to a wider and richer resource to select books to read for pleasure and information.

  • Who is responsible?

The responsibility for libraries in primary schools varies, most frequently it is the English subject lead who has the responsibility  and she/he may line manage a teaching assistant. The time TAs have available to support the library may vary, they frequently have other commitments in the school. In some cases, parent volunteers help manage school libraries. School librarians are a rarity in primary schools.

  • What about funding?

The amount of money varies for book stock and furnishings. If tied in with building works core funding can sometimes be found for furniture. Often funding is minimal and part of the English budget. School parent associations sometimes support with fund raising

  • How well is the space used?

Making good use of the library space needs planning. Timetabling regular slots for class visits to the library for browsing, research and story times are important. In addition, thought needs to be given to creative and appropriate use of the resource, for example for book groups, ‘buddy’ reading and parent and child story times.  It is easy for sought after spaces to be monopolised by intervention groups or at the other extreme be empty for the majority of the day if staff are not encouraged to use them.

  • Is the value of the library recognised?

The degree to which the school library is considered central to the quality of education provided varies enormously in terms of promoting reading for pleasure, supporting the curriculum and children’s development as critical users of information. This is pivotal in terms of ensuring a well-used, managed and funded primary library.

As a former English subject leader myself I understand these tensions. A key factor in the successful development of a primary school library is the passionate commitment of individual members of staff supported by a senior leadership team who value the library and see it as central to the quality of education rather than an add-on.

I recently had the opportunity to visit two successful primary school libraries in Lewisham, South East London and speak to the individuals responsible for them. Here is what I found out:

Firstly, I met Karen Robertson, Assistant Head and English and Curriculum Lead at Holbeach Primary School. Karen described the background to their very attractive school library.

‘We have always had a library since I’ve been here, but it was a lot smaller and the books were very old. It was extended four/five years ago. Lewisham had wanted us to use the space for new classrooms, but we fought for the space, the head teacher was passionate about books and reading so instead of losing a library we extended it taking over what had been a computer room. ’

The school had very clear aims in what they wanted to achieve:

‘The school is in quite an area of deprivation with quite a few children who don’t have any books at home. What we want to do is to make a difference to their lives because reading is key for their futures. We wanted it to be a space that was inviting for all of the children in the school and encourage them to read and enjoy reading.’

She told me how the children were involved:

‘Children helped design the shape and layout, they wanted it to be exciting.  Then it was designed and built by an outside company. It creates a really nice space.’ The school are very lucky to have a creative and skilled premises officer who built a lovely poetry tree.

Maintenance & organisation

Karen described a team approach to managing the library. She has overall responsibility; a Teaching Assistant has responsibility for tidying for half an hour a day with Y6 junior librarians helping at lunchtime. Another TA is responsible for display. Class teachers choose a timetabled slot to bring their classes and children can borrow books to take back to class or take home.

The library is also used for reading buddies in Y1 and Y6. Children find a comfortable space and read with their buddy. Karen commented on the benefits of this for the year sixes as well as their year one partners.

Karen made sure that an introduction to the library was a priority for the reception children and great fun too:

‘I Introduced the library to reception during world book day with a bear hunt. I told them my teddy bear has lost his friends and I think they are hiding in the library. I brought them here and read ‘Where’s My Teddy.’

The response from the children and visitors has been very good:

‘A group of visiting heads and deputies were stunned by the library. They interviewed some of the children who talked about how much they love the library and want to come in more.’

Karen is continuing to work on developing the library, the book stock, in particular fiction and opportunities for children to access the wonderful space.

I also visited Stillness Junior School where Ruth Horsman is a teaching assistant with responsibility for the library.

I asked Ruth how she became involved

‘I became a parent volunteer 4 years ago and gradually got more involved. My first ever job was in a community library and I always loved it.  At that time there was one parent coming into the library to keep it tidy. Classes were coming in to choose books but there was no dedicated time to read the books here. I felt this was such a lovely space, but it was only open when teachers came with their classes. I put it to the Head Teacher that I could open the library one lunchtime a week as a space for kids to come in and read. That grew and grew. I started talking other parents into it as well. Gradually people started realising the benefits of a space [for the children] that isn’t the playground.

How is the library used now?

We now open every lunchtime – run by parent volunteers. We also open three afternoons after school for half an hour for parents to choose books and read with their children.

We are very lucky to have this and a leadership team who can see how important it [the library] is. There are lots of kids who think the library is the heart of the school. Every lunchtime they see it as their space – they own it! Children help choose the books. Pupil librarians help the parent volunteers tidy.

What is the value?

What we do here is completely separate from what goes on in the classroom; it’s reading for pleasure.

Ruth ensures she responds to children’s interests and extends them too

‘One child said to me my teacher says I’m not allowed to read any more ‘Wimpy Kids’ I’ve got to read something more challenging. I say take a Wimpy kid out but take something that’s more challenging as well.’

Ruth has expanded the range of reading material by adding comics and newspapers and a collection of graphic books. The Guinness Book of Records is proving very popular. The PTA have funded a subscription to the Beano. Ruth is also trying to ensure a good balance between responding to children’s interests and expanding them with encouragement to read more widely.

‘There’s a reading challenge too – if you read all 30 books in a year you get a gold certificate. I have had parents say I can’t tell you how great this is. They are trying to read new books, they are discovering new authors. It’s not compulsory though and doesn’t work for all.’

How else is the library used?
‘From September I have been paid for 6 hours a week to work with groups of children from year six during guided reading time. I choose the books pushing their reading ability. The parents are happy to buy books, and if they can’t buy it, I borrow from the community libraries. Children are talking about the book so much some groups say I already know what happens – so this term I’ve got three separate books.

We have a discussion at the beginning of each session, read a bit together then have another discussion at the end, I say read 3 chapters at home. I want it to be interesting and fun. We’ve been doing a bit of philosophy for children and exploring the wider themes in the books too.’

The library is also used for reading buddies from year 6 and 2 and a celebration of comic book making and was well used during the school’s book festival.

Future plans

Ruth told me that although the space for the current library will go in the next few months, a new library is planned at the front of the school to be funded by Lewisham council, with fund-raising from the school for an additional, mezzanine level. She is also making plans with the Infants school to run a boys’ books and brunch workshop and a reading for pleasure with your child session with parents.

Ruth is keen to work across the school including in other year groups and also to work more closely with the teaching staff:

‘It feels like what I am doing here is very separate to what the teachers are doing I would like there to be more of a connection’

Ruth plans to attend the OU/UKLA teachers’ reading for pleasure group in Lewisham next year hopefully with a member of the school teaching team to make more links in terms of a whole school drive to promote reading for pleasure. She is also keen to explore possibilities for training from the School Library Association as she is not a librarian.

Ruth is very proactive and keen to make a difference, not only in her school but across the borough, linking up with other schools.

‘I have started to set up a small network, it’s tiny at the moment, 4 or 5 schools all with a library or setting one up. We try to meet once a term and share practice for example managing fund raising.

She has also set up the Lewisham Primary book awards being piloted this year with 15 schools in conjunction with Moon Lane Bookshop. The emphasis is on inclusivity and books reflecting the diversity of borough.

These passionate and committed individuals are making a big difference within their own settings and through networking potentially more widely too. The first steps are for school leaders to recognize the impact a successful school library can have on the quality of education.

As Professor Teresa Cremin has stated: ‘A quality school library is every child’s right.’

Written by Sue McGonigle has over twenty years’ experience as a teacher, English subject leader and Deputy Head in inner city primary schools.



Case Studies Made Simple!

When we share we get more!

There are two strands to collecting data for the Campaign. One is quantitative – that’s being done via the survey – and the other is qualitative – which is why we need case studies. Both are important but the latter is where we will be able to show our impact and the more we have, the wider and more diverse we can demonstrate the value of what we do, the better. What we need to show is the difference having a school librarian makes.

Okay, I know that schools without librarians celebrate World Book Day, have author visits and run book groups. But I also know from my own experience and from talking to others how much more impact all these activities have when they have the input of a librarian. Somebody to follow up events, to encourage participation, to use the activity as a springboard for even more ideas to get students reading.

I’ve received several case studies already but I’m greedy and want more. The ones I have range from reading interventions to running book groups to writing clubs for disadvantaged pupils to information literacy lessons. It doesn’t have to be an all-singing all-dancing project (although if you’ve got one of those and want to let us know about it that’s great), even the smallest thing can have an impact as we all know.

  • Do you deliver an information literacy session on Keywording/search skills? Did you notice students were better at searching afterwards, that they were getting more accurate results quicker? Ask then if they found the lesson useful and the impact it’s had? Ask their teacher if they’ve noticed any difference?
  • Do you create regular books displays? Do these result in more borrowing of the displayed books, students asking for books by the same author or more books on the same topic?
  • Do you shadow any national or local book awards? Does your group attract new students to the library? How many carry on visiting and using the library afterwards? How many read outside their comfort zone, are introduced to new authors and/or genres?

There is a template to use for your case study but it’s only a guide and we’re not looking for a huge amount of information. You may not be able to fill in every section fully – that doesn’t matter. The important thing is the outcome, what difference it made, what impact it had.

For example:

WHAT: Book talks to year 7 library lessons. There are 8 lessons over a period of two weeks. A selection of stock was chosen to promote to the groups, a mix of new titles and contemporary classics, including fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels and poetry.

WHY: To increase students’ knowledge about books, authors and resources in the library. To encourage them to try something new.

REFERENCE: General discussion about introducing new books to classes on School Librarian Network (online forum).

OUTCOMES: – An increase in loans of the books featured in the book talks.

  • An increase in loans of books by the same authors.
  • An increase in Year 7 knowledge about the library stock.
  • More students asking for help during library lessons to find “something interesting to read”.
  • Students discussing the books they have borrowed and read, recommending books to each other in lessons.
  • 20 books were discussed in each lesson; on average 10/12 were borrowed and approximately half of students who returned those asked for further books to read for pleasure.
  • Student remarked “I never knew the library had this type of book” (referring to graphic novels).

LEGACY: To ensure book talks are a regular feature in the Year 7 library lesson programme. Also to consider extending this to Year 8 lessons to introduce new books.

ADVICE: – Feature a wide range of books and different genres in the talks – Ensure you have a good stock of other books by the same author – Will need regular new stock added to the library to use in the book talks, particularly if you expand this to other year groups.

Ready to try yours? Here is your case study template.

Barbara Band  School Library and Reading Consultant

Photo by Sophie Elvis on Unsplash

We need your case studies! How do I do that?

Case Study – simple example

School Librarians are constantly moving forward, thinking of new ideas and trying new things out. As Liz Free says above ‘[Librarians] bring with the expertise that enhances the learning preparation with teaching staff” and sometimes that is very much based on thorough research and reading around the topic, like in the case study example found here.  However many changes made in school libraries are made through conversations with teachers, an awareness of curriculum needs and sometimes even a gut instinct that something needs to change. We don’t all have time to do the research first before we try something out.

We know that it takes time to write a case study especially if you have to find the research and the evidence of outcomes so I wanted to share with you one that I did recently. I wanted to ensure that our students were using our ebook collection more, it was that simple. My case study clearly states just that and ok when I started to fill it in I realised that I had read something recently that probably helped my decision but I believe I would have gone ahead and tried it anyway. I knew I had to do something or stop paying for the ebooks and I was not ready to give up just yet.

I have uploaded my own case study so that you have another example that shows something simpler. There are times when we do have to do lots of research for our big projects, but for our everyday changes, that also have an impact, we use different methods to make those decisions for change. I hope it helps persuade more of you to create your own case studies and send them in.

To fill in your own case study download it here. Case Study Template