Thoughts on School Librarianship (so far)

I’ve been in my library job for nearly two months now, so I thought I’d share a bit about what I do (because it’s half term and I’ve got the time!).  This is my first library job ever, so I came with an open mind though I knew a fair amount about the field from job hunting, conferences, volunteering in archives and libraries and my own research.  My school has about 1,000 students and the library holds over 3,000 books (mainly fiction) and has 25 computers.  The library is open before and after school, during break and lunch and it’s also used as a classroom for reading lessons.  It’s considered a bookable resource so teachers can also book it for their lessons if they need a classroom.

I’m job sharing the library work with a colleague, but since she didn’t start until October I was on my own for the first month.  I’m responsible for general library duties including cataloguing, issues/returns, shelving, IT support and supervising students in the library.  I also handle room bookings for the library and two other meeting rooms within it.  I spend a lot of time checking students are reading on the right level, helping the reluctant ones choose books and generally policing behaviour in the library.  I’ve also had a few different systems to learn:  Alice (library management system), SIMs (school information management system used for timetables, attendance and logging behaviour), and also the Accelerated Reader scheme and all the various school rules I’m meant to enforce!  I enjoy helping out in the reading lessons, especially the Years 7s who are new to the school, the ‘proper’ library system where you have to check books out and the Accelerated Reader scheme.  The scheme is American (I actually did it when I was in elementary school in Louisiana) and helps measure student progress and ‘accelerate’ their reading/literacy skills.  Students take a test three times a year which gives them a reading age and range of book levels, they then choose a book at their level and take a quiz when they’ve finished which tests their comprehension of the book.  If they pass at 80% or higher they move up one level, if not they stay on the same level.  I like the scheme and it seems to be successful.  It certainly is a very clear way to show student progress since they record their progress in their reading journal at every fortnightly reading lesson.

In addition to my library work, I’m spending about two days a week doing support work in the music department.  Since I’m not a trained teacher (though I have music teaching experience) I don’t actually do any teaching but I support the Year 7-8 music lessons.  This has been fun, but also a big adjustment in terms of teaching method.  We use a new method called ‘Musical Futures’ that I’m growing to like more and more.  It’s very non-traditional and non-classical, where music theory, learning to read music and and learning an instrument are not emphasised much at all.  Basically it’s the opposite of how I learnt music!  The idea is to ‘hook’ kids in by making music very accessible where everyone can get involved and have fun making music.  Then later they can progress on to learning an instrument, reading sheet music etc.  So we use a lot of percussion, what I call ‘rock band’ instruments (guitar, piano, drum kit, bass) and learn various 4-chord pop songs and some basic musical elements such as pitch, tempo and dynamics.  Since music is compulsory for Year 7-8, Musical Futures seems to work well in engaging both the keen musicians and students who are just there because they have to be.

I’ve also been working  on a project on reading motivation which I hope to blog about soon and have another few projects brewing.  Thinking about my future and CPD, I want to work through the CILIP competency framework (aka the PKSB) and set some goals of things I want to accomplish this year in terms of librarianship skills.  It’s been great so far actually working in a library because a) I quite enjoy it, b) I’m earning money, c) I’m being challenged and d) it’s giving me the experience I need to get on a postgrad LIS course!


Radical Library Camp

© is the copyright symbol in a copyright notice

© is the copyright symbol in a copyright notice (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I attended Radical Library Camp in Bradford last month. The organizers were a mix of radicals from different library backgrounds, and the same could be said for the attendees! While I wouldn’t have considered myself ‘radical’ before, after going on the camp I think I am! There was a lively Twitter feed (#radlibcamp) on the day and I believe someone is archiving the tweets; in addition there is the Wiki for more information.

In the tradition of other library camps and un-conferences, the day was very chilled out and no frills. Everyone brought food to share and about 10 or so people gave pitches on sessions they wanted to run. All the sessions I went to were very much discussions rather than formal presentations. Yes, there was a bit of ranting about this or that institution or professional body, but discussions did come back to how to make a practical difference and impact on issues we cared about.

Here are some thoughts about the sessions I attended (apologies for the length!):

  • Library Spaces/Design

This session started with everyone creating their ideal library space on paper, either with pictures or words. A big discussion ensued when we were going around sharing what we’d put down:  the pros and cons of desks. The point was raised that users being forced to communicate with librarians sat behind desks reinforced inequality and outdated power relationships. It was suggested that users are loath to ‘interrupt’ a librarian working at a desk, and that the desk is seen as a barrier. A new ‘desk-less’ model that’s been adopted at a university library is the idea of ‘roving’ librarians. The librarians walk around and are (and are seen to be) accessible to students. They also carry iPads for searching the catalogue, etc. However in my school library, sitting behind the desk means I can look at the Year 7s at eye level, whereas standing up I loom over them…Clearly the roving solution isn’t for everyone, but it is good food for thought.

Another thread was the importance of consulting users when building or renovating a library space. And also, how you consult is important, i.e. types of questions asked has a big impact on results.

A final issue raised was future-proofing your library when you have a transient population (such as students) and when technology is constantly changing. Two solutions were offered:  investing in the basics (like desks) and investing in power and data (e.g. the cloud) is always worthwhile.

  • Radical Management

I went to this session because I’ve noticed that managing and managerial experience has been a theme throughout the library job world. There were only a handful of people there who were actually in managerial posts, but it was an interesting discussion nonetheless. Opening questions asked included: Can you become a manager without selling out? How do you make the leap to management?

Some of discussion points were:

You can effect change either from within an organisation or from the outside (and obviously managing allows you more opportunities to do that from inside).

One should have good management practice regardless of your politics.

Fairness is not about being liked.

Authentic leadership means staying true to your values, as much as you can whilst working within ‘the system’. Ideally you should work in an organisation whose mission and values match up with your own. However the point was raised that we need to eat, therefore might have to take a less than ideal job just to put food on the table…

The barrier between professional and non-professional staff and the idea of ‘selling out’ if you move up.

  • Copyright

The consensus beginning this session was that copyright law is broken, therefore the discussion began with asking what constuctive ways are open to us to challenge/protest copyright as librarians. The Creative Commons licensing scheme was mentioned and somehow the discussion became a bit of a rant against a certain professional body at which point, @Mariacotera kindly stood up and enlightened us as to the efforts that various organisations and government bodies are making to lobby for changes to copyright law.

The Copyright and other Legal Matters (CLM) committee of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) is lobbying for the library community on this issue and working with the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) to get clarity on and change copyright law. They recently won a victory (and set legal precedent) with the Marrakesh Treaty, which addresses the rights of blind and print-disabled people.

The conclusion was that lobbying personally and supporting the lobbying efforts of bodies such as CLM and IFLA is an important way to effect change in copyright.

  • International Perspectives on Radical Librarianship

This session looked broadly at the organisation IFLA and a recent report they commissioned on trends in society. General awareness of IFLA and their work was slim at Radical Library Camp so this session was well worth it, though there was a small turn out (but all of us internationals at camp were there!). IFLA, in short, is the global voice for librarians. CILIP is an IFLA member, so if you’re a CILIP member then you also have member benefits with IFLA. The IFLA Trend Report  was commissioned in 2012 and the process culminated in the identification of five high level societal trends which impact the library and information world. This year is given over to discussion of the report amongst the library and information community and at the next IFLA conference policies will begin to be nailed down. The trends are:

  1. New technologies will both expand and limit who has access to information.
  2. Online education will democratise and disrupt global learning.
  3. The boundaries of privacy and data protection will be redefined.
  4. Hyper-connected societies will listen to and empower new voices and groups.
  5. The global information economy will be transformed by new technologies.

IFLA have published a short report called Riding the Waves or Caught in the Tide? Insights from the IFLA Trend Report, which is the starter for digging deeper into the trends. I found the trends resonated with issues raised in the New Librarianship MOOC I completed recently, and also it is a great way of articulating the big information issues of today.

  • Wrap-up

A final plenary session wrapped up the day and revolved around how to take the Radical Library Camp idea further. The current social media platforms will be continued and there was definitely universal consensus for another camp. I found the day very useful, interesting and a launching pad for learning more about issues that interest me. It was great hearing non-mainstream opinions and views from library radicals, and seeing how others address problems and issues we’re all concerned about. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next one!