For my CILIP Leadership programme, I have been asked to use the first section of the CILIP Impact Toolkit which looks at understanding value so I have focused the task on determining the core purpose of my new school library.
What is the core purpose of a school library?
I have very recently starting a new job at a new school and that has given me the opportunity to really explore some of the tools in the Impact Toolkit.
My new school is planning a big library refurbishment for June 2017 so I have been asked to put together a detailed brief for the architect and design company which will take the project on. It is quite an exciting opportunity but I realised from the beginning that I would have to start thoroughly researching for this project as my experience includes only small refurbishments so far. Furthermore, the decision to hire a new library was driven by the early retirement of the previous librarian who had been at her post for twenty years and had run the library in a more old-fashioned way.
It was very clear that the refurbishment has created the perfect opportunity to also re-assess the whole service, starting from identifying our Core Purpose, namely the reason of being for a library. I have never come across the concept of core purpose before and it has been an extremely interesting process to research about this subject and realise how important it is to clarify what it is and how it relates to understanding the value of what we do and consequently communicating it to all our stakeholders.
The core purpose of our service is the fundamental reason why our library/service exists, it needs to stay unchanged during the years and it is distinct from the mission statement but also linked to it. I found that asking the right questions would focus the process in the right direction. Why we are unique within the school? What is the difference between the library and the English Department, for example? What are the activities and what is the service that we can provide and that nobody else can? In an information-rich world, why do we exist? All these questions underpin the most important one: why is it really worth supporting our library and keep investing in its development and the skills of the librarians?
I have been reading a number of articles and I have found that literature aimed at the business sector was particularly relevant and useful. I have also had the opportunity to contact a very experience librarian at another school which has a similar demographic and type of school: she also did an exercise similar to mine for the occasion of a big library re-structuring and try with her team to identify the core purpose of the libraries she was managing. At this stage, I was reassured by the fact that it is not as straightforward as one may think and it is definitely a process which requires a lot of analysis and critical-thinking of what we do and why we do it.
The last half-term gave me the opportunity to study our school for evaluative purposes and put together a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats): communicating the value of the expertise of our Library Team was identified as a top priority and conversely the way our most influencial stakeholders perceive the impact of our expertise as a possible major threat. In a school where every student has millions and millions of data of information in the palm of their hands, where a teacher can easily use a classroom to access information and where the library is just a well-sued space without a service to support this, our major threat in the future is fighting the obvious conclusion that you do not need two qualified librarians – with salaries to much- to run the space. Unfortunately, this is happening in many school libraries across the country and it is based on the fact that we are not effectively communicating to our stakeholders the difference between expertise (the librarian) and the space (the library).
So, what is our core purpose and how do we prepare for the battle ahead?
At the end, reading an article written by the Marketing Director of Sky help us going in the right direction by drawing our attention to the three pillars of this company: Content, Technology, Service. Everything that the Marketing Department creates must ultimately reverts back to these three pillars. Taking inspiration from this, an intense brainstorming session has resulted in our four pillars – one of my team members has pointed out that a four-pillared structure is sturdier than a three-pillared one!
CONTENT – INNOVATION – CREATIVITY – SERVICE
Content: selection, access, teaching, promotion
Innovation: making everything easier, faster and smarter
Creativity: what we do ultimately aims to nurture the creative mind and the creation of new knowledge (the peak of Marlow’s pyramid)
Service: the needs of every individual in our school community are at the heart of our service
This is still an incomplete set because we are still discussing whether “learning” or “partnership” should also appear. However, having our four pillars clear in our minds at all times will have a multitude of benefits. Firstly, the library vision, mission statement and objectives will always refer and revert back to these, any evaluation process will be conducted through these four lenses and ensure that we are always consistent and focused. Most importantly, it will be easier in the future to keep our team motivated and confident in a time of big changes in the educational sector and communicate our impact more effectively to our school community.