As a librarian who works with schools I am constantly having to find different ways to engage teachers. Whether it is letting them know about a new resource we have bought, telling them about a new initiative or to offer support for their students research skills. I have have tried everything. From email and social media to newsletters and phoning but nothing seems to engage everyone.
I often wonder what is it that we are doing wrong. Why is it that teachers and Headteachers will ignore an email about some free new resource or not reply to a phone message. I have even tried the personal touch which means catching them in the corridor or trying to talk to them in the staff room at lunch time or break time which has had little impact as their minds are on their next task or understandably they are trying to get 5 mins peace.
Now I am not saying that every teacher ignores me this way but I certainly do not believe that every teacher knows what I can do for them. I would really like to find a way of making sure that every teacher knows what is on offer from their school librarian even if they then choose not to work with them. My biggest concern is that there are teachers out there who really don't know how to access their school librarian even if they have one.
Where I work if we keep pushing some schools will invite us to present at their inset days or in staff meetings and when this happens teachers are interested and surprised to hear all we can do. These sessions lead to the librarian being inundated with requests that are almost impossible to fulfil. It seems to be all or nothing and once the excitement dies down or teachers change we have to start all over again.
I often write about it being important for schools to embed information literacy and the use of the library and librarian at policy level but in order to do this our senior leaders need to know and understand that what we offer. Lance, & Kachel (2018) talk about several studies showing that schools who employ professional librarians see academic attainment improve but these studies don't seem to make a difference to the schools I work with. I began to wonder if I could find examples of school librarians being recognised by their schools and by demonstrating what others were doing might have more impact.
I sent a request on twitter and to the SLN (School Library Network), a group of school librarians who share ideas and best practice and generally support each other, in order to see if I could find some positive feedback.
I had some very interesting responses and decided to share it in the hopes that it might make a difference to other school librarians out there. I have decided to keep anonymous and have given each a number. Of the 16 responses, 13 were secondary school librarians, 2 were private school librarians and one was a primary school librarian. Of the 13 school librarians I had two from Scotland, the others were from England.
I am only going to focus on the none private school librarians this time as I want to show that great school libraries are possible in none private schools. Even in a times when budgets are poor I know there are still schools who are making decisions where the school library is seen as a valuable resource and needs staff and budget to make a difference to their students education. I am delighted to say that I did find some.
These school librarians are working hard at collaborating with teachers, supporting their students and achieving great things and I wanted to know how they were achieving so much. Did they get so much done because they were recognised by their SLT from the start or did they do something to change the hearts and minds of the schools they work in? I will do my best to share their stories with you in a way that makes sense.
In order to pull all of this together I will try and look at their responses linked to questions and then give some examples of good practice shared by these librarians at the bottom of the post.
Are you Head of Department and invited to HoD meetings?
This question raised some interesting answers. Only two responded that they were recognised as HoD in the traditional sense:
"I am very fortunate to be recognised as HoD. Much of this is because I had the most amazing predecessor who, with her line manager, built up the role and recognition of the librarian as a professional member of staff" (7).
"I am considered the Head of the Library" (2).
The others were seemed to have been given the title or took responsibilities without the pay.
"I am treated like a department head. I do improvement plan and control budget" "I don't attend HoD meetings but if I wanted to raise something I could" (5).
"I am very much HoD when it come to events like open evening etc!" (11).
"I am in charge of my budget but not classed as HoD. I have never been invited to HoD meeting" (1).
"I have the title of HoD but sadly not the pay. I used to attend HoD meetings but they are always after school which meant using up at least an hour of my own time. As I was only able to contribute occasionally, I stopped attending and now get the minutes instead" (6).
If librarians are not treated as Head of Departments then I wondered how they were perceived by the Senior Leadership teams and teachers.
How are you perceived by SLT and teachers?
Many school librarians say that their main problem for not being able to collaborate is the lack of understanding from the Senior Leadership Team and teachers. Some of the responses to this question felt very familiar:
"some teachers are amazing and it's proper collaboration. Others it's like pulling teeth and if left to just remember they never show" (5).
"Really the English teachers are great and positive about anything I propose. So I am going along to a team meeting to work out plans for World Book Day. Relationships with other departments is not as good. I think they value me because I do classroom work (I am a cover teacher). I have a good relationship with the IT teacher. I have a good relationship with senior management. My line manager is the Head and the three deputies are all great" (15).
"I am lucky here as both myself and the library are valued by LT and by staff. I am not considered a member of teaching staff, but I still do feel valued by the school. Staff are fully behind me in most initiatives, promotions, competitions which I try to do and I often collaborate with departments. I always feel encouraged, rather than dismissed, to consider new ides and ways of enhancing our students learning and well-being" (11).
"I do liaise with English very closely but getting other departments on board can be difficult" (1)
"I think staff respect what I do" (6).
However I was really pleased to have some very positive responses where the school librarian is creating policies and making a real role for themselves across the school:
"I mostly feel recognised and appreciated by teaching staff, and am quite often the 'go to' person for ideas on new books, research topics and lesson plan ideas" " I have been the school literacy lead, written the Reading for Pleasure policy and now organise DEAR time."14
"Despite the many frustrations of being a lone Librarian, I can honestly say that I am recognised by staff. I have worked with SLT and the Head of English on many projects over the years. I was recently given the role of literacy lead for the whole school. Within this role I have written and implemented a Whole School Reading for Pleasure policy." 9
"I am genuinely valued by staff and SLT" 7
"I've been treated as part of the teaching staff from day one, in that I was added to the 'teaching staff' email list. A small thing but it made a big difference in keeping up on things and boosted my confidence from the start. I was introduced on my first day in front of the entire school by the headteacher ad their new librarian. I didn't realise it at the time but my line Manager at the time was doing her best to ensure I was taken seriously and it worked. My current Line Manager is really amazing and [in a recent merger] I was named Head of Reading development. I need to produce a Library Improvement Plan that spans over two years and reflect back on my previous ones to ensure I have fulfilled those duties. I also have to present to the Governors every year on what the library has achieved and what I want to do in the future" 2
Do you get invited to curriculum meetings and INSET days?
I was interested to hear how involved the school librarians were in the curriculum and INSET. I was not surprised to read that some of them were never invited to these meetings and for some of them the onus was on the librarian to ask if they could attend:
"I have never been invited to a curriculum meeting but when I revamped my nonfiction area into a revision section I did get teachers involved the best I could as it would have a huge impact on the resources available to their students" (1).
"I don't regularly go to meetings but I can ask if I want to attend" (15).
"I am support staff and INSET reflects this. However I have never been prevented from attending any sessions I want to get involved with but the onus is very much on me rather than myself being automatically included. I am not involved in curriculum planning or mapping and I do have to regularly ask to be updated" (11).
Others however were very much more involved that I could ever imagine:
"I am involved with inset days - sometimes even running a session. Curriculum meetings less so but I am also not uninvited"(5).
"I attend teacher CPD sessions and INSET days so I am aware of whole school priorities and policies" (14).
"Last week I delivered a Teaching and Learning session to all staff focused on the importance of vocabulary, talking in detail about how to teach new words to students, and the Matthew Effect and how we can address it" (9).
"I am invited to Subject Leader meetings a few times a year. I use this as an opportunity to promote the library's services and to ensure our non-fiction collection is what the subject leaders want. This is a great way to introduce myself to the staff and let them know that the library was an important asset" (2).
"I deliver INSET training; advised on resources for curriculum and class collections and mainly on literacy events such as books weeks or author celebrations" (13).
One librarian responded in a way that I believe many school librarians feel. It is really difficult for a loan librarian to speak up. You are one person in a school of teachers making the role very difficult:
"I attend HoF meetings, so I am lucky and get chance to speak up ...even then it’s difficult...and trust me, I have tried to make things easy for them" (3).
Are you teaching information literacy across the school? If so can you tell me briefly what you are doing.
Many school librarians talk about their role in promoting literacy but I believe that a school librarians role is very much in teaching research skills so I wanted to know what these school librarians were doing in their schools. Some seemed very traditional working via the English departments, and I was pleased to hear that many had timetabled sessions for years 7 and 8:
"Timetabled via English and linked to research topics. Structured research skills lessons" (5).
"I lead library lessons and team teach with English teachers" (14).
I have a programme of study for year 7 and most of year 8. The lessons are an hour long and combine reading and information literacy. "The teachers completely let me do what I want to do, although obviously I circulate the plan beforehand" (15).
"I have successfully worked with our Science dept - Science Book Award" (3).
Others however were managing to do substantially more:
"For IL I use Google Classroom and upload my tasks to this area...pupils work through the tasks during library lessons ..these are my own teaching timetabled groups (18 groups over a 2 weeks period). I also do the research skills for EPQ - also through Google Classroom. All teaching staff now use Google Classroom - so a way in for me to see what’s being taught is to link into this...requesting the subject code so that I can see what’s being set - working much better for me now ..but I had to do this!" (3).
"I run sessions for A Level teachers on research and citation linked closely to their current topic" (9).
"I do assist in research lessons. I am heavily involved with both HPQ and EPQ, although I don't lead it. I see year 7 for their library induction and again in a Science lesson I cover non-fiction and an extremely basic introduction to research skills" (11).
"I have taken over the management of library lessons in order to make sure all were of good standard and covering similar background (though not necessarily present for or leading every session). My predecessor introduced the library lessons progress being included on termly reports. I have further developed the process of judging and trying to improve this progress with support of the Head of English and my line manager (Deputy Head for T&L)" (7).
"I do now teach research and referencing but it took a while to be invited to do so. I think the turning point when I got to know the teacher in charge of the EPQ which demands that time is given to teaching students about research, referencing and avoiding plagiarism. She had a huge workload as so many of our students want to take this qualifications and she was glad that someone else was willing to participate in teaching these skills. I regularly teach referencing to A'Level History and Geography students and also year 10 philosophy" (6).
Do you have any ideas to share to help school librarians ensure that they collaborate with teachers?
I wanted to give these librarians a platform to help other school librarians who, reading this will be saying how did these librarians manage this? Remember only 2 of the librarians who replied were treated as true Head of Departments from the beginning:
"the way to get recognised /collaborate with teachers is to offer as much help as possible. To make the library and its resources indispensable to them and to build personal relationships. I often send out resources which I think may be useful ad let staff know of new books, websites etc. It helps that I got myself included in the 'All Teaching Staff' email address book so I know what is going on and I am the person to speak to about booking ICT rooms and laptops" (14).
"I think for me the key has been to build strong relationships with the teaching staff, help them whenever I can, ask them to recommend resources and offer quiet space after school whenever practical" (9).
"You have to shout about what you are capable of. Create some guides to research, or a leaflet about referencing, or make a presentation, or ask to do an INSET day. My advice to a new librarian would be that it can be a long haul to getting your expertise acknowledged but you have to keep plugging away and, if you do a good job, teachers will spread the word amongst themselves" (6).
"I have promoted the library services heavily and involve staff whenever I can. I work hard to make sure the staff know what services the library can provide" (2).
This short sample clearly shows that the librarians who are recognised as Head of Department and part of the teaching team are able to support teachers and students more. Those that are not immediately recognised as Head of their Department or teaching staff have to work extremely hard to ensure that their role is recognised. When they are recognised, however, the amount that can be achieved is notable. The winners are the students and the teachers but without the understanding of the Senior Leadership Team the role of the school librarian continues to be a struggle but not impossible. It takes an exceptionally passionate librarian to keep trying when the odds seem to be stacked against you but as you have read the rewards are worth it when you begin to see change and collaboration begin to happen.
Finally we have the Great School Libraries Campaign who hope to address some of these issues by providing a school library strategy for England. If it works as well as the strategy is in Scotland we will be on the right path to ensuring that schools understand what the school librarian can do. To read more about this initiative please take a look at their website and think about submitting a case study.
Lance, & Kachel. (2018). Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us. Retrieved April 1, 2018, from Phi Delta Kappan: http://www.kappanonline.org/lance-kachel-school-librarians-matter-years-research/
About the Author
Elizabeth Hutchinson is a chartered librarian and a Fellow of CILIP. She has worked for the Guernsey Schools’ Library Service since 2003 and was appointed Head of Service in 2014. Runner up in the 2016 LILAC Information Literacy awards, she is an international presenter, a blogger and writes for CILIP Information Professional. She is on the Great School Libraries working party, CILIP SLG national committee and runs an online book club for school librarians.
She blogs at elizabethhutchinson.com
This blog was originally published on Elizabeth’s blog here.