I often get asked when I tell people what I do something along the lines of, “Do we still need libraries? Isn’t it all online nowadays?” I have yet to come up with a correspondingly short answer to that (it’s normally something along the lines of what about lack of access / skills / literacy / money?!) but I read today some compelling evidence that public libraries in the UK, despite declining visitor numbers year on year, get vastly more visits than other places that at first glance you’d think would run away with the figures. And this is all in the context of city council budget cuts and lay-offs of staff. So here is a “re-blog” of that information from the ever-informative Ned Potter’s blog.
If libraries aren’t relevant in the digital age anymore, than neither are cinemas, museums, galleries, theaters, churches or professional football matches because libraries were visited much more than any of those last year. Was that what you expected?
Check out the slideshows Ned has put together with all of this information and the sources:
I worked in a secondary school library for just over one year, not very long in the scheme of things, but that experience taught me a lot and also helped me into my current job. Apologies for quite a long post but I thought I would share some of the things I learned.
I gained so much customer service experience and improved my skills as a result of working in a school library. Verbal communication was a daily challenge. Explaining library procedures to 12 year olds required real care so that they could take in the information. Instructions needed to be as concise and clear as possible, if-then statements worked, and always say please and thank you!
Which brings me to the improvement in my manners because treating people how you want to to be treated is essential when working with young people both to model good behaviour and maintain credibility. If I had to tell a student off, I then tried to be extra nice to them to show that even though their behaviour/attitude was out of line, I still respected them as a person and wanted to help them as best I could. It’s unrealistic to expect to be respected if you’re disrespectful yourself.
Consistency is another important aspect of customer service, especially in a school library. Consequences for overdue/lost books had to be applied consistently and information given had to toe the line as well.
Creative thinking was another aspect of customer service I developed because I spent a lot of time helping reluctant readers find books. This involved asking questions, figuring out what they were interested in outside school, making comparisons to pop culture, connecting improving reading and literacy with a life goal (like passing your driving theory test)…you name it, it was worth a try. Those experiences forced me think creatively and develop my interpersonal skills.
Teaching and instruction
Observing many teachers teach every day, something was bound to rub off. Through my school library experience, I learned a lot about teaching, learning styles, different instructional approaches and special educational needs, as well as Ofsted, school governance, assessment and national curriculums. I did also gain some experience in instruction and delivering material myself, which was one of the main goals I had set for myself for that year. I delivered training on the Accelerated Reader scheme to students and staff, both formally in training sessions and informally across the library counter.
This was a major aspect of the job as I was working with students most of the day in lessons and supervising them in the library outside lesson time. I had very little experience of behaviour management previously, so I was learning on the job. One advantage was that since I worked with so many different teachers, I could observe what they did that worked (or didn’t) and then try to implement that myself. I had to be very proactive about improving this skill as the behaviour was quite poor. This meant asking advice from others on how I could have dealt with a situation better and blagging my way onto a behaviour management training day put on for the teachers. I also had to learn to shout and sound angrier than I was, neither of which I ever got very good at.
The key thing I learned was that you had to be consistent all the time, because if you let a student off once or ignore something, you then undermine the whole system. However this was extremely difficult as it takes so much energy and of course everyone across the school had to be on board.
Positive redirection was another important concept. For example if a student was off task, instead of saying, “Stop doing that. You’re not doing what I asked. Why aren’t you doing xyz?”, you would get them to think and redirect themselves back on task by saying something like, “So what are you going doing to do next?” Smiling and looking really expectant helped too. Basically the idea was to focus on the positive rather than emphasising negative behaviour which only reinforces that this is what gets attention.
Though I supported lessons and teachers all the time, it was really a solo job. There was no head librarian, it was just me. This taught me about taking initiative, seeking advice and feedback, and time management. I also got involved with support networks such as SLN who were a vital lifeline when I needed support from other school library folks.
The library collection focused on titles that were on the Accelerated Reader scheme that would be of interest to our users. Unsurprisingly, most of the stock was young adult fiction. I was familiar with many of the books such as Harry Potter, Eragon and Twilight, but I sure did learn a lot about this subject area and the many wonderful authors who are also great library advocates – Alan Gibbons, Cathy Cassidy, Neil Gaiman, Tom Palmer, to name a few! I wish I could have read more of them (The Book Thief is still on my list). Whenever I go in a bookstore now, I enjoy having a quick browse of the teen section to see what’s new.
So there’s a year distilled into five points. I hope it was informative. If you are interested in school librarianship, here are some more resources to check out:
This week a great library advocacy campaign, the Library A to Z, is launching. As a backer of the project, I also wanted to do my bit by promoting it on my blog. The Libray A to Z is a simple concept really. They’ve created “a visual A to Z celebratingthe wide range of services, resources and facilities that make libraries so fantastic.” This week a whole mess of important people and the media will be receiving the Library A to Z packs. Check out the website for more information and to access the materials which are available to share under a Creative Commons license. I’ve also got some spare postcards if you’d like one!
A is for access; advice; answers; archives; art; audio books…
An illustration created for the Library A to Z project http://www.libraryatoz.org by Josh Filhol. Images released under a CC by 4.0 licence.
Here are a few reasons (if you need any more) why I think libraries are fantastic, from my perspective as user and library staff.
‘Third space’ – Working in a school library, I saw this aspect of libraries very clearly. The third space is somewhere that is not home or school where young people can go. The library while not exactly heaving after school still met a real need for students who needed somewhere to stay for various reasons and provided a safe and conducive place to do homework. Student groups would also use the meeting room space.
Literacy, especially digital literacy – No one would deny that libraries have a positive impact on literacy. Nowadays we talk about ‘digital literacy’ which includes online searching, digital know-how, and helping meet people’s information needs in today’s information society. It also covers issues such as authority/credibility and plagiarism. I’ve read about digital literacy in the news recently and in my studies. Research is showing that people struggle with digital literacy, yet it is highly desirable by employers. From first hand experience I can also attest that literacy is a huge focus in education now! The work that school (and other) librarians do in this area is brilliant, unmistakably needed and should be championed and expanded by leaders.
Facilitate and support knowledge and learning – This aspect of libraries has been so evident in my work in a conservatoire library. It is truly a living, breathing thing. Students come all the time to borrow sheet music to study and perform, books to support their learning in modules, CDs to inspire their creativity and to use the study spaces. We support many performances around the College by providing orchestral and choral sets, and even jazz vinyl for a guest DJ.
Place to save money! I love buying books, but it is nice to save some money by using my local library!
Place to discover new stories, authors, local news and events – My local library, as the local information hub, is a great place to browse new books and also learn about what’s going on locally.
But that’s enough from me, check out the Library A to Z, which puts this all together in a much more interesting and graphic way!
I'm a musicologist disguised as a librarian. I've been writing this blog as part of my PG Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Arts Education, at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Teaching Artist short course, Spring 2014