Festive gift suggestions – picture books, by Annie Everall

I LOVE Christmas – I always have done!. I love everything about it – the twinkly lights that brighten up our dark wintry streets, the tasty treats that fill our shops and homes, the festive decorations, the Christmas stockings and the peace and goodwill that comes from remembering the true meaning of Christmas. I especially love buying or making gifts for the children and adults in my large extended family. As you would expect, I particularly like choosing books to give them as gifts. I’m delighted to be writing the Christmas blog for SLG and over the next few weeks running up to Christmas, I’ll be sharing some of my favourite children’s books and Christmassy reads. Hope you enjoy sharing them with the children in your life or letting Santa know that they would be great gifts for your children 😉  I’m going to start with a few of the many picture books that have delighted me this year.

Leah’s Star, Written by Margaret Bateson-Hill, Ilustrated by Karin Littlewood

Alanna Max  £12.99 ISBN: 978-19087825

A wonderful re-telling of the Nativity Story, told from the perspective of Leah, the Innkeepers daughter, when Mary gives birth to Jesus in her dad’s stable. The text and stunning illustrations work so perfectly together they manage to make the Christmas story speak to each reader on a very personal level.

The Crayons’ Christmas, Written by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

Harper Collins £14.99 ISBN: 978-0008180362

I’ve so enjoyed the previous Crayons titles and the Crayon’s homage to Christmas certainly doesn’t disappoint. Like the other titles, this is full of fun and humour as Duncan and his crayons prepare for Christmas. This interactive book contains letters, ornaments, a poster and even a pop-up Christmas tree. A definite must for Christmas stockings!

The Most Wonderful Gift, Written by Mark Sperring, Illustrated by Lucy Fleming

Little Tiger £11.99 ISBN: 978-1788813822

One snowy Christmas morning, Bear and Esme find a wrapped gift under the tree – but it isn’t for either of them. They set off on a snowy, wintry, icy, windy, journey to take it to the rightful owner only to discover they have delivered the greatest gift of all. A wonderful tale about friendship and caring for others and which highlights the true meaning of Christmas. Beautifully illustrated, this is a joy to read alone and to share.

The Snow Dragon, Written by: Abi Elphinstone, Illustrated by: Fiona Woodcock

Simon & Schuster £6.99  ISBN: 978-1471172465

The orphanage where Phoebe and her dog Herb live is a miserable, gloomy, place. It bans daydreaming, and has cancelled Christmas. One enchanting, snowy night, Phoebe meets the Snow Dragon and embarks on a magical adventure. Could it lead to her Miracle Day, when she finds a forever family who will take her away from the orphanage? A wonderful read, breath-taking illustrations, it’s a book to own, to savour and one which will become a family Christmas classic.

Think Big, Written by Kes Gray, Illustrated by Nathan Reed

Hodder   £6.99  ISBN: 978-1444942132

Humpty Dumpty is sitting on his wall, thinking about what he wants to be. When he says he wants to be a boiled egg, all his nursery rhyme friends who are sitting on the wall with him, tell him he should aim higher and that if he believes in himself he can achieve anything and they give him lots of ideas, but how will his future turn out? A brilliant new picture book from Kes Gray aimed at 5 to 7-year olds. Full of fun, irresistible humour, with a wonderful tongue in cheek twist at the end that I didn’t see coming but had me laughing out loud. I love the underpinning message to child readers, that of aiming high, believing in yourself, and doing what you want to do, which is a very powerful one. Bold, bright illustrations add humour to the text bringing an additional vibrancy to the story. Really enjoyed it and can see this becoming a firm favourite with children and adults alike.

The Shortest Day, Written by Susan Cooper, Illustrated by Carson Ellis

Walker  £12.99  ISBN: 978-1406389265

Susan Cooper’s extraordinarily beautiful poem celebrating the Winter Solstice is further brought to life through the stunning, atmospheric illustrations of Carson Ellis. The feel of winter, the joy of the Yuletide season and the hope for a bright new year – just wonderful!

My next blog will focus on some of my favourite middle grade books. Happy reading and sharing stories.

Annie Everall, Director, Authors Aloud UK

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Yes YOU can, YOU can do it!!! , by Amanda Deaville

How many times a day do we say this to our students? Numerous times as we encourage and cajole them to have a go and do their best. But how many times do we say this to ourselves? Probably never! Instead we battle on feeling undervalued, misunderstood, put upon, weary, despondent, isolated and for some, invisible.

As school librarians, it can often seem that we are pre-conditioned to think that we can’t do it, particularly as repeated requests for support, resources and funding can seem to fall on deaf ears as more urgent needs are addressed. Our brilliant ideas and inspirational new initiatives sometimes fail to get off the ground, lacking crucial support whether from students, staff or even SLT. I could go on but that only serves to compound the negativity already being felt. Instead let’s focus on the unique role and position that you have in your school that can really benefit all. Rise above the niggles, the perceived lack of support, the negativity and make sure you use your skills. YOU can do it.

So how, I hear you ask, when you’re so weary and fed-up with the continual struggle to be heard and to be noticed?

  1. SEEK HELP – it’s not a sign of failure; it’s a sign that you want the situation to change; that you’re prepared to do something about it. You’re going to be pro-active. So where can you get this help? From a colleague, a member of staff – who can emphathise with your situation. If there’s no-one within school, then seek help from your nearest School Library Service. They’re there to help so use them. They offer advice, training and support and will often act as a ‘critical friend’ so you can talk in confidence, vent your frustrations with someone who will understand what you are experiencing. They’ll put you in touch with librarians in other schools – so get talking, get networking, share issues and concerns – a problem shared is a problem halved. Even better, start sharing ideas – there’s no point in reinventing the wheel. It will enable you to begin to see things in a different light, even from a different perspective. Make use of your professional memberships, e.g. the CILIP School Libraries Group – Committee members can help here. We’re all seasoned and experienced practitioners who are more than happy to help – so make that first step and ask.
  1. IDENTIFY key staff who would/could be supportive. They may not be who you think at first! In one of my schools it was the Site Manager who was my main ally. You’ll need to emphathise and understand what other staff are up against too. Many spend more than enough hours already trying to keep their heads above water, never mind taking time to get involved in another event in the Library. So what can you do?
  1. WORK COLLABORATIVELY – work together on a project that is mutually beneficial. Talk, exchange ideas, inspire, get involved and work as equal partners. Yet that little voice will be saying ‘I can’t do that! I’m not up to it; I’m not a teacher so I can’t possibly teach!’ But yes YOU can. Work together, be prepared to learn, be guided, bring your unique skills and insights into play and have a go. You’ll need to practise but you’ll soon start to feel more confident, start to enjoy working with others and learn from your mistakes. So prepare to change and accept the challenge. Be prepared to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again. It may be you have identified some gaps in your skill set so start to explore what training is available and be pro-active in learning new skills.
  1. KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS AND YOUR WEAKNESSES – don’t set yourself up for failure. Know your skills and use them. We can’t all be good at everything so don’t try to be. Identify and recognise your strengths, build and capitalise on them. Put them to good use. Don’t waste time and precious energy on something that you know will be a struggle. Team up with a colleague who has complimentary skills and work on the project together. 
  1. BE REALISTIC – this is something that all of us can forget to do. Start small, walk before you run and enjoy every little success, no matter how inconsequential it may seem. Go for quick wins, things that can make an instant difference. Build on them and gain confidence, gain new skills. But don’t expect to change everything overnight as it won’t. Be prepared to put in the effort; chip away at it as it will take time but your endeavours will be rewarded. You’re in for the long haul but be clear, from the start, about the outcomes and the benefits that will result from your work and commitment.
  1. LEARN TO SAY NO – it’s hard but you’ll be thankful that you’ve learned this particular skill. Don’t be everyone’s doormat! Is your job description up-to-date and does it actually reflect the job you are doing? It may sound silly but you’d be surprised at how many don’t. Does it set clear boundaries for your role or do you need to set them? If you’re not sure, then note down all that you do each day for one week – every task, no matter how small or mundane, some of which you won’t even be aware that you are doing! From this you will be able to identify what you’re spending your time on, whether intentionally or by default and it will highlight where your energy is being used well or unnecessarily. Use it to set priorities and focus on the key areas outlined in your Library Development Plan which in turn should echo the School Improvement Plan. (More of this in a future blog.) There will be tasks that you are doing simply because they’ve always been done but are they actually needed? So learn to say no. Accept that you can’t be all things to all people – so stop trying and stop being hard on yourself.
  1. CHALLENGE the perceived norm of the ‘librarian’ in your school. Stand up and make YOUR voice heard but try not to complain to anyone that will listen – hard I know at times –as this only helps to exacerbate the negativity that you are feeling and confirm people’s perceptions. Instead push the positive, display, model the benefits of working collaboratively with colleagues – that’s what they will remember next time you ask them to get involved. This doesn’t mean that you are a push-over and will help with every little request; no, you need to be ensuring that before accepting the task, you are checking if it is one of your priorities, one of your developmental areas and will it benefit your role and that of the Library.

So are you prepared to smile, rise above, and tackle the task ahead? Are you going to be realistic and learn to say NO? Do you know your skill set; know where you can make a difference and above all, be open to a new challenge? So have a go, take the risk, learn from your mistakes, think what you would do differently next time and try again. The biggest risk, by far, is not to take the risk and do nothing at all.

So remember the difference we, as school librarians, can make. YOU can and DO make a difference. Apply these words to yourself, not just to your students. YOU can do it, yes YOU can!

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New Key Issues

SLG are proud to present the next two leaflets in our new series Key Issues. These little booklets are meant to be taster introductions to some important subjects you need to know as professionals. Written by members of the SLG Committee, they all give a short introduction to the subject, and further links if you want to know more. These two leaflets deal with Instagram in the School Library written by Bev Humphrey and Schools Library Services written by Amanda Deaville, Jill Florence and Elizabeth Hutchinson.
We hope you find these informative and useful, and look out for more in the series coming soon!

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Key Issues – A Good Starting Point

SLG are proud to present the first three leaflets in our new series Key Issues. These little booklets are meant to be taster introductions to some important subjects you need to know as professionals. Written by members of the SLG Committee, they all give a short introduction to the subject, and further links if you want to know more. These three leaflets deal with Cataloguing and Classification written by Sarah Pavey, Using Twitter written by Caroline Roche and Impact Evaluation written by
Lucy Chambers. I hope you find these three useful, and look out for more in the series coming soon!

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Reading Rooms, Karen Usher

In 2017 Hull was UK City of Culture and thousands of wonderful events took place. The programme sought to involving the whole city in multifarious events – both as spectators and as participants.

Reading Rooms was a legacy project started by DerryLondonDerry – the previous UK City of Culture. It was run by Hull Libraries and as a newly retired librarian fulfilled my craving to involve people with books. The premise is that we read a story or extract to a group of people. We break the stories into chunks and invite the participants to talk about the stories and incidents in their lives that the stories remind them of. So, its Talking Rooms too! We finish each session with a short poem that matches the theme of the story in some way. We ask the group if any of them would like to read the poem after we have discussed it.

To become a member of the Reading Rooms team one attended two and a half days of training – involving safeguarding as well how to actually do a session – lots of practice of the latter before a filmed try out with analysis of our performance. Glad to say I passed!!

Over the last two and a half years I have done a weekly RR with another volunteer (we always try to do RR in two’s) at an independent living facility in Hull (another whole blog!), a six week session at a special school and covered for holiday absences at two locked care homes. There is an enormous amount of joy mixed with a small but not insignificant amount of pain in doing Reading Rooms.

You make friends with total strangers who open their lives to you. Participants in my regular group are aged between 25 and 92 years old. Some have lived in Hull their whole lives with occasional trip to Bridlington! Others have seen the world. Almost all are now on their own and many have health problems. We have seen our numbers fluctuate as members have gone to more secure accommodation or their health means they can’t attend the sessions. I am most pleased that some of our regulars who never used to speak now join in the ‘conversation’.

I have been told off for being late – usually I arrive early but being just-in-time was ‘late’! I took cupcakes on my birthday and the following week was given a present 😊 There has been a lot of laughter – one story about a fashion shoot in an Italian seaside town I read in a faux Italian accent and I brought the house down helped by the risqué actions of a villager who didn’t like the ‘photoshoot’ and dropped his trousers in protest, and then there was ‘Albert and the Lion’ in a Yorkshire accent – well possibly a Yorkshire accent!

The stories and poems are picked by the Hull Library team who organise RR. Sometime we all don’t like the story, sometimes the poem is a little too opaque for participants but they keep coming back. 

After the session we often chat about what has been going on – visits from llamas, donkeys, dogs and birds of prey happen on a regular basis. The facility has a large and beautiful garden. There are concerts and demonstrations and participatory events.

The librarian in me is sated and my horizons expanded by their fascinating life experiences and I will keep going as long as they keep turning up.

Reading Rooms is supported by Hull Libraries and The James Reckitt Fund. Reading Rooms takes place in Care Homes, Independent Living Facilities, Schools, with Home Educated groups, Hospices and in a variety of departments of The Hull University Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust.


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Student Library Assistant Training Day 12.12.19

This very popular training day is running again at The Elmgreen School in London. Why not take along your pupil library assistants for a day of learning and fun. For full details download the flyer below.

Once you’ve trained up your assistants don’t forget to nominate them for the Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award!

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Librarians as Teachers and Information Skills Developers, Elizabeth Hutchinson

I was recently asked to talk at the SLG training day and this is the talk I gave: 


School libraries are in crisis. Fake news and misinformation are rife and it seems to me that Google is taking over the world. Our role as school librarians and teachers is to bring our expertise to education and the curriculum and through doing this help our schools understand the value that our libraries bring to their students and teachers. 

I am not sure about you but I know that when I finally decided that I wanted to become a librarian I never thought about the fact that that I was signing up to teaching as well. I was a late starter so after leaving school at 16 I worked in Newcastle City library until I got married when I left to bring up my children. So I was 36 by the time I got my degree in Information and Library Studies, I knew that I was going to work for Schools Library Service in Guernsey and in no way did this prepare me for a job working in school libraries and if someone had asked me about teaching at that time I would have laughed.  

I think back in 2003 my understanding of school libraries was very much from my own experience from school. A space where I could hide at lunch and break time, read books not chosen by my mother and somewhere that we were taken for the odd lesson to find a book on a subject we were studying. This was a memory from my middle school and I am sad to say that I don’t remember my secondary school library at all.

I am glad to say that this has all changed over my 16 years of working with school libraries both within Guernsey and beyond. I believe that I joined the profession at the right time. A time where the internet was beginning to take root and our skills as librarians were needed more than ever. No longer were we the people who only look after the books; we had so much more to offer.  The issue, however, has always been how can we transition through the barrier of expectations to reality. The definition of ‘teacher’ is one whose occupation is to instruct

Teachers by definition have a body of knowledge that they use to instruct  i.e. subject specialists. Librarians, on the other hand, instruct what? I would say that our specialism is information literacy but where has that come from?  

We know that school librarians have knowledge of curation and expertise in research and this should bring us front and central into teaching but with no training or support how do we go about teaching it. Although, knowledge, passion, drive, commitment and ability to instruct could be our greatest asset we have such a fragmented profession we seem to be unable to communicate to schools why this is important. Part of the reason for this is we have no instruction on instruction and secondly we are de-professionalising the profession. Where do we learn how to teach let alone work out what it is we need to teach? It is important that we make sure that we are doing all we can to give ourselves a fighting chance. It is no longer possible for us to wait for things to change, we need to be the change. 

So how do we do this? Sadly there is no blueprint for how school librarians teach and instruct research skills. There was no-one there to teach me how to teach, so what do you do when you suddenly find yourself in front of a class for the very first time? I think like most of you I began to realise that if this was going to be part of my job and I had to find a way through it.  

However, most of us have not got 16 years to work it out so I thought I would give you my top 4 survival tips to teaching that you can take away today…

Tip 1 Know and understand your own expertise

Our skill set is resource management. In simplest terms we know how to:

·      Find good quality information quickly, efficiently and ethically

·      Critically evaluate sources

·      Give credit for what we find and produce bibliographies

These are all skills that our students and teachers need. Don’t be fooled that your teachers and students know more than you do. Just because they can turn on an iPad and type a question into Google does not make them experts in research and critical thinking.“Teachers forget that learning how to do research is not an innate skill and is not the same as being tech-savvy” A Quote from a recent JCS blog. (‘How school librarians are meeting the challenges of teaching information literacy | JCS’, n.d.) 

Without question, they need your expertise but maybe they just don’t know that yet. However, do you understand your own level of expertise? I would like to explain this by using Neil Gaiman’s famous quote “Google can find you a million answers a librarian can find you the right one” How many of us have shared this quote? I have to admit that I am one that did so this is not a criticism! However, over the years I have begun to understand that if this is how we see ourselves we are going along with the stereotype and misunderstand our own level of expertise.  

Librarians as teachers are not about putting the answer into the hands of our students but to teach them how to access and make sense of the information they find. This begins to point to a different role for the school librarian, where the librarian and teacher collaborate to help students build knowledge from information.  

This moves away from the traditional role of the school librarian. 

  • The teacher asks the student to find X, 
  • The student goes to the librarian and asks for X, 
  • The student takes X  back to the teacher. 

Everyone is happy but who has learnt anything? 

You have so much more to offer! 

Tip 2 Widen your vocabulary

  • Know your own tools and how they link with the curriculum
  • Online catalogue 
  • Online resources
  • Finding more than one source
  • Website evaluation, fake news, misinformation, e-safety 
  • Learn “Teacher speak” 

If you have a library management system or any online resources, learn how to talk about them as digital literacy tools. Know the features that will enhance student learning and research and offer to share this with teachers and then to support them in the classroom the first time they want to use it with their students. Find out the tips and tricks that make searching these tools easier and use the same terminology as the teachers.

·      Pedagogy (The methods of teaching in other words how do you teach?) 

·      Heuristics (Allowing students to learn by discovering for themselves)

So, for example, I now use the phrase that FOSIL is a pedagogy tool to support student heuristics. Sound great doesn’t it? All it means is that FOSIL is a tool that supports students learning for themselves. 

There are many more but the more you learn the easier it is talking to teachers. When I hear something new I try and learn what it means and then use it when appropriate. Don’t hide behind your library terminology, widen your vocabulary and speak to them in their own language even if we mean the same thing. We need to move into the teaching world as they are really not going to move into ours.  

It is important that we understand that we are learning to become a teacher and the more we comfortable we are with this, the easier it will be to talk with authority. We are not pretending to be teachers we are learning to become teachers. 

Tip 3 Commit yourself to an ongoing process of purposeful professional learning. 

  • Joining in CPD from school
  • Building up a map of your school curriculum 
  • SLG
  • SLA
  • FOSIL Group forum 
  • IFLA Guidelines for school libraries 

It is important that we are proactive in our own learning. How does this look for you and how will you achieve this? 

The majority of us have arrived in the school library without teacher training so how do we go about finding what we need? We know that there are training opportunities within our own schools. Make sure you are part of the same training offered to teachers. Building up a picture of what is going on in school. In primary schools, make sure you have a map of the curriculum and can confidently talk to teachers about what they are planning to teach. In secondary knowing what the expectations are for exam boards. i.e in Geography they need to reference and caption a picture. If you know that is what they need to do you then have the opportunity to start a conversation. 

SLG and SLA provide training opportunities which do cost money, however, before you say that you know that your school won’t pay or give you time off you need to understand that it is still an opportunity for you to raise awareness of the importance of your own CPD. It is essential that you ask every year and tell them why you need to attend. Don’t make this a tick box exercise really find out about the courses and generate a good argument. This professionalism speaks volumes! 

IFLA – International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions guidelines has been put together by the international association of school librarianship giving an inspirational and aspirational vision for what a school library ought to be with Free practical workshops to move you forward in your journey as a school librarian. 

A shameless plug! I run an online forum for school library staff #LibraryStaffLoveLearning in order to read books, articles, blog or listen to podcasts or TED talks to create a place for learning in a safe environment. I did it because I did not feel that I was reading enough myself and wanted to provide something that was not too expensive and to provide something for others. You can read it all without having to sign up but if you want to comment you do need to register and apart from the occasional cost of a book the only other commitment is your time. 

I would also add that if you have asked to be sent on training and the answer is no then a follow up asking for a book to join in CPD in your own time is more likely to be allowed. 

Tip 4 Practice, practice, practice

Once you have started on the above 3 it is important that you learn how to talk about what you can do and why you do it and the only way to do this is to practice talking about it. With your colleagues, with your teachers, with your friends (ok not too often unless you want to lose all your friends)  

I once said to Darryl that I would never be able to talk about what I do the way he did and he said to me that the more you do it the better you will become. Which is true. Everyone has to start somewhere and sometimes you are not going to get it right. You are going to leave a conversation and go.. I wish I had remembered to say …But each time you do this the better you will get at it. 

Remember that you are the only one who knows what you are capable of. You are the only one who can make this happen but you are not on your own. We have a wealth of knowledge and expertise around us and we just need to be prepared to find it and use it.  

And finally what has kept me going into classrooms and teaching all this time? This one simple phrase that keeps getting said over and over again by teachers I have worked with. “I wish I had been taught that at school.” This to me says that my role in the classroom is important for future generations of children and teachers. 

The survival of our profession is more than the individual librarian in their schools. We have to look beyond ourselves where we are, to where we need to get to. The only way we are to survive is to lay the foundations for those who are coming behind us. If we are only looking to our future we are helping to sell our profession short. 

We are teachers, we do know what we are talking about and it is time to unleash our own potential.

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National Survey Results – Could do better!

School Librarians deliver their report card to Education Minister Nick Gibb.

Key findings include:

9 in 10 schools in England that participated in the research have access to a designated library space, falling to 67% in Wales and 57% in Northern Ireland however;

Schools with a higher proportion of students on free school meals are more than twice as likely not to have access to a designated library space;

Employment terms for librarians and library staff fall below national standards, with low pay and little investment in professional development and training.

To download the report for yourself, please visit the Great School Libraries website.

Commenting on the publication of the research, Nick Poole, Chief Executive of CILIP said: ” We welcome this landmark report as the first comprehensive picture of the state of play in our school libraries. On the one hand, it is a testament to the Head Teachers, Governors, Teachers and Librarians that value and promote the importance of school libraries for their learners and their schools. On the other hand the research paints a picture of inequality of access and opportunity and insecure employment that we cannot accept. The findings highlight the urgency of securing a national School Libraries Strategies and investment in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, drawing on the example of Scotland.”

To find out more about the Great School Libraries Campaign, please visit their website: www.greatschoollibraries.org.uk

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AGM and Training Day, The Power Of Us: The Many Roles of School Librarians

CILIP School Libraries Group will be holding a training day and AGM on Friday 18th October at CILIP HQ in London.

Programme outline:

09.15   Coffee and Registration

09.45   Welcome and Housekeeping – Caroline Roche, Chair SLG

09.50   Librarians and Great School Libraries

  • Caroline Roche #GSL campaign
  • Ros Harding, Kings School Chester & School Librarian of the Year 2019

10.20   Librarians as Reading Promoters

  • Lucas Maxwell, Glenthorne School London

10.50   Coffee break

11.20   SLG AGM plus CILIP update from Jo Cornish, Head of Sector Development, CILIP

12.00   Librarians as Teachers and Information Skills Developers

  • Elizabeth Hutchinson, Independent Trainer and Adviser for School Libraries 

12.30   Meet Macmillan Children’s Books Author Hilary Mckay

             Hilary will be talking about her writing and her Costa Award winning novel The Skylarks War

13.00   Lunch and Book Signing

14.00   Librarians as Creators and Developers

  • Rhiannon Salvin Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award winner 2019, Firth Park Academy, Sheffield
  • Alison Edwards, School Librarian, Firth Park Academy

14.30   Librarians as Authors: Meet the Harper Collins Children’s Author and ex school librarian Anna James

             Anna, will be talking about her Pages and Co books and the new title Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales

15.00   Tea and Book Signing

15.30   Librarians Reaching Out Across the World

  • Darryl Toerien, Head of Library and Archives, Oakham School
  • Annie Everall, Director Authors Aloud UK

16.00   Summary of the Day – Caroline Roche

16.15   Close of Day

Macmillan Children’s Books and Harper Collins Children’s Books will have a display of their new books for delegates to look at.

All delegates will receive a goodie bag of proofs and publicity materials.

A bookshop will be provided by Rosemary Hill Books

Booking Information

Bookings now have to be made directly though the CILIP YM system

To book a place, please follow the link:    https://www.cilip.org.uk/events/register.aspx?id=1258474

Costs:  CILIP Members £50 + VAT, Non Members £65 + VAT

Closing date for bookings: Friday 11th October

For enquiries please contact:

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Reflecting On Your Role As Librarian – Time To Change?, Sarah Pavey

Schools run within a safety structure of rules and regulations many of which have been in place for decades. This provides continuity for the ever changing personnel within the community. But seldom are these edicts challenged or adapted because to do so entails the bravery of stepping out of your comfort zone and sticking your head above the parapet. So the school adds to regulations and hence workload but rarely reflects and takes away what is no longer necessary. As librarians we are often in danger of picking up the tasks no-one else wants to do because, as natural organisers, we can present as if we are able to add more to our day or maybe it is because there is no-one else for people to delegate to. We run the risk of being overworked and stressed and the jobs that maybe we should be concentrating on fall by the wayside. This can impact severely on our perceived role. Time to change! 

What we need in place to effect change

There are certain things that we need in place if we are going to be able to reflect effectively on our role, reduce our stress levels and make more impact. 

  • A job description which reflects what we actually do
  • A mission statement for the library stating our aims and objectives and outcomes
  • One year and five year development plans

When constructing these important documents we need to make sure that they fit with the aims and targets of the school. It is worth looking at the way the school presents itself to the wider world on their website and also reading the recommendations of the latest Ofsted report and seeing how the library can contribute. 

Within this blog, however, I will be concentrating on the importance of re-evaluating your role through your job description. 

How accurate is your job description?

When was the last time you read your job description? For many of us it might be when we were first appointed to our job. For others things may have been added sneakily without any consultation. Do you know which version of your job description is held on file or which version your line manager has? Job descriptions should be reviewed at least once a year and more often when changes take place and more demands are placed upon you. Any changes, no matter who suggests them, need to be mutually agreed. 

Because librarians are organised people by trade, we tend to be good at multitasking and fitting in extra tasks in response to change. This can give the impression that we have time to spare to others so it is important to make what we do explicit. Getting a new book shelf ready for the non specialist may seem a simple and quick task whereas we know it can take some time with cataloguing, classification, and labelling let alone the financial recording and selection. It is amazing what we manage to fit into our limited time and we need to demonstrate this skill to others in the school community. Enter the lists…….

Surprise yourself by writing down EVERYTHING that you do during the school year. If possible add a rough estimate of the time you spend on the task. Don’t forget to add your breaks that you are entitled to as well – this is very important for your wellbeing as will be discussed later. Now select which tasks are most important to you and which tasks you feel are not really your responsibility. 

Using your job description to effect change

The Pareto Principle of workloads states that

“80% of our work time contributes to only 20% of the results.”

Therefore if we concentrate on the most crucial 20% of our workload, i.e. the tasks with the highest priority then our overall performance will still be strong but it will take less time.

How do we identify these tasks? You might think you know, but a common pitfall is that we hide behind tasks that keep us occupied and which are comforting because they do not challenge us and we avoid some of the jobs we really need to do. Try fitting the tasks you do into the following grid.

How does this reflect your contribution to the school’s aims and objectives? It is now worth taking this to your line manager and asking them how they see your priorities. Do they differ? Having this information on paper allows for a non emotional discussion that is task orientated rather than personal – the discussion revolves around getting the job done in the most efficient way using your skills and identifying any training needs you may have. 

A similar approach might be used when thinking about longer term planning. You might devise a grid covering what you do now (tasks and time allowance), what you will need to do in the next year, and what you would need to add in to develop the library and its services in the future. Similarly this can initiate a discussion about prioritisation and help remove tasks that are no longer necessary for you to do. 

Following this type of approach questions may be raised by your line manager such as “why do you have to do this?” and it gives you the opportunity to explain the impact it has on teaching and learning and consequence if it is not done.  It might also raise issues about whether it is the right task for you to be doing or whether it is really someone else’s responsibility – this is certainly the case with some administrative jobs that can be quite time consuming but actually could be done by someone other than the librarian giving you more time to devote to your specific role. 

Workload and stress

As librarians we like to present as the ultimate service but if we are not careful we can become overloaded because we do not like to say no. In part this may be a fear of rejection of our library service in the long term but actually being more assertive can help others see the value in what we do. The problem is when we feel under pressure and stressed it can make us try and work harder, skipping breaks, working unpaid extra hours just to demonstrate how superhuman we are. When we add in our domestic commitments too it becomes impossible and we run around in circles achieving less and pleasing no-one. Eventually something has to give. Short term stress can be beneficial and enhance creativity and productivity but when it becomes long term and routine it has a profound effect on our physical and mental health. 

Stress can be caused by a number of issues but the three main triggers are:

  • time
  • demands
  • change

Using the job description exercise we can help combat all of these potentially inflammatory areas and lessen our risk of stress. We can organise our tasks more efficiently so we only spend time on what we actually need to do to support the school community. The demands put upon us cause stress when either we feel we do not have enough knowledge to complete them or when we feel the job is beneath our capabilities. The exercise will highlight training needs or will make apparent to the line manager that the job might be more suited to someone else in terms of efficiency. The exercise also helps plan for change in terms of what tasks might need to be prioritized and given more time in the future. 

In conclusion

Reflecting on your job description is worth a bit of time as it may give you new impetus for your role within the school and re-energise you as well as reducing your stress levels. In a blog post we can only touch upon some of these important areas but you might wish to look at my Working Smarter online course. The new edition of the Innovative School Librarian also includes a chapter on “becoming integral to teaching and learning” which demonstrates how important it is that our role fits in with the wider aims of the school community rather than our own personal wish list. 

Sarah Pavey, MSc FCLIP

@Sarahinthelib, SP4IL http://www.sp4il.co.uk

REFERENCES

Chapman, A. (2017) Pareto’s principle Available at:  http://www.businessballs.com/pareto-principle-80-20-rule.htm 

Markless, S. et al (2016) The innovative school librarian 2nd Edition London: Facet

Pavey, S. (2019) Working Smarter Online Course. Available at: https://www.sla.org.uk/course/work-smarter-course-information 

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