Library A to Z

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 celebrating the 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 www.libraryatoz.org by Josh Filhol. Images released under a CC by 4.0 licence.

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!

#LibraryAtoZ

My Annual Report

My husband was telling me a few months ago how a new requirement of his company’s parent company was to submit monthly progress reports. It’s a bit of extra work we said, but what a great way to track progress you’ve made, keep managers up to date with what you’re doing (and advocate for your work), and it would be valuable professionally to keep a record of what’s worked, what hasn’t and what you’ve learned. I thought “I wish I’d done this every month when starting my job last September”.

A few months later all the school librarians on the Yahoo School Library Network list-serve starting discussing putting together their annual reports, what people were including and sharing examples. I thought that even though I haven’t done monthly reports at least I can do an end of year report, and it seems to be normal practice amongst school librarians. Whether anyone will read it, who knows, but at least the record will be there!

So I set about putting together my report, and running various statistical reports on Alice, my library management system. It’s a pretty clunky piece of software so most of the reports I ran just to see what would come out the other end. I got some useful stats though and was pleasantly surprised to see that our total book loans were at nearly 12,000!

Vintage student report card. Phil Jern Flicker CC.

Vintage student report card. Source: Phil Jern, ‘report card 1944’, Flickr CC license.

In the report I included stats on borrowing by month, gender and Year group, and also some more topical sections. These covered highlights from Accelerated Reader (we had five ‘millionaire’ readers!), resources (adding of new book stock and regular uptake of the school laptops) and some issues we’ve had with usage of the library for events. In this document I was able to advocate for what the library and library staff contribute to teaching and learning in school by means of statistics and summarising our achievements. I was also able to highlight some issues we’ve faced, some of which had already been raised. I was proud of this bit of work and duly sent it to all members of the school Senior Leadership Team.

It got acknowledged by several members of SLT and all remarked on how useful it was and also that it was a good piece of evidence to show progress in our Ofsted ‘areas for improvement’ or AFIs. The stats on borrowing by gender were apparently surprising (boys borrowed more than girls). It was talked about at the SLT weekend away and they are considering whether it would be useful for me to do one every term. It also apparently spawned a photo op and news article featuring our AR millionaires in a local weekly newspaper.

So a piece of work I undertook solely on my own initiative which I thought might end up being most useful to only me, turned out to be quite handy in addressing school-wide issues such as Ofsted AFIs, giving a picture of reading and literacy across the school and it was actually read by possibly eleven people…well ten, excluding my husband 🙂

The Acquisitions Department

Since I don’t manage my own library budget, I’m in a rather interesting situation with regards to buying new books and replacing stock. I started advocating for some new book stock in about March. I had made a list of reasons based on student feedback and my own observations about our collection:

  • Students were consistently requesting more non-fiction titles, particularly boys but also some girls.
  • Our selection of higher level books (within the AR collection) was very, very sparse. Considering some Year 7s were already reading at level 6.0 and higher, and they still had two years to go on the scheme, there was a real need to increase choice in that area or else these students would literally run out of things to read.
  • Keeping the collection current: I wanted to get new, recently published books in series or from popular authors.

So I presented these reasons to management and was told to go for it. Once I knew I had some money to spend, I also started specifically asking students for recommendations, especially the reluctant readers. This turned out to be great move because by asking reluctant readers what they want, the library will then better reflect their interests (and so hopefully they’ll be more interested in reading) and it will give them a sense of ownership in the library since books they’ve suggested will be on the shelves. If only the turn around was quicker!!! So I’ve been putting together and submitting various book orders and they’ve all started arriving in the past few weeks. I enjoyed to a large degree pointing to the library store cupboard and saying to students ‘there are loads of new books in there so next year will be awesome…’ I also spent time before term finished adding shelves into the bookcases to make more room for all these shiny new books. Now I’ve just got to catalogue them all!

Postscript: we are going to be starting some reading intervention with Key Stage 4 (Year 10-11) next year. This is aimed at students whose reading ages are two years or more below their chronological age. I’ve raised the issue that we’ll need to get some more books in for them as well, particularly high interest/low ability and non-fiction books. So the ordering continues…

Delivering training on Accelerated Reader

Term has finished so I’m catching up on my a few blog posts that have been brewing since oh, about May… At the end of April I delivered some training to staff on the Accelerated Reader scheme. I lobbied for the training because we’ve had a lot of staffing changes in library lessons, and the extent of some people’s understanding of it consisted of a 2-minute conversation sotto voce with me at the beginning of their first lesson! So I proposed that we do some training for all staff involved in AR, and since no one else volunteered to run it I planned and delivered the session myself.

I had 1.5 hours to work with since the training was taking place after school during one of our ‘twilight’ CPD sessions. Several members of SLT (senior leadership team) were slated to attend – what an advocacy opportunity! – but for various reasons could not make it. So I had about 13-14 members of teaching staff present. One thing I took away was to actually count how many people attend anything you do. Ah, metrics and stats, how we need you.

Since I had a fairly long chunk of time and this was coming at the end of the day midweek, I was at pains to break the session up into chunks, rather than having a long, dull lecture. So the first half covered the basics of Accelerated Reader, how it works and how we do it at our school. Then there was an activity/sneaky ploy to reinforce everything they just heard. I created an Accelerated Reader ‘Treasure Hunt’ which took participants around the library finding books at certain levels, figuring out what content level a book was, looking up a book online on the AR Bookfinder, etc. The first team to complete it first with all correct answers got a bag of sweets. To my pleasant surprise, it was a big success as there were a lot of competitive people in the session. I’m actually planning to adapt the game for use with the new Year 7s in the autumn because I think actually figuring out how it works for yourself or within a team helps information sink in better than listening to me give a long spiel.

The second half of the training covered common issues and problems with Accelerated Reader and some solutions. I also put in a couple slides to advocate for the library which I called ‘What I can do for you’ and ‘What the library can do for you’. This included handling IT issues in lesson, recommending books and the capabilities of the library space and resources available (laptops, etc.). Finally the last 15-20 minutes was questions and discussion amongst participants. This was brilliant as there were several individuals in the room who had significant experience with AR and so shared a lot of best practice with everyone else.

We’re planning some more training for the autumn and also getting in a remote training session from the AR people, so will report on that as and when it happens.

The ABC’s of Info Lit

I am working on a number of projects at work now, one of which is an information literacy programme. I recently proposed a framework and scheme of work to management and am developing the material now. The winds are favourable and hopefully this will move forward soon.

The project grew out observations of the wider library community and of my school. The wider library community, especially in university and school libraries, takes a big role in delivering information literacy skills training. Every school librarian I’ve talked to does something like this.  At my school I’ve talked with teachers and observed lessons in the library and information literacy is a big gap in the curriculum which no one at present is filling. So I see this an opportunity for me to better support teaching and learning and a natural expansion of my role.

My own experience of information literacy has been fairly extensive, the biggest example of which is probably my Masters dissertation on amateur musicians in Restoration London (2012). I joke that even though I am a trained researcher, I still can’t find stuff sometimes and use Google and Wikipedia all the time. But the point is I know where to start looking and how to evaluate information; this is not necessarily an intuitive skill…

Unfortunately all the reference books in the library were disposed of before my time, so I will be working mainly with online resources. I envision the IL skills to be a bookable resource where teachers book their class in for training related to a specific piece of work. These skills would then be transferable across the curriculum. Topics I’d live to cover include:

  • Beyond Google- how to search online
  • Referencing and the copy/paste culture
  • Evaluating sources for trustworthiness and credibility
  • Research skills for life (job hunting, careers, health, etc.)

A (real) example case in point:  a group of Year 11 science students had been sent in to work in the library. I went over to challenge them on some behaviour, and in the process I asked what they were working on. The project was researching the uses of ethanol and the worksheet gave various instances (ethanol in medicine, etc.) that they were supposed to fill in with information they’d found. They hadn’t gotten very far, so I asked why not? They said they didn’t know where to start looking for the information they needed.

This is why we need info lit- to be able to find and use the information we need. Talking with other school librarians tells me this will definitely be an uphill battle against ingrained habits, but I at least want to give it a shot! Will keep you posted.

Thanks to Darren Flynn and other school librarians for letting me re-use their material!