Pimp Your Library! Webinar, by Prity Shah

School Libraries Group organised a hugely educational and insightful webinar on 25 October 2021 called Pimp Your Library. The morning was opened by welcoming speaker Kevin Hennah to talk to us about Maintaining Relevant School Libraries. 

Kevin Hennah has over 20 years of Library/Retail experience to coach businesses to increase sales and customer numbers through merchandising strategy, innovative use of space and sales. Challenging traditional ideas, Kevin has carried out approximately 2000 onsite consultations at libraries internationally and helped many achieve a significant increase in loans by creating what he refers to as the ‘post-Internet library’ – a level playing ground between print and online resources.

Kevin’s opening slide read “Change is inevitable, however maintaining relevance is your choice” and he went on to introduce some very interesting ideas including:

  1. Genrification, showcasing a few libraries. 
  2. Inspired Library Layout and Seating.
  3. Low-budget Library Makeovers

Genrification in simple terms can be described by keeping collections together and not being too strict about Dewey. It involves grouping a collection of stand-alone fiction/non-fiction collections curated to our library needs and driven by curriculum. He taught us about creating cleverly merchandisable shelving spaces and the importance of weeding our stock to relevance. Shelves can be portable and can be broken up to create a flexible learning space e.g. Arts and Expression can be further divided into subject headers like Design, Woodcraft, etc. You can used interesting sign labels like Jaws, Paws, Claws instead of Animals for factual books and one can use signs with graphics in the fiction lounge e.g. a sign for Horror, Fantasy, Mystery, Classics and so on and Kevin shared ideas on how to create 3-dimensional signage. He showed us how little things can make such a difference like My Story, Do you Dare, Funny Faves, which can be used within fiction. Eye-catching signage should be used at external entrance of library. 

Kevin emphasised that the use of laminated paper card signs was outdated and not environmentally friendly and should be replaced with up-to-date trends like putting the product at the end of aisles, using series holders made out of clear perspex to show covers, use of more front facing covers for retail visual merchandising which can be fused with retro library furniture. He gave us ideas of decorating windows with cut outs and the possiblility of marketing the room as a difference space e.g calling it The Cube.  

As Kevin says: ‘The foundation of keeping any business relevant is identifying and nurturing a Point Of Difference’

A healthy print collection is without doubt a unique point of difference for libraries – but we cannot do what we have always done and expect to maintain stats. It’s critical that we develop innovative visual merchandising strategies for the physical collection – and that means at least ‘massaging’ Dewey!

If you want to modernise a school library, I would thoroughly recommend looking at some of Kevin’s suggestions and attending a workshop to maintain relevance.  His twitter handle is @Kevin_Hennah.

Following Kevin’s interesting seminar, we had a very moving account of how Sue Bussey, who is part of the School Libraries Group Committee, started her own library from scratch and how she developed the entire space to grow into a successful buzzing library at Derby High School. Over 25 years ago, Sue had the immensely hard task of designing an empty room, stocking it and staying relevant over the years to turn the school library into an effective LRC. Sue explained the challenges of dealing with contractors, SLT, external planners and how the students all became a part of the wonderful library it is today.  Sue has a wealth of professional experience within schools and remains a very active contributor to Great School Libraries Campaign. 

Next, there was an introduction to a library management system run by PSP, called Infinity Library Management System. This is a cloud-based system allowing access to resources whilst on the move. The system can be tailored to each school’s branding and Nick Hunt mentioned the use of LibPaths, a personal record of your search journeys.

Another provider of LMS called Libresoft demonstrated their cataloguing system. Andrew Woods said their company had over 1000 schools subscribing and the demo he gave of the system was interesting. 

Following the commercial companies, we were treated to a personal experience of a library rescue by Charlotte Cole.  Charlotte is a new member of the School Libraries Group and works as a library coordinator in a large secondary school.  Her school library was flooded with a burst of overhead pipes during the summer and the library had to be evacuated with all the stock removed and housed in a separate area.  Charlotte has had first-hand experience of rescuing all the resources and is now trying to get the library back to normal by distributing the book trays to classes for the new school pupils to get some access to library books. The role of a librarian is the custodian of the resources and Charlotte has tried her best to mitigate the loss and damage to her library. 

The webinar continued with a company showcasing E-books and audio books platform called Wheelers. E-platform helps you build an inspiring digital library. Wheelers product provides access to both school and public libraries you belong to. One can download the app and students can read on their mobiles and other devices, a particularly useful tool when the libraries were not accessible during the pandemic. Digital and audio books are a great accompaniment to your existing library collection and are useful for readers who have dyslexia, sight problems, and students who enjoy audio books.

An entertaining and informative recorded session on Effective Displays from Pauline Carr followed, so many eyeopening , easy to do but wow display ideas , I think most delegates were scribbling notes madly all through it!

The next supplier to showcase their products was a design company specialising in library design and furniture called FG Design Ltd.  They are a leading manufacturer and supplier of library shelving and furniture. Julian Glover is their design consultant and viewers got to see their recent projects showing bespoke library designs in various settings. 

One of the most useful takeaway’s from this webinar for me personally was a presentation by Barbara Band on how to Pimp Your Library on a Budget. Barbara is actively involved with the library profession and is a library and literacy consultant amongst many other accolades she holds. For libraries run on a shoestring budget, Barbara told us there are various free resources available from Carel Press, SLA, GSL, Booklife, Canva, etc.  She emphasised the importance of following school librarians on twitter, authors, teachers, educationalists, and publishers to pick up hints and tips about free supplies. Some active tweeters Barbara recommend you follow are @lucasjmaxwell, @tompalmerauthor, ,@OpenUni_rfp and publishers like Hatchette, Macmillan Childrens’, etc.

Display ideas can be gleaned from Pinterest, the Holocaust Memorial Day website, and linking up to the whole school curriculum and themes.  Grants can be obtained from various organisations like The Siobhan Dowd Trust, Foyles Foundation, Paul Hamlyn Foundation, local supermarkets, etc.  It can be useful to browse charity shops for books, create or share wishlists with PTA/Staff/Parents, ask for donations, browse FB Marketplace, Little Free Libraries and take advantage of other sources of CPD like Open University courses.   Barbara summarised her presentation by reassuring librarians that there are plenty of freebies to be gained from the right networking and researching the GSL website and School Libraries Group under CILIP.

Finally, in the last session of the webinar the audience was treated to poetry readings from Joseph Coehlo, Rachel Rooney, Adisa and Laura Mucha.  These four amazing poets entertained and moved us with thoughtful and beautiful readings from their poems. What a wonderful end to a very educational, inspirational, and thought-provoking webinar! Thank you to the organizers and contributors!

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SLG Conference 2021 – Behind the Scenes, Charlotte Cole

This year was the first SLG virtual conference. After being postponed twice due to the pandemic, the decision was made for the conference to go ahead virtually, rather than postponing for a third time. As a newly joined committee member, I was excited to see what was involved in organising a conference. I had only been to one conference previously and that was also virtual due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The planning for the conference had been well under way before I had joined the committee, but I was involved in discussions from my first meeting. My initial thoughts when discussing the programme was of sheer amazement at just how much was going to be packed in to the three days and the diversity of the sessions that would be on offer. I was so impressed to see that there was something that would be useful for all librarians, whether they had been in the job for years or if they were completely new to the role. 

The conference was organised by the conference planning group which was headed by committee member Annie Everall, but it was something that the whole of the committee was involved in. As the date of the conference loomed closer, we were all given jobs and Annie held a meeting so that everyone was aware of what to expect over the weekend. I was given the task of hosting a session on Promoting reading in schools, with Matt Evans, Zoe Rowley and Mary Rose Grieve. I was really nervous about hosting this session as it isn’t something that I had done before, but I was also mindful of all of the hard work the committee had put in and I didn’t want to undo it all with an inadequate session. Annie was fantastic at giving me advice on the types of questions that I could ask and best practice on how to be prepared for the session. I took her advice on board making sure that I had typed my questions up before hand, printing them in large font making them easy for me to read without making it obvious to those watching.

A couple of days before the conference, a WhatsApp group was set up for the committee so that we could communicate with each other during the conference. This turned out to be such a valuable tool and a wonderful way to be able to share the highs and the lows of the weekend, as well as be able to send messages for help when the odd technical issue or last-minute panic occurred, without making an announcement on screen.

The conference tied in with 40 years of SLG and there were some fantastic sessions to mark the mile-stone birthday. .

Unfortunately, I was at work on the Friday and so could only dial in to the odd session here and there. SLG chair Caroline Roche opened proceedings welcoming everyone and introducing our first keynote speaker, Cressida Cowell. Cressida was so lively and full of enthusiasm for children’s reading and why it is so important to instil a love of reading at an early age. She also talked about her legacy project where she has asked government to invest £100m yearly in primary school libraries. It was very clear from this session to see exactly why Cressida is the children’s laureate. 

The evening session on the Friday was a wonderful event, hosted by the very excitable and funny SLG ambassador Philip Ardagh. During the evening various authors entertained us with singing and storytelling and it was a delight to be able to attend. At the end of the evening, we were played a song which Jo Cotterill, John Doughtery and Steve Cole had written especially for the evening about SLG. The song was fabulous and was a real ear worm. I found myself singing it well after the weekend was over. The tag line was SLG – Still Looking Good, which I think of every time I see the SLG acronym. (As I write this blog post almost three months later, my son has just peeked over my shoulder and gave me a rendition of the chorus!) – Look out for our launch of this fabulous video at the start of Libraries Week next month 😊

Saturday was another action-packed day full of publisher highlights, author slots and ideas of how to engage readers in the library. One of the seminars I attended was about Newsguard, an add on for search engines which rates the authenticity of websites. The idea is for students to be able to identify fake websites as it isn’t always obvious. Newsguard is available for free for school libraries, and I was sure to make the IT coordinator aware of this on my return to work.

Saturday afternoon was the time for me to host the seminar. As mentioned above, I was lucky to have such a great panel and I knew they would be able to answer the questions which I had emailed to them before the day. My biggest worry was that I would fumble and trip over my words and would let down the team or run out of things to say and to be faced with complete silence. After all the hard work and dedication that had been put in by the whole committee, this was something I was desperate to avoid. As Annie had advised, I had everything prepared in advance and when the breakout room was open, all eyes were on me to get the session going. I had performed in a number of ballet shows in my youth and I remembered the advice that my dance teacher had given me. Whatever happens, just keep smiling and chances are the only person that will be able to tell if you’ve made a mistake is you! So, with a big smile on my face, I thanked everyone for attending, introduced the panel and the session was underway. With only 1 small technical hitch which was resolved almost instantly, the time just flew by and there wasn’t enough time to ask all of the prepared questions. The session was a success. 

With the relief that the seminar was behind me, I looked forward to the evening session which was hosted by Nosy Crow publishers, as part of their ten-year birthday celebrations. This was another fantastic evening and as the conference was online, I was able to share it with my children. They particularly enjoyed helping Pamela Butchart to think of characters and events to create a very original and funny story. Nosy Crow also kindly sent out a goody bag to all delegates which had a copy of The Secret Detectives by Ella Risbriger, a 10th birthday postcard and a number 10 iced biscuit. 

Sunday was the third and final day of the conference. It began with a very interesting talk delivered by Dr Margaret Mega from Australia on School Librarians as Literacy Leaders. Dr Merga spoke about how librarians can demonstrate their value to colleagues and stakeholders, how they can support reading for pleasure and information and how to help shape a positive future for the children in their schools. Dr Merga has published a number of papers on school libraries,  some of them are available to read for free here researchgate.net/profile/Margaret-Merga-2.

For the seminar choice on Sunday, I chose to watch effective displays by Pauline Carr from the Alternative Display Company. Being new(ish) to the role in the library and not particularly creative, displays are something that I find a little daunting. I was really interested to see what I could learn from this session, especially as it was advertised as creative displays on a shoestring. Pauline and her husband were absolutely fantastic to watch, and making brilliant displays from everyday materials such as bin bags, brochures and bookmarks. Despite the duo being concerned about their technical know-how in providing their demo via zoom, the seminar was a triumph and one of the most popular choices to being re-visited by delegates.

The final session to close the conference was with the amazing Jason Reynolds, Chris Priestly and Danica Novgoradoff, discussing their partnership in Long Way Down, the 2019 Carnegie nominated book written by Jason. There was quite some debate beforehand on who would be the one to welcome Jason into the conference, but as Annie was the conference organiser the honour was quite rightly given to her. It was wonderful to listen to Jason talk so eloquently about his book and commenting that we need to make sure that we look after our boys, as the protagonist in the book needs someone to guide him through a very difficult time. It was interesting to hear the different approaches from Chris and Danica and how they worked with Jason. A very happy end to three brilliant yet tiring days. 

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Learning About Learning To Learn, Sarah Pavey

In the UK, few school librarians are also qualified teachers unlike many of our overseas colleagues. We may feel that “teaching” is not part of our remit since we are not formally employed to deliver lessons and neither do most of us receive appropriate remuneration to justify a deeper involvement. Yet we still need to liaise, and ideally collaborate, with our teaching colleagues and so it is helpful to understand a little of their language so that we can communicate effectively with them. We are not just talking information literacy here – differences might be made within reading lessons too. 

A common goal of all schools is to educate their students through instruction and learning. Teaching qualifications involve learning how to deliver lessons in a way that students will gain knowledge, and this is known as pedagogy. Many educational psychologists, since the advent of modern schooling, have debated the most effective methodologies for positive outcomes in this respect. The arguments about pedagogical approach and development rage on – just consider the constant changes to the inspection focus or the endorsement, withdrawal and re-endorsement of schemes such as phonics for learning to read, or the still popular but now generally discredited “learning styles” agenda. It is a bit of a minefield. 

Two fundamental theories are behaviourism and cognitivism. Let’s see how these might relate to our library objectives. 

Behaviourism 

This type of learning is based on the principle that we react and respond to our environment or external stimuli. The best-known examples of this are experiments conducted by Ivan Pavlov. He discovered that dogs could be trained to salivate if they thought they were about to be fed simply by ringing a bell after conditioning them to this response through reward and stimulus (McLeod, 2018). The theory of behaviourism was further developed by Burrhus Skinner, who showed the benefits of re-enforcement in retaining correct knowledge in the education process in a way that could be measured. In schools, Skinner’s Verbal Behaviour (1957) is exemplified by the teacher being very much in charge of the classroom and giving students information that they learn by rote and repetition. Behaviourists believe that by rewarding a ‘correct’ response the student will learn and be motivated to learn more. The danger with this approach is that some students may experience a negative response if they fail to reach the required score or feel overwhelmed by the task and these students may just ‘give up’ and opt out of the exercise. Within a behaviourist approach there is little scope for creativity or innovation – it is simply achieving targets usually set by the educator. Another argument against this approach is that the response effect may not be permanent – an analogy being cramming for a test. However, behaviourism has its place and it can be effective if used strategically, for example in a points-based reading scheme targeted at selected students.

Cognitivism

Cognitive constructivist theory considers that humans do more than just react to an environmental stimulus. This learning approach aligns the human brain to a computer and suggests it is a process of acquiring, storing and retrieving information. Tasks are broken down into smaller subsets and at each stage compared with what is already known and then built on. Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development published in 1939 (Piaget, 1976) considered that in the classroom learning should be student centred and opportunities made for active discovery. He believed the role of the teacher was to facilitate learning, rather than to give direct tuition. Jerome Bruner (1960) developed this basic theory arguing that any child can be taught anything at any stage of development if it is presented properly. However, he noted that if the task was too hard then a student might become bored. He introduced the idea of scaffolding tasks by providing a limited structured framework between the student and educator and so allowing some freedom to explore within safe boundaries. Cognitivism is based on students using their short-term memory and working memory to embed what has been learnt into their long-term memory and to use their cognitive brain functions to pay attention, Cognitive brain functions include sensation, perception, attention, encoding and memory. A cognitive approach to learning embraces all these areas and is essentially what an exploratory project-based approach within a library or the self-selection of reading for pleasure material promotes. 

However, social constructivists, while endorsing cognitivism, say we cannot treat the way humans learn in the same way as programming a computer, there has to be a social interactive element too, even if it is just the presence of a more knowledgeable facilitator. In school libraries, enquiry-based information literacy models exemplify a social constructivist methodology because this encourages group learning by investigation under the guidance of the educator. The leading figure of this type of constructivism is Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1978). His theories have influenced a trend in ‘reciprocal teaching’, which is used to improve students’ ability to learn from text. In this method, educators and students collaborate in learning and practising four key skills: summarising, questioning, clarifying and predicting. Over time the educator involvement becomes reduced. 

The differences between cognitive constructivism (favoured by Piaget) and social constructivism (Vygotsky) are simply explained by Taylor (2019). 

There are some issues voiced about cognitivism. Some critics feel it is ‘too unstructured’ and that it allows unbalanced interpretations of knowledge. Educators have felt it is a less rigorous way of teaching with uncertainty in what has been covered and understood (Liu and Matthews, 2005).

So now we have the dichotomy thrown up by the National Curriculum in England and the examination syllabi. Aside from primary/junior school year groups, Key Stage 3 and Extended Project options, most approaches to achieve good academic outcomes necessitate a behaviourist approach. However, a library is there to be explored and helps students discover for themselves, raising their self-esteem and lends itself to a more cognitive and constructivist pedagogy. There is a further dilemma in that the behaviourist points-based reading scheme endorsed by many schools, commercial or otherwise, is largely directed at Key Stage 3 which holds the main year groups still embracing constructivist project- based learning. This causes confusion for the teacher and the learner and much frustration for the librarian! 

Perhaps we need to be mindful of these approaches to learning when we collaborate with teaching staff and design our lessons accordingly. Maybe the active teaching in which our overseas colleagues indulge is not just about qualifications but also the pedagogical approach adopted by the curriculum in their countries. The English education system has been panned by PISA for being too focussed on rote learning (Schleicher, 2019) and now interestingly the COVID pandemic has pushed Scotland into considering a more cognitive and constructivist curriculum (OECD, 2021). We will await outcomes but meanwhile do not be too disheartened if liaising with all departments in your school seems hard work! Contemplate the pedagogical approach. 

References

Bruner, J. S. (1960) The Process of Education, Vintage Books.

Liu, C. H. and Matthews, R. (2005) Vygotsky’s Philosophy: Constructivism and its Criticisms Examined, International Education Journal, 6 (3), 386–99.

McLeod, S. A. (2018) Pavlov’s Dogs, www.simplypsychology.org/pavlov.html

OECD (2021) Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: Into the Future, https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/bf624417-en/index.html?itemId=/content/publication/bf624417-en

Piaget, J. (1976) Piaget’s Theory. In Inhelder, B., Chipman, H. H. and Zwingmann, C. (eds), Piaget and His School, Springer, https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-642-46323-5_2.

Schleicher, A. (2019) PISA 2018: Insights and Interpretations,https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA%202018%20Insights%20and%20Interpretations%20FINAL%20PDF.pdf

Skinner, B. F. (1957) Verbal Behavior, Appleton-Century-Crofts

Taylor, T. (2019) Piaget vs Vygotsky, https://educationlearningtoys.com/knowledge-base/piaget-vs-vygotsky  Vygotsky, L. S. (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, Harvard University Press

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Library Life during and after Lockdown, Stephanie Rocchi

Now that we have passed the grim first anniversary of global national lockdowns (mine was spent in Italy) I wanted to think back to the impact of Covid-19 on our libraries, students and the generosity that was shown during that time.
If I have to read a student’s essay I prefer to have it as a hard copy. It’s not that I am a traditionalist, I just prefer not to read from a computer screen unless I have to. I have found that despite the many hours that young people spend on social media, ultimately they often prefer to borrow books from the library rather than use a digital copy or online resource. I find a reluctance from my students to have a dabble unless they are doing a class assignment specifically calling for the use of our subscriptions.
During the first lockdown in March 2020 I was inundated with offers of digital resources that were being supplied for free as goodwill gestures to help support teaching staff and students. Not to be cynical, some of these resembled free trials in the hope that subscriptions would be purchased when the free offers ended. With these digital resources came new passwords, an increase in emails and a sense of pressure to spread the word to my colleagues and students to make sure they didn’t miss out. There was also the need for us librarians to keep our roles alive. With the threat of furlough hovering over us some had to keep showing that we were still providing a service, albeit online and digital.
Librarian networks came together and we exchanged links and ideas that we could pass on to our students and help one another. The local network I belong to met weekly, something we never did in pre-Covid times. We became expert users of Zoom, Google Meet, Padlet, Parley and so on. We passed on much information, maybe too much to our students and colleagues. In the end I filtered out what was age appropriate for my students but could not spare the time to learn how to use everything. I asked myself if I should be increasing our digital resource budget and be less reliant on physical books but I know that we won’t be living this situation forever. In order to comfortably use digital online resources some sort of computer, tablet or smartphone is needed but of course these are not available to everyone. Just using the UK as an example, as of August 2020 9% of families did not have access to a computer (Vibert, 2020) making it difficult to access online school lessons let alone other digital resources. Children from such families were deemed vulnerable by the Department of
Education and allowed to attend school in person during the early 2021 lockdown in England (Quinn et al, 2021). The divide between those who have access to technology and those who do not, not just in the UK but throughout the world was made painfully evident this past year. Poor internet connections or lack of hardware saw many young people unable to avail of online teaching.
A year on from the first lockdowns schools are starting to reopen and with them our libraries. I think the old adage “you don’t miss something until it’s gone” is quite apt. The sporadic moments where we have been in school this past year have seen my students eager to be back in their library, studying, perusing or just coming to see me for a chat is something that a digital resource can never replace and nor would we want it to.

Quinn, B, et al (2021), Pupils without laptops can still go to school in England lockdown [online], Available at:
https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/jan/05/call-for-pupils-without-laptops-in-england-to-be-allowed-
into-schools-covid Accessed 15/03/21
Vibert, S (2020), Children without internet access during lockdown [online], Available at:
https://www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk/2020/08/18/children-without-internet-access-during-lockdown/
Accessed 10/03/21

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How do we connect students to LGBT+ resources? , Verity Jones

In 2018 I undertook my Thesis as part of my Master’s in Library and Information Studies, focussing on LGBT+ provision in school libraries. The original focus and aim was to examine the LGBT+ provision in school libraries from the perspective of the librarian; to explore how far external/internal limitations affect LGBT+ provision; budget restrictions, external influences (parents/teachers/governors), the availability of age-appropriate resources and resources that covered all the identities within the spectrum. 

One area of research, which did not make it into the published article, was the area of ‘access vs promotion’. A topic looking at the methods used by librarians to put users in contact with LGBT+ resources or to make the pupil body aware of what was on offer. Unlike some of the other areas hindering LGBT+ provision, this area largely comes under the librarian’s sole care – the question of how to connect students to LGBT+ resources, if the librarian was lucky enough (considering the above limitations and more), to have any.

The research revealed several methods that librarians use to connect their LGBT+ resources with users. These methods are some of the many that are outlined in suggestions/guidance, for example, resources from non-profits – such as Educate and Celebrate or Stonewall, in professional organisation spheres such as CILIP and its groups – SLG or YLG, in other library groups – such as SLA and on more informal networks – such as SLN. 

Displays

Pros

  • Easy to do
  • Can incorporate a mix of resources, online, posters, books, links… 
  • Can disperse them throughout the year
  • Books can be included without any other signposting
  • Can double up with another theme to reduce the ‘stigma’ of picking a resource up
  • Can be in prominent locations or time slots in the year
  • Can often lead to inter-department crossover/curriculum tie in, in turn creating more opportunities for them to be displayed

Cons

  • Resources can often be tenuously linked to the topic, to crowbar them in
  • Displays are by nature temporary, so books without any other signposting cannot be found again
  • The theme it may double up with could be damaging or hold its own stigma (e.g. mental health week – the historical ties between Mental Health and the LGBT+ community have been largely negative)
  • May not be utilised by those less willing to ‘out’ themselves at school, due to the prominent location

Labelling: spine

Pros

  • Easy to do
  • Can signal a book very clearly (e.g. rainbow stickers on the spine)
  • Confidently ‘out’ users or those wanting an LGBT+ book can find these easily without having any contact with the librarian

Cons

  • Signposts to anyone what the book is, those not ‘out’ may not pick up this book for fear of association, those not LGBT+ at all may fear the association too
  • At what ‘level’ of representation do you sticker, e.g. a secondary character is LGBT+ but the protagonists are not?
  • LGBT+ is a broad spectrum and one sticker can lead to a Lesbian user spending time looking through Gay fiction, even if they are looking for specific representation
  • Non-LGBT+ pupils/staff may not pick up these books as they are being ‘targeted’ at one group, they may not see these resources as for them

Book Lists

Pros

  • Can be specific with titling e.g. Lesbian Fiction/Trans MTF (male to female) fiction
  • Can include a variety of titles in one space without any other signifiers e.g. spine labels, stickers
  • Can potentially access without having to go through librarian/staff

Cons

  • They cannot be exhaustive 
  • Censorship can play a part e.g. what is seen as age appropriate or contains other heavy themes e.g. suicide/self harm
  • At what ‘level’ of representation do you include a book on a LGBT+ booklist, e.g. the protagonists parent is LGBT+ but the protagonist is not?
    • Booklists with only secondary or stereotypical or tokenistic representation can do more harm than good
  • The booklist can be very small, if you do not have many resources, again doing more damage than good to that user’s sense of worth

Reference Interviews

Pros

  • You may have good knowledge (if you have the resources) of your stock, so can suggest suitable and tailored suggestions
  • You may be able to filter out resources that would not apply e.g. not books about Transgender protagonist if the user is Lesbian and would like to read Lesbian fiction
  • You can suggest more resources in the moment, e.g. if they have already read the author or series

Cons

  • Relies on the user to approach the librarian 
  • Allyship is hard to project (it takes active work on the librarians’ part) for a user to feel comfortable approaching them
  • These interviews may not offer the level of privacy that a user may want or expect, you may be overheard
  • If the topic is on an area library staff are less aware of, it can highlight a lack of knowledge e.g. Non-Binary or Genderfluid topics

LMS (Library Management System) Labelling: search terminology and keywording 

Pros 

  • A private method so users can search at their own pace
  • Terminology can be specific and tailored e.g. Lesbian Fiction or Trans FTM (female to male) fiction
  • LMS often allow booklist or keyword searching, allowing access to more resources from an initial search

Cons

  • Requires users to be very aware of how to use the LMS to search
  • Requires access to a device in order to search, how private are these if communal?
  • Can use out-dated terminology and do more harm than good, e.g. Homosexual/transvestite (sometimes due to imported data from other locations)
  • Users may not know that their search history is private or that this terminology exists to search for
  • It can be time consuming to instigate 
  • Choosing what books to include e.g. gay secondary character

Solution

I think a mixed method approach to access and promotion of LGBT+ provision is necessary in all school libraries. It allows for the comparative pros and cons to balance one another out, leading to a more inclusive library that connects more users to LGBT+ resources.   

Although LGBT+ provision has universally improved, it is not enough to rest on these laurels but rather to push toward even more inclusive practice. It is important to remember Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity as a protected characteristic, can remain a hidden minority, with no collection of this data at a school level (like is done for some disability/racial background). The onus remains on the LGBT+ person to identify themselves to those in authority. The one ‘out’ pupil will not necessarily be the only one, so catering and tailoring your service to those less likely to approach you will benefit everyone (including other minorities). This minority first approach will in turn benefit the majority group, who can also access these resources without them being segregated. 

It is entirely possible, within any restrictions placed on us, to allow access and promotion using at least two of the methods mentioned in this piece, minimising the risk to and onus on the end user. 

A few questions I suggest asking yourself about LGBT+ provision:

  • Can they access the materials without having to interact with you (or library staff)?
  • Can they access them at any time, or only when others/yourself is around?
  • Are you using the methods you use now, for your ease or for your users’ ease?
  • Have you thought about any negative implications of the methods you use? (e.g. mental health week being the only time LGBT+ resources appear)
  • Do you buy these resources with only one subset of your users in mind? Why? 
  • If you rely on students coming to you, how do you make it abundantly clear you are an ally (a safe person)? 

Verity Jones is a school librarian at Fettes College, Edinburgh. She has worked as a school librarian in the private and state sectors, in co-educational and single-sex, day and boarding school, and received her MA in Library and Information Science from University College London (UCL). 

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The Value of Verse, Alison King

Verse novels are everywhere, but for some, the idea of a novel-length narrative told entirely in verse is still a thing of terror. Verse novels are stories, like any other. They will have a plot, historical, social and cultural context, and characters who need to overcome a series of obstacles in order to get what they want. Whilst verse novels can take a little getting used to, even for the seasoned reader, there are so many reasons to champion and cherish them.

  1. Honesty and Authenticity – Verse novels often deal with difficult topics, like grief, prejudice, and shame, shining a light on facets of history, society and identity that aren’t often discussed. Many of the issues that feature in verse novels are relevant to young people who are searching for their place in a world they are only just beginning to understand.  
  • An Immersive Reading Experience – Poetry has an immediacy, an urgency that can be used to tackle emotional subjects in a way that is honest and direct. Most verse novels are told through the first-person perspective, which offers an increased sense of intimacy. The reader is able to align themselves closely with the narrator, experiencing their emotional journey alongside them. These stories can be intense, and powerful. They are often consumed quickly – not because they are easy, but because once they have drawn you in, it is almost impossible to emerge from the pages. 
  • Engaging Reluctant readers – The layout of a verse novel can be quite different to prose. The text may be arranged creatively on the page, with greater use of white space. These books can be incredibly effective in capturing the interest of learners who do not enjoy reading, because the sparse layout can feel less daunting than paragraphs of dense text. The increased use of white space can be read as permission to take your time, giving the reader a little room to breathe. It is definitely worth noting that layout alone does not make a verse novel; the author will have made choices about language, pacing, rhythm and rhyme and all these elements will combine to create a unique experience that will vary from reader to reader. 
  • Challenging Perspectives – Verse novels are a terrific way to challenge perspectives on poetry, exposing the reader to something beyond the narrow view of the curriculum. They make poetry accessible, demonstrating all the ways verse is relevant and useful in the modern world. 
  • A Mirror and a Window – Perhaps among the most valuable things a verse novel can offer the reader is the chance to see themselves on the page and the opportunity to explore the world beyond the limits of their own experience. 

In short, verse novels are bold, brave, sometimes brutal, sometimes beautiful, but always important and we are lucky that new authors and new titles are emerging all the time. Below, I have listed some titles that would make a good starting point. These lists are by no means exhaustive and contain only a fraction of the amazing verse novels available. Even the most basic internet search will open up hundreds, if not thousands, of avenues for you to explore and I would urge you to do just that!

Middle Grade

Other Words for Home – Jasmine Warga

In the Key of Code – Aimee Lucido 

The Deepest Breath – Megan Grehan

Zombierella – Joseph Coelho

The Crossover – Kwame Alexander 

Brown Girl Dreaming – Jacqueline Woodson

Teen

Junk Boy – Tony Abbott

Clap When You Land – Elizabeth Acevedo 

The Black Flamingo – Dean Atta

Punching the Air – Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam

Toffee – Sarah Crossan 

Long Way Down – Jason Reynolds 

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Are books for young people a literature in their own right? by Elizabeth Bentley

Last autumn I was privileged to watch an online interview with Aidan Chambers, on his new book. This is not another of his distinguished novels, but a more academic discussion of what he calls youth fiction: The Age Between: personal reflections on youth fiction

Aidan Chambers wrote perhaps my favourite book, certainly of those written for young people, This Is All, the last in his Dance sequence. (I was sitting next to a very nice American at a library conference and told her how much I loved it, only to find she was Nancy Chambers, his wife. Pure coincidence, but so thrilling for me. I have a signed copy, of course.)

But he had already won both the Carnegie Medal and the American Michael L. Printz Award for Postcards from No Man’s Land, as well as the international Hans Christian Andersen Award, so his children’s literature presence is undoubted. 

This new book is a fascinating discussion that covers how he views the life stage he writes for and how that can be defined as the emergence from childhood through to the achievement of adulthood, roughly 13 to 25. Which, as he points out, is close to the youth age group defined by Shakespeare: “I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting.” (The Winter’s Tale). So this view of youth is not new, and in fact nor is writing for it, which as Chambers points out, had already begun in the 19th century. 

The chapters include an account of how he first started writing for youth, as a secondary school teacher, faced with students who were reluctant to read, partly because there was so little available that was both accessible and related to their lives.  His chapter on The Catcher in the Rye (adult male author) and Bonjour Tristesse (youth female author) reflects on the differences between a book written in the first person about a youth, and a book written in the first person by a youth. (Sagan comes out of this rather better than Salinger, though Bonjour Tristesse has never been adopted by youth in the way Catcher was.) 

A “history” chapter looks at some of the famous books from the 19th century, in particular Tom Brown’s Schooldays and Little Women, highlighting the difference between them of telling the story from an adult perspective (Tom Brown) and from that of the young characters (Little Women), followed by a whole chapter on Huckleberry Finn, written in the same period but which moves decisively to telling the story in Huck’s voice. Chambers makes it clear how highly he rates this achievement by Mark Twain, as well as illustrating how much effort Twain put into achieving it. 

The book also contains an analysis of the changes of both mind and body that occur in youth, using the latest research, and relating them to the implications that has for the author writing for them. And his understanding of the young goes far beyond the prosaic, describing the elements of joy, love, sex, and spirituality that go to make up the young psyche.

He sees the very fact of youth being on the threshold between childhood and adulthood (liminality) as significant in and of itself, as they struggle to make sense of themselves and the world around them. I particularly liked his discussion of The Diary of Anne Frank in this context.

The final section of the book, Narrative Strategies, discusses how authors he admires, such as Twain, have tackled the issues of writing youth fiction, and then how his own work demonstrates how narrative serves the themes he wishes to cover. This is both the most demanding, at least for me, and the most interesting section. He examines how using the first person limits narrative possibilities, and how it can be extended to widen those possibilities, using the example of Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, which he wishes he had known before writing his earlier novels. He then moves on to the use of the third personas exemplified by Cormier’s The Chocolate War, which tells the story from multiple viewpoints, but all in the third person, allowing an authorial voice to be voiced where appropriate. 

And then Chambers moves to an illuminating discussion of some of his own writing, with an extraordinarily detailed analysis of the narrative structure of Breaktime in terms of the “network” that built to form the whole. I have no background in literary criticism or analysis, so I didn’t find it the easiest of reads, but it was so rewarding to understand what had gone into just one book. Not that Chambers says he was necessarily aware of all those elements and layers as he was writing, but that once finished he could see them. He explores the relationship between himself as storyteller, his “fictive protagonists” and the ways of telling that produce the narrative.

He finishes with his proposal that youth fiction is a literature in its own right, with a need to establish a canon so that it can be studied and appreciated not just in terms of its popularity with young readers, which may be ephemeral, or its practical use in supporting the curriculum, or its value in bibliotherapy.

While reading around for this article, I came across some essays by one of the distinguished writers for youth, Peter Dickinson, which may be found here: https://www.peterdickinson.com/talks-and-essays/ Another great essay on this topic is by Melvin Burgess: http://melvinburgess.net/articles/what-is-teenage-fiction/I should like to commend these to you in addition to this book by Chambers. Like him, Dickinson and Burgess both take writing for young people very seriously. 

It would be great to see similar contributions to the discussion from some of our current authors. Perhaps they are already doing so, in which case it would be good to see any recommendations you can give.

I do urge you to try and get hold of this book, and decide for yourselves how valid Chambers’ arguments are! I think you will find it illuminating.

Chambers, A. (2020) The Age Between: personal reflections on youth fiction. Fincham Press, University of Rowhampton

https://estore.roehampton.ac.uk/product-catalogue/fincham-press/publications/the-age-between

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Advocacy – Proving Your Worth

There are times – and this is one of those times – when you need to get you hands on some research to prove that the school library is absolutely essential. CILIPSLG and the National Literacy Trust have been working on this and have produced a whole set of slides which you can use and print out as posters for your library. We have ensured that every slide contains peer reviewed, academic research rather than anecdotal evidence, to strengthen your argument.
We hope that you find this useful.

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Back to school – implications for school librarians, by Sarah Pavey

Sarah Pavey, who sits on the SLG Committee, has written this blog post on her take on the current situation school librarians find themselves in.  The views Sarah expresses are important ones, but do not necessarily reflect the views of the whole of the SLG Committee.’

So, we are bracing ourselves for the great return on 8th March. What changes can we expect? How can we, as school librarians, adapt to this new school era? 

A recent post on a librarians’ forum concerned a member being told their reading scheme lessons, held regularly in the library, were to be dropped because the school focus would now be on the “catch-up curriculum”. We need to be aware of this perspective taken by senior leaders and be ready to counteract. Whatever our views on reading schemes, we might consider that if reading equates positively to raising literacy levels then surely this contributes to closing the COVID induced education gap. But have we the evidence to hand to argue our case? Simply shouting from the rafters will do no good, we need to underpin what we say with evidenced research. Here are 5 ideas for counterarguments……

We need you to be part of the COVID testing team, don’t worry about the library

If the teaching staff and teaching assistants are heavily involved in this too, then yes, we can agree providing we feel safe. However, if the philosophy behind this directive centres on the library being closed during in lesson time, point out that you are not a physical space and will be supporting teachers by providing necessary materials and services for the catch-up curriculum. List in detail the tasks you will do and show how if time is taken away from you, then you will be unable to do the job for which you are employed. 

Lance, K. C., and D. E. Kachel. 2018. Why School Librarians Matter: What Years of Research Tell Us. Phi Delta Kappan, 99 (7), 15–20. doi:10.1177/0031721718767854.

We need to concentrate on the core curriculum

One of the core elements of the catch-up curriculum is literacy. If the students cannot read well enough to understand their textbooks, then they will struggle. Show your management that as librarians we can support reading for information as well as reading for pleasure in all subjects. If we cannot provide physical books for health and safety reasons, then we can arrange for access to digital alternatives. It has been shown that when reading simply concentrates on enough to pass a test, then comprehension suffers. Librarians can help with a wider reading approach.

Davis, D., & Vehabovic, N. (2017). The Dangers of Test Preparation: What Students Learn (and Don’t Learn) About Reading Comprehension from Test‐centric Literacy Instruction. The Reading Teacher, 71 (5), 579-588. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1641

Teaching staff will be too busy to use the library

Maybe our schools will suggest that the teaching staff will not want to be distracted from concentrating on their lesson planning and delivery. Pushing this responsibility onto teachers alone, who are already stressed from the complexities of online delivery and blended learning over the last few months, is short sighted. Research shows how collaboration with us as librarians, can be beneficial, taking pressure off over-stretched teaching staff leading to positive student learning outcomes.

Pihl, J., Carlsten, T. and Kooij, K. S. (2017) Why Teacher and Librarian Partnerships in Literacy Education in the 21st Century? In J. Pihl, K. S. Kooij, T. C. Carlsten (Eds.) Teacher and Librarian Partnerships in Literacy Education in the 21st Century. Sense: Rotterdam, 1– 22.

Our parents will want to see evidence that we are concentrating on the curriculum

Senior leaders may decide that it is vital to show parents that the school is putting its best efforts into ensuring students reach their potential in academic studies. Maybe they are worried that if extracurricular support is added into that mix, it will reflect badly from a parent perspective. However, we know that as librarians, some of the valuable measures we may have put in place during the pandemic to foster home-school relationships should not end simply because students have returned to school. 

Kachel, D. E. (2020) Developing Parent Advocates: An Opportunity During the Pandemic. Teacher Librarian, 48 (1) 46-59.

Everyone is stressed at the moment and we can’t give special attention to the library

Yes, everyone is under immense pressure and this is where our library resources and services can offer outstanding help. Everyone needs a break and to understand why this time out is necessary if we are to work optimally. We need to work smarter not longer during these troubling times. Research evidence points to many initiatives that librarians have devised to support wellbeing and this is underpinned by a strand in the Great School Libraries campaign. 

Merga, M. (2020) How Can School Libraries Support Student Wellbeing? Evidence and Implications for Further Research. Journal of Library Administration60 (6), 660-673, DOI: 10.1080/01930826.2020.1773718. 

The easy route for our managers is to say, the library is closed, the library is being used as an overflow classroom, the library is an isolation space. We need to be assertive and show how much as a profession we have to offer. We need to ensure we have a comprehensive understanding of the “catch-up curriculum” and the goals of our school post COVID. We should try and build an evidenced based case to support our aims and objectives. If we remain passive, we risk the nature of our role in the future. This is a time when we have a wonderful opportunity to show the wider school community the true value of a school librarian. Let’s take it!

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All Change for the SLG National Committee!, Caroline Roche, SLG Chair

January is usually the time for new members to join the National Committee, as terms of office run for a calendar year, but this January has proved busier than usual!  Four of our wonderful Committee Members whose terms were up left us in December 2020 – Darryl Toerien, David Rose, Ellen Krajewski and Amanda Deaville. We were sorry to see them go and immensely grateful for all of the hard work they completed during their time with us.  We therefore had room for a few new members – and meeting virtually – at least for the next year fully virtual – opened us up to representation from international schools as well.

We are extremely pleased to welcome nine more members on to the National Committee, and they will all be lending their different strengths and voices to the work that we do.  

Sara Bloomfield (@sara13librarian) joins us from Chigwell School.  She is passionate about reading for pleasure, as anyone following her tweets will see.  She works with students on EPQ and HPQ qualifications, and will bring that strength and knowledge to the Committee.

Nick Cavender (@lib_cav) is joining us from Rickmansworth School in Hertfordshire.  Nick has been very active in YLG (Youth Libraries Group) and comes to us with a wealth of experience around reading for pleasure.  He is also passionate about information literacy and delivering resources to students online during the Covid-19 crisis.

Charlotte Cole (@CharlotteC1782) joins us from Stanground Academy.  Charlotte first came to our notice when she won a bursary to attend the CILIP Conference in November 2019.  Her enthusiastic tweets during the conference, plus the amount of learning she soaked up as evidenced in her blog post, made her a perfect candidate for the Committee.

Mary Rose Grieve (@HISchoolLibrary) joins us from an International School in Dubai.  She is going through Chartership at the moment and has been a keen participant in other SLG events.  She will be instrumental in helping us to reach out internationally.

Cassandra Kemp (@CassieKempSLS) is well known to many of you who follow her on Twitter for her enthusiastic tweets, with great ideas of what to do in your school libraries.  She works at Leicester SLS, and will be invaluable in ensuring that we reach out to everyone, especially our primary school colleagues.

Alison King (@avk1986) joins us from Kings Monkton School in Cardiff.  She answered our call for a Welsh school librarian to join us which Nick Poole tweeted out for us at a CILIPWales online conference.  We would love the other regions to be represented too, so at the next call out for Committee Members, please respond!  Alison is a published writer, so will bring her strong skills and eye for detail to our publications – as well as the other things we do.

Stephanie Rocchi (@stephjroc) is our second international librarian.  She works in an IB World High School in Italy.  She brings experience of IB working to our Committee, and an international perspective.  Stephanie also has excellent administrative skills and we look forward to working with her.

Prity Shah (@pritypretty) comes to us from East Barnet School in London.  She is passionate about representing the BAME community on the Committee, she has a wealth of experience to share with us from the various places she has worked in her career, and one of her strengths is in social media and blogging.  Her special passion is introducing her students to international authors.

Ishrat Wardill (@iwardill) is in the process of Chartering and will bring the experience of being relatively new to the Library world, to the Committee – a much needed viewpoint.  She also has a long experience of working in the City with IT and will bring that rigour to her work with the Committee.

I hope that you can see that we have nine brilliant new members of the Committee, with a wealth of different backgrounds.  All are keen to jump straight into our projects, and we hope that, despite lockdown, you will see a lot of great new initiatives from the Committee this year.

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