When I was at primary school in rural Oxfordshire, the highlight of our week was the arrival of the mobile library.
Its incongruously imposing presence in the small, quiet village green was equal only to the excitement of climbing the steep, slightly rickety steps into the cumbersome van and scanning the shelves to find another Shirley Hughes picturebook or the next Enid Blyton.
The driver-librarian, once she had manoeuvred the unwieldy vehicle into its temporary parking place, transformed from machine-manipulator to erudite book-lover and persuaded us to try new, unexpected and unknown treasures.
The subversive nature of librarianship is one we cultivate and revel in; without the constraints of assessment and data, librarians are able to make connections and build ideas that go beyond the traditional classroom curriculum.
We are able to think strategically, question widely and agitate gently, and as the whole school staff adapt and innovate to overcome the challenges that come with the pandemic, these skills have never been more important.
Coronavirus: Maintaining the magic of the school library
As such we have all been working hard to ensure that the children will still be able to experience the excitement and magic of the library – whatever form it takes.
1. Go mobile
With the library spaces closed for the moment, our four brightly coloured library trolleys are the equivalent of the mobile library van of my childhood.
Stacked with books, all of which are covered in easy-to-clean plastic covers, we will be wending our way through the leafy corridors of school, ready to visit each classroom during their timetabled library lesson and supply them with books.
2. Go tech
To limit the use of paper, the children will fill in an online form to allow us to select the books they would like.
If they don’t know what book they want to read next, they can tell us what sort of book they like, and we can make choices based on this and their borrowing history.
Our library catalogue (Follett Destiny) will allow the older children to browse our catalogue online and place holds on the books they would like.
3. Go live
The success of Library Live! during lockdown has convinced us to continue as school starts again.
For the first half of the library lesson, we will be reading to the class via Teams, and they will watch from their interactive whiteboard in the classroom.
This not only allows the children to see the pages of the book more clearly than they might if they were in the library, but also ensures that we are maintaining the social distancing that has been set out in the government protocols for schools.
4. Go online
Fellow librarian Sanam Borzogi recently wrote in Tes about the importance of teaching information literacy to children, and the importance of the librarian in this process.
As we start this new term, with a mixture of online and face-to-face learning, it has never been more crucial to teach our students about how to find, interrogate and synthesise information both online and in books.
The work of The Fosil Group, led by Darryl Toerien, Elizabeth Hutchinson and many others, is instrumental in our approach to implementing an inquiry skills curriculum, and we have found it to be an excellent way to create meaningful, collaborative relationships between the library and other academic departments.
We are planning our first project with the DT department and their GCSE students, who have to complete a research project for the coursework element of their exam.
5. Go read
Today's date – 3 September – is a big day in publishing: thanks to the delays due to Covid-19, there are more than 230 titles being published in the UK alone.
We have been keeping a list of all the children’s books we want to buy and it is getting longer and longer.
Although we embrace all that is digital and online, we are all about the physical book – and cannot wait to get our (quarantined, sanitised) books back into the hands of our children.
The CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Awards for children’s literature and illustration have continued to run their shadowing programme all through the summer, and our groups of shadowers have been meeting online every week during the holidays to read, discuss and choose their favourites, and we will be continuing to run the shadowing groups, for both primary and secondary students online this term.
The Reading Agency and the Open University have launched a Teachers’ Reading Challenge which encourages teachers to read, review and rate children’s literature.
Their fantastic website is a really useful resource not only to find new books, but also to make connections and have conversations with other teachers and librarians about fantastic children’s literature.
6. Go out
Lockdown has given us the opportunity to explore, learn and meet new people and new ideas. We have been inspired by the Just Imagine Exploring Children’s Literature Summer School, run by the inspirational Nikki Gamble.
She and her stellar cast of special guests challenged us to look at children’s literature in a new, sometimes subversive, light, by drawing out links between literary criticism, pedagogy and imagination.
Mat Tobin’s webinar on picturebooks, and Jake Hope’s excellent new book on visual literacy Seeing Sense (Facet Publishing, 2020) has inspired us to design a new visual literacy strand for our library lessons.
Lastly, the extraordinary book lists and resources created by Simon Smith, Ashley Booth, Books for Topics and the School Library Association (to name but a few) have proved instrumental in shaping our plans for the new year, by recommending new titles, new ways of showcasing outcomes through multimedia platforms and new ways of thinking about our teaching practices.
All in all, while this term may look and feel very different to the way it ever has before, the fundamental roles of the librarian are the same.
We remain as practical, adaptable, supportive, collaborative, inquisitive and subversive as we ever were – and perhaps just a little more bonkers!
Mary-Rose Grieve is the librarian at Hartland International School in Dubai, and was the 2019 UAE School Librarian of the Year