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

  1. BarbaraBand says:

    Totally agree. The school library and librarian have a huge amount to offer when schools fully open again. I am constantly surprised at how senior management ignore the research and evidence around the impact of school libraries – and yet their higher education and post-graduate training would have involved using verified research and studies. Senior management need to give their students the best opportunities and their staff the best support – and this includes their school librarian doing the job they were employed to do.

    Like

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